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  1. Today
  2. In the race to win the 5G market, China’s Huawei took another step forward today when it announced what it claims is the first commercially available 5G chipset. Called the Balong 5G01, the company says it is compliant with the recent standards that were locked down last December by industry group 3GPP. While 5G is expected to eventually able network speed of 20 Gbps, this first chipset from Huawei offers up to 2.3 Gbps. There was no pricing information. But Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, said the chip was just the latest example of how Huawei is aggressively pushing forward with 5G. He also demonstrated the Customer Premise Unit the company is developing to allow end users to start experiencing 5G in their homes and offices. Yu was speaking a day before the official opening of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the telecom industry’s largest annual gathering where 5G is expected to be the main theme. View the full article
  3. Blizzard Entertainment scored big with the debut of its Overwatch League. The official esports league for Overwatch players drew more than 10 million viewers in its debut week in January. Blizzard (a division of Activision Blizzard) continues to invest heavily in the esports market as the whole industry hopes that esports will catch up with traditional sports. Market researcher Newzoo reported last week that global esports revenues will grow 38 percent to $906 million in 2018 and further grow to $1.65 billion by 2021. The number of esports enthusiast fans will grow 15.2 percent from 143 million in 2017 to 165 million in 2018, while the number of occasional viewers will grow from 192 million in 2017 to 215 million in 2018. By 2021, the esports enthusiasts will reach 250 million and the occasional viewers will reach 307 million. But the current amount of money generated per esports fan is still lower than traditional sports such as the amount generated per NBA fan. Mike Morhaime, president of Blizzard, said in an interview with GamesBeat and in a panel at the DICE Summit 2018 elite gaming event that we’re just at the beginning of a long road. In the future, the esports market is expected to generate revenues through the sale of sponsorships, media rights, advertising, publisher fees, tickets, and merchandising, Newzoo said. I interviewed Morhaime and Kim Phan, head of esports product & operations at Blizzard, at DICE in Las Vegas last week. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview. Above: Mike Morhaime, president of Blizzard, and Kim Phan, director of esports product & operations at Blizzard. Image Credit: Dean Takahashi GamesBeat: I wonder what you think about the comparisons are making between esports and traditional sports, the projections of where it may go. Do you think there are some conditions that could make that happen, or that it’s already happening, or that it can’t happen? Mike Morhaime: What does make sense is, if you look at the engagement levels people have with games—even if you just look at the top individual games and you compare that to the engagement around traditional sports, you do see that the engagement isn’t that different. In some cases it’s even bigger on the game side. This is just the beginning for esports. We’re still exploring different ways of how it will evolve. But there’s more and more interest from traditional players, sponsors, broadcast companies. They recognize that this is a thing that’s not going away. It’s only going to get bigger. We’ve crossed an inflection point already. GamesBeat: The numbers of spectators are as big as any sport out there. Morhaime: Right, but now you’re starting to see the big sponsors of traditional sports, companies that advertise in things like tennis tournaments. They’re paying attention to esports now. That’s going to help a lot. GamesBeat: We have 75 years of professional sports history to look at. It winds up being this huge media business, which isn’t there for esports yet, but it could eventually get there. Morhaime: Not yet, yeah. But all the media companies are trying to figure out how to have a digital business. A part of their business that’s devoted to this segment. GamesBeat: And they want to accelerate toward it. Morhaime: Everything’s accelerating. There’s a lot of room for us to grow. Above: Well, that looks awfully official. Image Credit: Blizzard GamesBeat: It seems like the challenge is making the decisions at the right time, depending on how that curve looks. Kim Phan: If you look at traditional sports, each one is different. Not all of them are going up like this. If you look at UFC—every sport is unique and has its own trend. You’re seeing that with esports as well, based on each game title. Morhaime: We had a dynamic where cable subscription dollars were going in and funding a lot of growth. Those dynamics are changing. But we didn’t benefit from any of that cable stuff. We’re in a position to not have this huge peak that we end up being compared to. Above: DICE Summit esports panel (left to right) Mike Morhaime, Kim Phan and Nate Nanzer. Image Credit: AIAS GamesBeat: There are numbers of spectators, the engagement of fans. What else is on the plus side of this that could make it all happen faster? Phan: How people consume the content in gaming—they’re already accustomed to watching on mobile devices, playing on mobile devices. They’re already on that screen. Where you choose to watch esports right now is also where you play video games. The playing field and the place where you watch are similar. That’s one thing that’s different. GamesBeat: How do we get over things like, “Overwatch is hard to understand compared to Counter-Strike”? Morhaime: That’s something we’re working on. We’re trying to do different things. The team colors, the uniforms in the game, helped a lot. We’re taking feedback and always looking to improve. Also, as people watch it more, it naturally becomes more understandable. 1 2 View All Continue Reading ...View the full article
  4. Huawei today announced upgrades to its laptop and tablet lineup today at a press conference held a day before the start of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The Chinese company showed off the new Huawei MateBook X Pro laptop and the MediaPad M5 to press and analysts gathered at the city’s Centre de Convencions Internacional de Barcelona, a massive facility that Samsung had used in years past for its MWC keynotes. The MateBook X Pro in particular represents a strong push by Huawei to design a sleek, ultra thin laptop that targets business users. It’s 14.6mm thick and weighs 1.33 kg. The 13.9-inch notebook has a 3K touch-enabled display made from Gorilla Glass. Huawei dubs the display “FullView” because it has 91 percent screen-to-body ratio. The previous generation was 88 percent, and Huawei says the Apple MacBook Pro is 82 percent. “We’re quite clear that our target customer are the business elite,” said Huawei spokesman Cheng Lei of the PC and tablet product line, said at a briefing prior to the event. “So the meeting component is very important.” To create a screen that covers nearly the entire face, Huawei removed the camera from the typical position above the screen and hid it under the F7 key. This will likely be one of those changes users love or hate. Pressing on the F7 button causes the camera to pop up on the keyboard, but the angle captures the users from below which is often less-than-flattering vantage. Above: Huawei MateBook X Pro Image Credit: VentureBeat/Chris O'Brien Lei said the company’s research said the laptop camera is one of its least-used features, saying consumers and business customers alike prefer the cameras on the smartphones. He also noted that many users concerned about privacy have taken to putting tape over it. The MateBook hidden camera offers better security, he argued. “Now there’s no possibility that someone is spying on you or hacking you with the camera itself,” he said. The MateBook has an 8th Generation Intel Core i7/i5 processor as well as a NVIDIA GeForce MX150 GPU with 2GB GDDR5. And he said the battery, which comprises half of the machine’s internal components, could deliver 12 hours of video playback time. “Today’s consumers want more: they expect their technology to be both powerful and adaptable – and Huawei is committed to creating devices that not only meet these expectations, but create experiences that make everyday computing extraordinary,” said Richard Yu, CEO, Huawei Consumer Business Group, said in a statement before the event. “The HUAWEI MateBook X Pro and HUAWEI MediaPad M5 Series are at the forefront of a new generation of mobile computing that empowers every aspect of your life.” The company also showed its new MediaPad M5 Series. Lei said Huawei is now the world’s third largest seller of tablets after Apple and Samsung. So continuing to develop its lineup is essential. The 10.8-inch MediaPad M5 Pro comes with the company’s M-Pen which features 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity to allow for more nuanced drawing and note taking. Above: Huawei MediaPad M5 Image Credit: VentureBeat/Chris O'Brien Both the the 8.4- and 10.8-inch tablets come in Champagne Gold and Space Gray. The MediaPad M5 Android-based tablet includes two speakers on the 8.4-inch version and four on the 10.8-inch design, which use a tuning developed in partnership with Harman Kardon. The post will be updated when pricing and availability are announced. View the full article
  5. OPINION: Apex Construct’s release this week once again brought about a recurring topic in its reviews: PlayStation VR’s limited tracking and Move controllers restrict what is an otherwise great experience. The 180-degree tracking makes traversing an entire virtual world much more finicky than it should be and the lack of analog sticks on the controllers make locomotion a hassle. It’s an unfortunate reality that many of us have learned to live with so as to enjoy otherwise incredible experiences like Skyrim VR. But, as frustrating as these issues can be, they also make me very, very excited for the future of PSVR. Every VR game out there right now is going to benefit from better headsets; this much is obvious. The Vive Pro demonstrates that we’ll soon be enjoying the same great content with much crisper visuals that keep us better immersed in the worlds we’re exploring. But PSVR is a special case because the room for improvement with Sony’s headset is so massive that we’re foaming at the mouth thinking about playing the VR games we already have today in three to five year’s time. Why? Well, on the surface, there’s the very simple stuff. Presumably, PSVR 2 would be a headset that works with a hypothetical successor to the PS4 and PS4 Pro: PS5. That’s a huge benefit right from the off; PS4’s limited processing power has been a sore point for developers porting Rift and Vive games to the platform but, should PS5 be backward compatible, teams could have an easier time bringing their console ports up to standard with the PC version thanks to increased horsepower (even the PS4 Pro gives developers a lot more to work with, but games have to support the standard PS4 too). No more blurry textures in Arizona Sunshine, for example, or perhaps a little less pop-in in Apex Construct. Then there’s the basic specs of hardware itself. You’d have to assume PSVR 2’s display will be a significant bump up from the original’s functional if dated 1080p OLED screen. The further out the headset is the more viable it is that we could get a 3K or maybe even (if we’re really lucky) a 4K display fitted into the device. From day one, then, we can revisit worlds like Skyrim and Resident Evil 7 and feel much more immersed from a purely visual perspective. More than any other aspect, though, it’s controllers and tracking that stand to benefit the most from the hardware upgrade. With some fine-tuning, you can get a pretty good setup for PSVR right now but you still won’t be able to turn around when using the Move controllers (the camera can’t track what it can’t see) and you’ll still experience some drift even when you’re not moving. It’s also all too easy to move outside of the camera’s field of view or struggle to get the right lighting conditions for perfect tracking. As new inside-out solutions and improved SteamVR tracking nears, PSVR is looking older by the day. Imagine a PSVR 2 with backward compatibility that fixes all of that. The ability to turn around when enemies circle you in Skyrim, raise your gun to your sights in Arizona without tracking confusing one tracking light for the other. Perhaps this could be achieved with the same inside-out tracking seen on Microsoft’s mixed reality headsets, eliminating the need for a camera entirely. And, as for those Move controllers, we’re praying that something comes of recent Sony patents for improved designs. Developers have done the best they can with the archaic designs of these devices, originally built for the PS3, but there’s only so much you can achieve without full 360 tracking and an analog stick or trackpad. Simply put, provided backward compatibility is included, once PSVR 2 is here the PSVR community will already have an expansive library of great content that will be hugely improved. The patience so many of us have shown will be rewarded with hours of immersive content that we can dive right back into and enjoy like it was our first time in VR all over again. So next time a PSVR game is held back by the hardware, don’t despair at a wasted $20. Instead, close your eyes and think ahead to a time when these issues will be a distant memory and you’re enjoying the exact same experience with none of the issues facing us today. This story originally appeared on Uploadvr.com. Copyright 2018 View the full article
  6. GUEST: Today there are many discussions happening around the value and utility of artificial intelligence. In fact, a recent report by MIT Sloan Management Review asserts that almost 85 percent of executives believe AI “will allow their companies to obtain or sustain a competitive advantage.” But there’s also a lot of confusion about terminology, the kinds of applications businesses can make use of and, ultimately, where AI is going. In my experience, it’s not uncommon to hear business professionals use “AI” and other terms such as “machine learning” and “deep learning” interchangeably when, in fact, there are distinct differences. AI is the next era of computing and it’s important for the business world to understand just how to unlock its potential. In a recent Facebook Live, Amy Webb, Professor of Strategic Foresight at NYU Stern School of Business and founder of the Future Today Institute, and I discussed how AI is not a silver bullet, and how real value comes from a tailored combination of tools designed for a specific business problem. The stakes are high, and a lack of understanding can lead to unsuccessful implementation and lack of ROI. So, just what do we mean when we say, “AI,” “machine learning,” and “deep learning?” AI The academic pursuit of AI came about after the Second World War, with the intent to replicate the human mind. This included exploration into mimicking how we perform general reasoning, value-assessment, and internal inquiry. As time passed, researchers realized that our brains are much more complicated than they’d previously supposed. And while human beings are good at what they do, there are things we don’t have the capacity for. For example, a doctor can’t read and understand the millions of articles published by PubMed as quickly as an AI system. With AI technologies, the goal is to enhance human capabilities, thought, and reach, not replicate or replace them. Just as construction workers use bulldozers and backhoes instead of simple tools, AI allows us to dig through tremendous amounts of data, uncover patterns, and make better decisions based on those insights. The ultimate goal for AI is what I like to refer to as augmented intelligence, which will help inspire humans to leverage insights for better ideas and alternative perspectives but also help us see through our cognitive biases to points of view that might not have otherwise occurred to us. Machine learning Machine learning (ML) is an algorithmic technique that has been around for decades. On a basic level, ML can predict trends or recognize patterns in data if researchers expose the model to previous examples of those patterns. For example, if you have a series of numbers that you can associate with something significant, and if that pattern has previously repeated itself, you can teach ML algorithms to recognize that pattern, and then use it to predict whether that same significant outcome is going to happen again. For businesses, the implications of ML technology are significant. With ML, enterprises can evaluate buyer behavior to inform future expectations, enabling leaders to adjust strategy if and where necessary. Businesses can deploy ML for a variety of processes. Retail stores can use machine learning in forecasting systems which must consider both past and current (up to the hour) market trends. And financial services can use ML-powered product recommendation systems which must leverage current interest rates, trends, and market movements. Deep learning Deep learning (DL) is a more recent innovation under the broader umbrella of machine learning algorithms. DL is an algorithmic technique modeled after the neural structures in human brains. The term is sometimes referred to as neural networks, as researchers were inspired by the synapses and neurons in the human brain and the mechanism by which neurons fire and cause synapses to collect and propagate the energy of that neuron. DL uses artificial neural networks to dramatically increase the number of dimensions of data it can work with – including unstructured images and sounds. This multi-dimensional approach is much like how humans experience the world. With the proper human training of neural networks and hand-picked quality data sets, DL holds a great deal of promise for powerful, AI-enabled data analysis across industries. AI can employ both ML and DL algorithmic techniques, but it’s important to remember AI is much more than that. AI combines specific forms of algorithmic techniques to solve a specific problem or to complete a task that its creators set it up to perform. Don’t count on one technology: Look for a mix There is plenty of utility in both ML and DL, but a business shouldn’t attempt to meet all its challenges with just one technology. The real value comes from a tailored combination of these tools. For example, if a retailer has a great deal of traffic data and executives want to extrapolate insight from that data to predict traffic for the holiday season, machine learning will offer valuable insights. However, should that same retailer want to correlate customer traffic data with weather patterns, deep learning would offer a more holistic picture. The AI services offered by IBM’s Watson can take a lot of the guesswork out of which ML or DL algorithms to use. The engineers of these services have already figured out how to best leverage ML, DL, and other reasoning techniques to make it easy for businesses to build the AI applications best-suited to their particular challenges. Know your nuance AI has the power to reinvent the way we do business, but only if leaders take the time to understand the nuances of technology. A firm understanding is a significant step in the right direction, but only the beginning of the journey. AI, ML, and DL are powerful technologies but not silver bullets. One implementation won’t solve every issue across the entire organization, but business leaders should take time now to consider how AI can help them fundamentally rethink and optimize their businesses. Businesses that think they can “wait and see” put themselves at a disadvantage. Keep in mind that even if you’re not preparing for AI, your competition is. AI is here, now. Rob High is an IBM Fellow, vice president, and chief technology officer of IBM Watson. View the full article
  7. 2018 is shaping up to be a big year for VR arcades and attractions, and a new player in the space is looking to find success with an approach that focuses on fun gameplay and multiplayer. Cyprus-based Neurogaming is a joint endeavor made up of Wargaming — the publisher behind World of Tanks — and a venture funding group called VRTech. They’ve got a development office in Moscow and two demo offices, the first in New York. Together, this group is developing a number of VR titles alongside cloud services and hardware packages designed so operators can easily set up and run their own VR arcades. Neurogaming invited me to the New York demo office among a small group of journalists to see what they’ve been working on ahead of a larger push at GDC next month. It is still early for the group, but they are focusing more heavily than other solutions I’ve seen on one critical aspect of an alluring VR attraction: hooking people to come back with a quality competitive gaming experience. Here’s a look inside. Fighting with Russians I was navigating a tank over the bumpy terrain of a small village in the middle of a snowy winter when I first started noticing the Russian chatter. The three Neurogaming representatives playing with me were yelling to one another outside VR, and they were doing it in their native language. I suppose I’m revealing something of my prejudices here, but their chatter activated something in me. If you strip away all the VR tech, this simple human behavior had an incredible effect on my sense of immersion. I was now driving that tank in the mindset of Rambo with some Russians to beat. Neurogaming said World of Tanks VR is built from the ground up for the medium, completely separate from the other versions of the game for mobile, console and PC. I believe it. I was a little lost at first but in a single play session of 10 minutes I got a good grasp on the controls and was playing much better by the end. The tanks are actually pretty nimble and as the match progressed it became clear how well they’ve balanced the size of the map against the number of players, the length of each round, and the challenge of both aiming and moving. After they are finished further balancing the game, Wargaming plans to release a version of it for home systems sometime early next year. Simply put, when we finished the match I was disappointed it was over. I got to see my score at the end and while I wasn’t the worst of the group, I also wasn’t the best. I wanted more. Before I played with them, Neurogaming representatives explained that retention is exactly the problem they are focused on trying to solve. This was evident in the design of both World of Tanks VR and shooting game RevolVR. Each match packs multiple rounds into sessions lasting just 10 minutes. RevolVR got through 12 of these rapid fire rounds. The fast-paced battles mean you can’t waste any time trying to trounce the enemy. The pace also means players have lots of chances to feel some sense of success or improvement, even if it’s just a single winning round or one kill. Other location-based VR startups like The VOID and Dreamscape Immersive offer an excellent sense of immersion enhanced by environmental effects like wind, scent, or haptic floors. These companies provide great fun battling stormtroopers or ghostsalongside friends, or simply enjoying the wonder of exploring an alien zoo. While both those startups appear to be seeing brisk ticket sales, neither offers a truly compelling reason to come back just yet. IMAX VR is closer in design to what Neurogaming’s first arcades will look like and they are hosting tournaments in games like Sprint Vector to try and create reasons for people to come back and spend more time. Neurogaming is trying to take this further. They are developing games either in-house or in close collaboration with partners aimed at providing a reason for people to come back. The effort starts with well-designed games for friends to play together and continues with high scores, kill counts, tournaments and a customer tracking system that keeps a record of your previous visits so you can get a sense of progress as a player or team. “With the arcade version of World of Tanks VR we’ll introduce in-app purchases and [a] progression system later on this year, which adds extra monetization channels for operators,” wrote Neurogaming Chief Marketing Officer Alex Morozov, in an email. Neurogaming’s CinemaVR system — ideal for roll-outs in places like theaters or malls — includes a large metal structure that sits over four players with computers and other hardware stored overhead. Each of the headsets hangs from the top of the structure with some slick cable management. The system does a pretty good job of making it easy to spin in 360 degrees and aim your tank in any direction without getting tangled up. Four players are tracked in this space by just two well-placed base stations. Neurogaming sells the four-player hardware package for around $35,000, with plans to become hardware agnostic later this year. This hardware setup is accompanied by a cloud-based management system meant to make it easy for operators to download Neurogaming’s titles and start selling tickets. The whole arcade is designed to be managed from a mobile device. Neurogaming is already powering arcades in locations in Russia and Europe, with plans to expand in the Middle East and North America soon. Perhaps most interesting to VR industry readers, the company offered some actual numbers to break down the kind of business they’re seeing initially. With 37 locations online as of this writing, Neurogaming says each location is seeing on average 2,500 visits per month with each player paying $5-$7.50 for about 10 minutes of gameplay. This is enough, say Neurogaming representatives, for individual locations to become self-sustaining and make a profit each month from a single four-person installation. Those are some interesting numbers to consider, but perhaps the most interesting figure to me is the following one. Neurogaming says they’re seeing a 25 percent retention rate. In other words, one in four people are already coming back for more even as they fine-tune experiences to try and increase that number. Stay tuned in the coming days as we follow up this report with one about Polygon, which is Neurogaming’s second generation system. It is still extremely early but takes things to an incredible level of full-body, almost military-grade, simulation. This story originally appeared on Uploadvr.com. Copyright 2018 View the full article
  8. Yesterday
  9. GUEST: This week investors held a collective freakout over the fact that Walmart’s online sales grew at just 23 percent over the fourth quarter of 2017, down from 50 percent the previous quarter. They tanked Walmart’s stock by 10 percent, its biggest one-day decline in several decades. While I also happen to be bearish on Walmart, I think its investors are missing the bigger picture here. E-commerce accounts for less than four percent of Walmart’s business. This is a company with much bigger problems. Unlike the rest of Wall Street, I do not agree that Walmart’s problems begin and end with Amazon. The Walmart-versus-Amazon battle is typically framed as a clash between an ascendant e-commerce business and a dying retail industry, but that’s nonsense. Selling products to strangers doesn’t cut it anymore. To succeed in retail today you need to start with the customer, not the product. You need to flip the script. Let me explain. Nearly every American spent money at a Walmart last year. The vast majority of us live within 20 minutes of a Walmart store. The company has almost 5,000 retail locations, over two million employees, and over 140 million customers. But let me ask you a simple question: What was the last thing you bought at Walmart? Walmart certainly can’t tell you. Got any receipts handy? Once you walk past the cash register at Walmart, you’re gone. Walmart is still essentially a product company. It has decades of institutional experience with supply chains, transport logistics, and inventory management. It knows how to buy and sell products. That worked fine for a long time. It doesn’t anymore. In the old product model. You built a product, put it into as many channels as possible, and hoped there were customers waiting at the end of those channels. In the new service-based model. You start with the customer, understand their wants and needs, and then wrap your service around that customer via relevant channels. No more pushing units to strangers. Now let me ask you another question: What was the first thing you bought on Amazon? It’s sitting right there in your order history. Go ahead, open up a new browser tab and look it up. I bought “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and “Inside the Tornado: Marketing Strategies from Silicon Valley’s Cutting Edge” on January 11, 1997. Amazon is beating Walmart because it knows its customers. That’s the reason. Plain and simple. So does this mean e-commerce is bound for glory, and retail is doomed to failure? Will it be all retail apocalypse and zombie malls from here on out? Of course not. Right now, there are at least a dozen new companies in the midst of opening hundreds of new retail stores. And why are they doing this? Because the stores they currently have are making money hand over fist. You’ve probably heard some of the names: Allbirds, Casper, Birchbox, Boll & Branch. According to real-estate data company CoStar Group, these online-first stores have increased their retail space tenfold over the last five years. Warby Parker is averaging $3,000 per square foot of retail space, which is almost as good as Tiffany’s (!). Why is this happening? Well, one reason is that it’s really hard to operate as a standalone e-commerce vendor. Almost two thirds of all online sales are owned by just 15 giant e-commerce marketplaces. RetailNext CEO Alexei Agratchev recently told me: “As an ecommerce vendor, you have really high variable costs around shipping and returns. On the other hand, Amazon is an amazing logistical machine, and they’re not even running at a profit most of the time. … And the other question is, how do you really differentiate yourself online? Anything you do on your website, a competitor can steal pretty easily. But you can actually create really cool experiences in stores.” As a result, retail is changing in all sorts of interesting ways. Take a look at b8ta, a new personal technology chain. It has hip, minimalist stores that let you try out the latest gadgets. What’s even more interesting is that b8ta doesn’t make any money from product sales. Product manufacturers pay a subscription fee for access to its customer base. And as for those malls? Well, the ones that are doing well are doing really well. As old retailers are replaced by new online-first stores that are doing two to three times more business, the malls benefit from the increased foot traffic and attract better brands. Everyone wins. Again, it’s never been just about e-commerce versus retail. It’s always been about flipping the script — starting with the customer as opposed to the product sale, and wrapping both your e-commerce and your retail channels around that customer experience. Walmart is a product company that still views its e-commerce efforts as a distinct channel, a separate line of business. That’s not too surprising, considering the vast majority of its e-commerce business has been bought, not built: Jet.Com, Bonobos, ShoeBuy.Com, Moosejaw.Com, etc. Walmart tried to buy its way in. But it doesn’t seem to be working out. The leopard can’t change its spots. Tien Tzuo is Founder and CEO of Zuora. View the full article
  10. At Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona this weekend, LG will be unveiling the LG V30S ThinQ. We got a peek at the release a bit early — here is everything we know, minus pricing and release details. As the name implies, the new device does not look significantly different than the LG V30 it succeeds. Instead, the company is making internal hardware upgrades and emphasizing artificial intelligence features named Vision AI and Voice AI. This year, LG is making a point to shun the smartphone industry’s annual release cycles, retaining existing models for longer. Indeed, its next flagship that will succeed the LG G6, codenamed Judy, is not being unveiled at MWC. The company is focusing instead on variant models with the same look and feel, upgrading only a handful of aspects. The V30S ThinQ is the first instance of this strategy. Hardware changes When LG unveiled the V30, the company called it “the lightest among smartphones in the 6-inch and over category.” LG is meanwhile saying the V30S ThinQ is “still the thinnest and lightest among smartphones with displays of 6 inches or more.” Fans will be happy to hear that RAM has been upgraded from 4GB to 6GB. There are still two storage variants, and both have been doubled: 128GB for the V30S ThinQ and 256GB for the V30S+ ThinQ. And yes, there’s still a microSD slot. Here are the phone’s official specs: Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Mobile Platform Display: 6.0-inch 18:9 QuadHD+ OLED FullVision Display (2880 x 1440 / 538ppi) Memory: 6GB RAM, 128GB ROM (256GB ROM for V30S+ ThinQ), microSD (up to 2TB) Rear cameras: 16MP Standard Angle (F1.6 / 71°) / 13MP Wide Angle (F1.9 / 120°) Front camera: 5MP Wide Angle (F2.2 / 90°) AI: AI CAM, QVoice, QLens, Bright Mode, AI Haptic, Google Assistant Battery: 3300mAh Operating System: Android 8.0 Oreo Size: 151.7 x 75.4 x 7.3mm Weight: 158g Network: LTE-A 4 Band CA Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a, b, g, n, ac / Bluetooth 5.0 BLE / NFC / USB Type-C 2.0 (3.1 compatible) Colors: New Moroccan Blue (V30S ThinQ) or New Platinum Gray (V30S+ ThinQ) Other: 32-bit Hi-Fi Quad DAC, HDR10, Google Daydream, and UX 6.0+ Just like its predecessor, the phone has IP68 certification (water- and dust-resistant), is MIL-STD 810G compliant, and features voice recognition, face recognition, and a fingerprint sensor. Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 Technology and wireless charging are also both included. Vision AI and Voice AI ThinQ is LG’s brand for home appliances, consumer electronics, and services that feature artificial intelligence. The V30S ThinQ is LG’s first ThinQ mobile device, which will set the bar for its AI efforts in smartphones. In a nutshell, Vision AI means a smarter camera and Voice AI means more spoken commands. Vision AI can be broken down into three camera features — AI CAM, QLens, and Bright Mode: AI CAM analyzes subjects in the frame and recommends a shooting mode out of eight categories: portrait, food, pet, landscape, city, flower, sunrise, and sunset. “Each mode enhances the characteristics of the subject taking into account factors such as the viewing angle, color, reflections, lighting, and saturation level.” QLens uses image recognition to scan QR codes and get shopping information or to describe landmarks in the scene. “Perform an image search with QLens to see matching or similar images of food, fashion, and celebrities or detailed information of landmarks such as buildings and statues.” Bright Mode is meant to help with low light photography: “Instead of measuring only ambient light like most smartphone cameras, this AI feature uses algorithms to brighten images by a factor of two for better looking photos without the noise.” Voice AI meanwhile consists of a tool called QVoice that includes over 50 functions (there are 32 LG-exclusive commands). It works in conjunction with Google Assistant to access popular smartphone options without having to tap through multiple menus. LG has been toying with augmenting Google Assistant for a while now, and Voice AI on the V30S ThinQ is merely the latest evolution. While the V30S ThinQ ships with these “AI features,” LG is promising to bring (some of) them to the LG G6 and LG V30 via over-the-air updates. Additional LG smartphones could also get future AI upgrades, but LG isn’t committing to any other models just yet. View the full article
  11. GUEST: If 2017 was a dream for cryptocurrency enthusiasts, 2018 has been a swift return to reality. The value of Bitcoin, which increased over 1,000 percent last year, has decreased by close to 30 percent so far this year, and many other coins have followed suit. The crypto market has begun a modest recovery, but investors have nonetheless been given a stark reminder that cryptocurrency’s volatility is a double-edged sword — if you want to try and make it “to the moon,” you’ve got to risk crashing down to earth. One coin that has stayed relatively stable throughout the recent crash, though, is Ethereum. In fact, the value of 1 ether has actually increased by 4.9 percent since January 1, 2018, and its value relative to Bitcoin has grown by nearly 50 percent. So what is it about Ethereum that has allowed it to weather the storm and come out ahead? The short answer: Ethereum is backed by real utility that many other cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin included, simply don’t have. Ethereum cofounder, Vitalik Buterin, realized that blockchain technology was capable of supporting far more than just electronic cash systems. Rather than prescribing a narrow range of functions for which users could use the blockchain, he saw the potential for a blockchain platform on which developers could build any application they like. This would allow software designers to get all the benefits of blockchain technology — decentralization, inalterability, security, etc. — without having to build their own personal blockchains. That’s the vision behind Ethereum, and so far it’s been a tremendous success. Since its release in 2015, Ethereum’s network has become home to thousands of decentralized applications, or dapps. Many of these dapps are still in the development stage and have yet to go live, but Ethereum has set itself up to be the foundation for a huge software ecosystem. Here are a few dapps already live on the Ethereum platform that should give you an idea of the near-infinite range of possibilities: EtherDelta — EtherDelta is the biggest of many decentralized exchanges for Ethereum-based cryptocurrencies. Because it is run entirely through smart contracts, EtherDelta is a truly decentralized platform that offers numerous benefits, including increased security and the impossibility of fraud. uPort — uPort is a mobile app and software development platform aimed at providing users with a “self-sovereign” identity. Users can establish their electronic identity and link it to various verified claims like citizenship, visas, and certificates. This ultimately allows users to have a secure identity independent of traditional governmental means. CryptoKitties — The dapp that took the crypto world by storm, CryptoKitties is an online game that lets you collect and breed digital, cartoon cats. Though the concept is about as lighthearted as it could be, the app’s popularity has led to a serious investment of cash. Users have spent millions of dollars buying these animated felines through the app’s online marketplace. Each cat is unique, and secure ownership is maintained through Ethereum’s blockchain. The app’s popularity has declined since its peak around December of last year, but it serves as one of the best examples of the strange yet valuable ideas Ethereum can help to facilitate. Ethereum not only provides developers with a blockchain on which to build their applications; it also gives them a convenient way to fund their projects natively on the network in the form of tokens. These tokens, often referred to as ERC-20 tokens — which means they are compatible across the Ethereum platform — function similarly to shares of a company. Users buy tokens to help fund software projects, while also receiving investment incentives like financial rewards or voting rights. These tokens have become some of the most valuable cryptocurrencies in the world, even before the release of their associated dapp. In fact, 17 of the top 50 cryptocurrencies by market cap, not counting Ethereum itself, are ERC-20 tokens. This means there is a tremendous amount of money invested — directly or indirectly — into the Ethereum platform. Ethereum’s own cryptocurrency, Ether, serves less as an electronic cash system and more as a source of fuel for the Ethereum network. Ownership of Ether is therefore an investment in the Ethereum platform rather than an investment in a pure storage of value. All of this means Ethereum is more resistant to devaluation than other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Bitcoin is similar to fiat currency in that it has value because people agree it has value. This gives Bitcoin some stability, because everyone who has invested in Bitcoin is also invested in keeping it valuable. But it also makes Bitcoin vulnerable to possible crashes if investors begin to lose faith. If the faith goes away, there’s nothing else keeping it afloat. Ethereum doesn’t fall prey to these same pitfalls because it is more than a currency; it’s a platform that provides a valuable service. As long as Ethereum continues to see investment from developers who want to build on the network, the value of Ether is supported by meaningful capital. If Bitcoin is like fiat, Ether is like gold; its value is more stable because it’s partially backed up by an intrinsic usefulness that Bitcoin doesn’t have. This is at least part of the reason Ethereum proved more resilient during the recent crash. All that said, it is important to note that Ethereum is still a very young platform and is a long way away from realizing its full potential. It has only a handful of very popular dapps, and developers are still getting used to programming for the network. Therefore much of Ethereum’s value is still speculative. But its ’s recent stability compared to other coins should inspire confidence in its future. As more and more dapps take advantage of the Ethereum blockchain in new and interesting ways, its value should continue to increase. And assuming it can continue to fend off the dramatic swings that dominate the space, it may be setting itself up to become the industry leader. Full disclosure: I own a small holding in Ether and various other cryptocurrencies. The above article should not be taken as investment advice. Matthew Godshall is Editor-in-Chief of Unhashed.com, a cryptocurrency information resource. View the full article
  12. Little by little, Magic Leap is pulling back the veils on the mixed reality technology that it has been developing since 2011. The Florida company has raised more than $1.4 billion for its technology from investors like Google and Alibaba. Rony Abovitz, CEO of Magic Leap, said in December the company will ship its first augmented reality glasses in 2018. And this week, the company disclosed that it has an alliance with Weta Workshop, a mixed reality and game studio that is working on applications for the Magic Leap glasses. Weta Workshop is part of Peter Jackson’s New Zealand special effects studio, Weta, which created the dazzling effects for The Lord of the Rings films. I sat down with the team that made the announcement at the DICE Summit, the elite gaming event in Las Vegas this week. I spoke with Andy Lanning, executive creative director at Magic Leap Studios, which is a maker of applications within Magic Leap. Lanning previously worked at Marvel Comics and DC Comics on titles such as Nova and Legion of Super-Heroes. I also spoke with Greg Broadmore, game director, writer, and artist at Weta Gameshop, which is part of Weta Workshop. He worked on the worlds in the films District 9 and King Kong, and he is creating his own sci-fi universe Dr. Grordbort. Broadmore is working on an alternate reality title dubbed Dr. G’s Invaders for Magic Leap, slated for release this year. And I talked with Hayley Gray, executive producer at Weta Gameshop. She has spent the past five years building Weta’s first gaming division, and she manages the 50-person team working on Dr. G’s Invaders. She previously worked on a wide variety of projects such as The Hobbit and The BFG. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation. Above: Weta Workshop in New Zealand. Image Credit: Weta Workshop GamesBeat: Tell me about what you’re announcing. Greg Broadmore: Weta Workshop is most famous as a design studio and a physical effects studio. We’re famous for making physical props, that kind of thing. But we’ve also been in a relationship with Magic Leap for five years now. Rony Abovitz brought us on board through his creative project he was developing before Magic Leap. Today we’ve finally crystallized that five-year ambition into a new studio, which we’re calling Weta Gameshop. It’s a division of Weta Workshop focused completely on video games for Magic Leap and mixed reality. We have around 50 people at the moment, and we’ve custom-built a new facility for mixed reality. It has testing spaces that are designed to solve the problem of making mixed reality content. Hayley Gray: Richard Taylor, who’s the managing director of Weta Workshop, actually met Rony in 2009. That’s when Rony first contacted him about a creative property that he wanted to develop. This is before Magic Leap even existed. Weta Workshop worked on some concept design and creative work for Rony at the time. Then it was about five or six years ago when Rony founded Magic Leap and came to us with the idea that we would create a mixed reality experience for the new Magic Leap platform. That’s when the Dr. Grordbort’s IP kicked off. Broadmore: Rony had started this relationship working with us at things like Comic-Con. He became aware of the science fiction world that I’d been building. At the time, quite randomly, he suggested that he’d love for us to make a game for this new mixed reality platform he was making. He didn’t call it “mixed reality,” because the terminology didn’t exist then, but he described this very science-fiction vision. We were at the point with Dr. Grordbort’s, with the work I was doing at Weta Workshop, that we wanted to branch into making video games. Rony presented this opportunity to make a game on a totally new platform. We’ve jumped in with both feet and built a facility around that. Gray: We’ve had the opportunity to work on the Magic Leap platform longer than any other developer. We’ve been working on it for five years, before the technology even existed and we could test on the technology. At the time we were just conceptualizing what we thought some of the potential opportunities could be for mixed reality. Since then we’ve grown to 50 people, comprised of both Magic Leap employees — software engineers and technical staff — as well as Weta Workshop employees – creatives, designers, storytellers, writers, set designers, artists. We have all of those 50 people housed within our Weta Gameshop facility in Wellington, New Zealand. Broadmore: From a developer point of view we have a kind of twofold function. We’re making a game, Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders, for the launch of Magic Leap this coming year. The idea is to make an exemplar of what the platform and mixed reality can do. At the same time, it’s a forcing function for what the platform should be. Our requirements feed into what the various hardware and SDK features of the platform are. We’ve been in that dialogue since the start. A game is a great way of solving a technical problem. Our device is capable of many different things, but a game is a great way to crack the problem, if you like. If you can solve games you can solve anything. Gray: We’ve had a very integrated partnership with Magic Leap. Greg and I have been traveling to Florida seven or eight times every year, staying in tune with the development of Magic Leap’s platform. Our team in Wellington have been doing, essentially, a lot of the hard work to help provide that feedback to Magic Leap in the development of the platform, from a developer’s perspective. That’s been one of our primary objectives at the studio. Above: Weta Workshop spun out of Peter Jackson’s Weta special effects firm. Image Credit: Weta Workshop GamesBeat: Why are you a second or third party when you could be part of Magic Leap? Broadmore: I think Rony came to us—he started by exploring this creative world, which was called Hour Blue. That was the first part of the relationship. Of course he identified that we’re renowned for building worlds for storytelling. He saw that he had a technical problem to solve with Magic Leap, primarily. But really that’s just a vehicle for creative visions. Having a company like Weta Workshop come in and yield that expertise—we have almost 30 years of experience building worlds for Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Neil Blomkamp, films like that. That world-building is something he saw and gravitated toward. That marriage is what makes both of us work so well together. Gray: The core concept and opportunity within mixed reality is the overlap between the physical and the digital. That’s where the partnership between Magic Leap and Weta Workshop is that perfect match. Weta Workshop can bring the expertise they have building physical effects and environments and characters and worlds. Magic Leap, with their technology expertise, now has a team that’s collaborating in Wellington to build those physical and digital and experiences. Andy Lanning: Richard Taylor is on the board of directors of Magic Leap as well. He’s one of the founding members. At that time, it was all about a creative vision, as opposed to looking at a proper piece of hardware and saying, “This is what you can and can’t do.” Rony wanted to bring a lot of creative thought processes to those early days, to help shape what that vision could be. Beyond the technology to really dig deep into what those possibilities are. Weta, with their hands-on approach, in terms of making objects and working within spaces, is exactly the sort of partnership that’s led to where we are now, which is actually doing the things we were thinking up on the back of napkins back in the day. We can actually substantively produce those things. Above: Magic Leap One comes with a hand controller and a puck. Image Credit: Magic Leap Broadmore: Even though this is a division of Weta Workshop, it doesn’t feel like a second party. A bunch of our team, almost half, are Magic Leap employees. We’re sort of joined at the hip. That relationship, as we say—we travel back and forth all the time. We’re in constant communication. To me it doesn’t feel like two companies. It feels like one. Under the hood it’s not, but that’s how it functions. Lanning: It’s a relationship born from a shared creative vision, a symbiosis between those two worlds. The amount of time we’ve been doing this now, you don’t think of it like that at all. 1 2 View All Continue Reading ...View the full article
  13. The fairy tale of Cuphead and its developer Studio MDHR continued this week as the debut game from a debut studio won three major awards at the prestigious DICE Awards in Las Vegas. Maja Moldenhauer humbly said on stage during a talk that she didn’t know what she could teach veteran game developers, except to offer a fresh perspective on making games. It’s a wonder that the run-and-gun action platformer game — which has a deceptively whimsical 1930s cartoon art style and yet is deliberately very hard to play — sold 2 million copies (as of December 1) and became one of the most talked about games of 2017. It has three hours of jazz ensemble music and 60,000 frames of hand-drawn images for its fiendishly difficult boss battles. “What could an indie developer from Canada possibly talk about that might captivate an audience with the most colorful resumes in the industry,” she said. “Then I thought, maybe it’s just that. As such, I’m not standing here as an industry leader with a wealth of experience. But more as a fresh set of eyes to help remind you of what it was like to operate with a limited resources from time, staff, definitely budget — but we never let those stand in our way.” Above: Maja Moldenhauer with an illustration of Cuphead designers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer. Image Credit: Dean Takahashi Moldenhauer said in an interview at the DICE Summit gaming event that the success has given the team — staffed by former web page designers, construction workers, and financial analysts — the financial stability to continue making games for the long term. I couldn’t finish the game, but it has a rabid base of fans who appreciate its difficulty, which was born from the desire of Studio MDHR cofounders Chad and Jared Moldenhauer to make a game that reminded them of the platform games they grew up with. The game’s difficulty meant that a lot of players couldn’t finish it, but that helped create an aura of attention around Cuphead, and skillful players appreciated how it took precise control of the analog controller sticks to master the moment-to-moment, variable gameplay. Cuphead’s designers had a vision that they never compromised, even though the company was always low on both money and experience, Moldenhauer said. They had a relentless focus on making a difficult game that required skill to beat, and it turned out this idea resonated with all of the fans who long for retro games, admire the skill of speed runners and elite players, and appreciate old-style games where gameplay was king. A lot of people made fun of how I was terrible at the game, and Moldenhauer and I talked about that — and the problem of cyberbullying — as well. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview. Above: Cuphead’s aniimated backgrounds are positively Street Fighter-inspired. Image Credit: Studio MDHR GamesBeat: Was there a main message you wanted to get across in your talk, a theme? Maja Moldenhauer: The theme of DICE this year is “Made Better.” You’ll probably hear this repeated in my talk. When I got the call to be a keynote here, I was a bit confused. What am I going to teach these people? I’m a student here still. The way we looked at it–from a fresh lens, from a fresh perspective, not having made 20 games before, how did we pull this off? Where did we invest in making sure the game was up to par in terms of where we saw quality and how we got there? I’m going to be taking a view from the trenches, giving some color to that. GamesBeat: I remember your talk in Montreal, where you said it wasn’t a fairy tale. Is it important to get that across to people, that it’s not an automatic success? Moldenhauer: I’ll be touching on that, yeah. It’s been so romanticized in the media. It’s not wrong. We did re-mortgage our homes and quit our jobs. But it was never as if we woke up one morning and it happened. There were baby steps. There were pulse checks. We weighed risk and reward. We knew what we were doing as we went along. There were checkpoints we had to hit before we ever made the next step. GamesBeat: It seemed like, at some point in the process, you started organizing things. I don’t know if you’d describe it as taking control of the process, but—you didn’t start that way, right? You graduated into this role. Moldenhauer: Exactly. Initially, I just started on the art side. Then every time we missed a target date or a timeline and we realized how horrible Chad is at projecting timelines, I said, “No, I have to take the reins here.” That’s how my role evolved, from the art side to a lot of the production side. Above: Jared and Chad Moldenhauer, leaders of Studio MDHR, maker of Cuphead. Image Credit: The Game Awards GamesBeat: Was that any tougher because it was a family thing? Moldenhauer: Um, yeah? GamesBeat: “Chad, you’re fired.” [laughs] Moldenhauer: And then when it came to art, he’d be like, “No, you’re fired!” [laughs] I think we were balanced evenly. Chad is like a sponge. He takes a lot. He’s a really good guy. There were days where I would be a little bit more stressed than he was, while he’s so even-keeled. It’s a good balance. GamesBeat: Keeping everyone on time that you developed a skill for, then? Moldenhauer: I tried. I don’t know if I got there. From an education perspective, for Chad—he would never pay attention to timelines. We would project, “Okay, this boss is going to take four weeks. A week to concept, a couple of weeks to animate, a week to color and ink.” If, in that first week, we didn’t get the concept of what that boss was going to look like down pat, he didn’t just pick the best one. It would be another take, another take, another take. If that turned into three weeks, it took three weeks. We never compromised or settled. That’s where the bulk of our delays were rooted. In hindsight, it was the right decision, rather than settling. It was unfortunate for the people who were disappointed in the delays, the vagueness and the black of hole that was Cuphead for a couple of years. But hopefully it was worth it. Above: Maja Moldenhauer at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas. Image Credit: Dean Takahashi GamesBeat: What are some of the other hindsights you have? Moldenhauer: When we were in the thick of it, it never felt like—in hindsight I look back and think, “How did we pull that off?” I look at the bank boxes of paper all around our basement and I wonder if I’d have been as eager about doing it if you told me I would have to ink 60,000 frames of animation. I don’t know. Maybe I would always be thinking, “I only got 100 done today, 60,000 to go.” But in the thick of it you’re just focusing on that 100. You don’t know how many more there are to come. That’s a big one. GamesBeat: All hand-drawn? Moldenhauer: I know! On paper. It’s crazy. Probably a horrible idea. [laughs] GamesBeat: I saw that you had some reinforcements come in for the last couple of months? Moldenhauer: There’s a company based out of Montreal called Illogika. They were life-savers in terms of—they did a lot of support for us. As you’re going through the final stages of testing and things like that, the last three-four-five months, and realizing precision wasn’t here, or something wasn’t programmed perfectly there—being able to pull in that team to help us with development, testing, support– Above: Cuphead Fun House. Image Credit: Studio MDHR GamesBeat: Did you find them, or did Microsoft find them? Moldenhauer: We found them, I think just through a Google search? We found almost everyone that way. A lot of our animators said, “How did you find me?” Because we hand-picked our people. But usually we just googled it. 1 2 3 View All Continue Reading ...View the full article
  14. Gillette, the world’s leading male grooming brand, which has been working with the world’s best athletes for many decades, is now official partner of the ESL Championship (ESL Meisterschaft) in Germany. Gillette thus continues its international involvement in the field of esports: By sponsoring the Intel® Extreme Masters (IEM) World Championship Katowice, Gillette entered into ... The post Gillette Becomes Official Partner of the ESL Championship in Germany appeared first on eSports Marketing Blog. View the full article
  15. Shadow.gg, an analytics platform for teams who compete professionally in League of Legends, has partnered with Battlefly, an esports competition platform. This venture will provide Battlefy with match data from Riot’s College Legends of Legends season to create a new version of Shadow.gg’s analytics platform – which was created by DOJO Madness. In December last year, Battlefy teamed up with Riot Games to produce the collegiate League of Legends season, running from January to June. The season allows more than 300 teams to compete against each other. Shadow.gg’s analytics comes to the aids of both esports teams and broadcasters, and is used by multiple teams in the League of Legends Champion Series. It helps teams to prepare for upcoming matches by providing insights into other teams’ performance, as well their own. Tim Sevenhuysen, Head of Shadow Initiatives, DOJO Madness said of the news: “Esports is constantly breaking through new frontiers, and collegiate competition is one of the industry’s fastest-growing segments. Battlefy and Riot Games have shown how deeply committed they are to the long-term future of collegiate esports, and we’re thrilled to be able to support that vision by offering collegiate teams access to our professional-grade tools.” John Gallagher, Business Development Manager, Battlefy also discussed this venture: “Battlefy’s mission is to grow the esports ecosystem and empower others to leverage the platform to create rewarding competitive experiences for players. This partnership is a great example of how partners, like DOJO Madness, help drive this mission forward with us.” Esports Insider says: Collegiate esports is receiving more and more esports support each month and providing them with rich analytical data will only better students’ experience. View the full article
  16. If I’m not playing a game that I’m supposed to write about then chances are I’m either playing something for fun, talking about games with friends, or thinking about games while I do other things. This goes for both VR and non-VR. Point being: gaming is a huge part of my life. As a result, I’ve got Discord installed on my PC and phone so I can stay connected to my friends while in and out of games. Often while I’m playing something, even if it’s a single player game, a friend will message me or start a call so we can chat while playing separately. VR does not have its equivalent of this feature. Or rather, it didn’t until today. With the launch of Pluto, VR is finally getting its own version of a Discord-like social app. Pluto works by adding itself as a background app that runs alongside SteamVR when you’re using your headset. You make an avatar, curate a contact list, and just go about your business as usual. If a friend sees you online they can start a call — with or without avatars — that runs concurrently with your current VR app. This means that while you’re gunning down Super Mutants in Fallout 4 VR or getting in some exercise with Soundboxing, Pluto exists as an overlay between your VR world and your friend’s. If you toggle on your Pluto avatar they will see your head-tracked face and hands moving around, mimicking the actions you’re doing in your own VR world, but it’s superimposed into their environment. In fact, Pluto even adds an overlay icon from the SteamVR menu (right down at the bottom next to Steam, Desktop, and Settings.) This makes it super easy to adjust settings (such as avatar opacity) on the fly while you’re still in your other VR experiences. Luckily it really, really works well. A well-known blemish on the report card of VR right now is that it’s an inherently isolating experience unless you’re in a dedicated social VR app like VRChat, Rec Room, or even Bigscreen. Now with Pluto, anything can be social. Worth nothing though is that Pluto is not intended to help you meet or find people in VR — this is to stay connected with people you already know. The developers likened it to a telephone call with avatars, or in other words, you can only dial numbers that you know, hence the contact list. As of now there are no public rooms or ways to just meet people that also use Pluto. I first tried Pluto over a year ago when it was still in very early Alpha testing. Everything worked well back then, but it lacked polish and some key features — all of which have been added for its Early Access debut today. But honestly, as cool as Pluto is, part of me thinks that one of the platform manufacturers (such as Sony, Oculus/Facebook, and Steam) are either working on their own more streamlined solution that will emulate these features, or are planning to buy the impressive startup outright. This type of integration feels too crucial to be left to a third-party application like Pluto. For more information you can check out the official website or download the app, for free, in Steam Early Access right now for Rift, Vive, and Windows VR. This story originally appeared on Uploadvr.com. Copyright 2018 View the full article
  17. Microsoft today released a new Windows 10 preview for PCs with a small but important change to Windows Update. This build is from the RS4 branch, which represents the next Windows 10 update the company has yet to announce (but is likely to ship soon). There is no new build from the RS5 branch. Windows 10 is a service, meaning it was built in a very different way from its predecessors so it can be regularly updated with not just fixes, but new features, too. Microsoft has released four major updates so far: November Update, Anniversary Update, Creators Update, and Fall Creators Update. There is only one major addition in this release: Windows Update has been tweaked to be more proactive at keeping PCs updated. When Windows Update scans, downloads, and installs updates on a PC that is plugged in, it will prevent the PC from going to sleep when it is not in active use for up to 2 hours. The goal is to “give Windows Update more opportunity to succeed,” the team explains. This desktop build includes the following general bug fixes and improvements: Fixed an issue where Settings would crash when you tried to open Themes. Fixed an issue where the Settings tile didn’t have a name if you pinned it to Start. Updated About Settings to include at a glance entries for the two new Windows Defender pillars (Account Protection and Device Security). Fixed a typo in Storage Sense Settings. Fixed an issue resulting in all dropdowns in Settings appearing blank until clicked. Fixed an issue that could result in Settings crashing after having navigated to and left Sound Settings. Fixed an issue where closing certain apps after using in-app search could result in them hanging on the splash screen the next time they were launched. Fixed an issue where plugging in an external optical drive (DVD) will cause an Explorer.exe crash. Fixed an issue resulting in the hamburger button in Windows Defender overlapping the home button. Fixed an issue where certain games using Easy Anti Cheat could result in the system experiencing a bugcheck (KMODE_EXCEPTION_NOT_HANDLED). Fixed an issue where we had observed seeing longer-than-normal delays during install at the 88% mark. Some delays were as long as 90 minutes before moving forward. Fixed an issue resulting in the Windows Defender offline scan not working in recent builds. Today’s update bumps the Windows 10 build number for PCs from 17101 (made available to testers on February 14) to build 17107. This build has four known issues: Buttons on Game bar are not centered correctly. Selecting a notification after taking a screenshot or game clip opens the Xbox app’s home screen instead of opening the screenshot or game clip. Post-install at the first user-prompted reboot or shutdown, a small number of devices have experienced a scenario wherein the OS fails to load properly and may enter a reboot loop state. For affected PCs, turning off fast boot may bypass the issue. If not, it is necessary to create a bootable ISO on a USB drive, boot into recovery mode, and this this will allow bypass. Tearing a PDF tab in Microsoft Edge will result in a bugcheck (GSOD). As always, don’t install this on your production machine. View the full article
  18. (Reuters) — Self-driving cars that back up their computerized system with a remote human operator instead of a fallback driver at the wheel could be tested on California roads as early as April, the state department of motor vehicles said. Relying on a remote human operator – who could control multiple autonomous vehicles from miles away – is a step that would allow a path to profitability in the nascent field of self-driving technology by eliminating California’s requirement for in-car minders. Experts believe early adopters of the technology will include ride-hailing services seeking to maximize paying passengers while eliminating paid backups traveling with them. The race to develop autonomous vehicles includes such global automakers as General Motors and technology giants like Alphabet’s Waymo unit. If they are ready to deploy the remote monitor technology by April, it would be the first time they could test their cars on public roads in the state without physical drivers present. The remote control technology, already used by NASA and the military, is seen as a way to more quickly usher in the commercial rollout of self-driving cars. The new regulations are expected to be approved later this month, and take effect in April after a month-long public notice period. Companies like Nissan, Waymo and startups Zoox, Phantom Auto and Starsky Robotics have been working on the technology, which allows for a remote operator to take control of a vehicle if the underlying autonomous system inside the car encounters problems, known in the industry as difficult-to-solve “edge” cases. “We think we have the ultimate backup system – which is a human,” said Elliot Katz, co-founder of Phantom Auto, which last month at the CES technology conference demonstrated how cars driving in Las Vegas could be remotely controlled from Mountain View, California, over 500 miles away. The presence of a remote operator also helps companies reassure lawmakers and the public, said Katz, who said he expected companies to deploy such technology on California roads soon after April. Getting rid entirely of drivers capable of taking the wheel in case of problems has concerned some lawmakers. U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have questioned the safeguards in an autonomous vehicle bill currently stalled in the Senate. During a January Senate hearing, Zoox Chief Executive Officer Tim Kentley-Klay testified that “teleoperations” technology would play a role in the overall system of the Silicon Valley startup. “When your model is to have autonomous vehicles deployed as a for-hire service in cities, you are still going to need a command center in that city that has a human-in-the-loop oversight of the fleet, both to deal with vehicles if they have an issue but also to deal with customers if they need help,” Kentley-Klay said. The new regulations are expected to be approved on Feb 26 by California’s legal compliance agency, with the DMV then opening a 30-day public notice period beginning March 1. During that period, companies planning to test would prepare their applications, with the first permits potentially being issued on April 2, DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez told Reuters. “It will be interesting to see which manufacturer is the first,” she added. View the full article
  19. GUEST: I’ve always been fascinated by a game’s ability to replicate real-world systems. Social interactions, weather systems, and even nuanced economies are re-created digitally with almost alarming accuracy. This has always been a part of a game’s appeal: the opportunity to safely play around in a world that feels so real. Today, games are inching closer to reality. Massively multiplayer online games replaced computer-controlled NPCs with real people, making room for massive online communities to grow organically. Now developers have infused in-game economies with real-world currency in an effort to better monetize their products. Instead of using virtual money earned in-game, you might just be asked to fork over real dollars for that next armor upgrade or level-up. This is the new in-game economy. As the line between what’s real and what’s becomes further blurred, players take on more risk. Whenever a game invites players to buy items with their money, the game also inevitably (and inadvertently) invites scammers, item dupers, and fraud. Suddenly, a fake world is fraught with real dangers. So what’s to protect player-driven economies in a largely unregulated environment? Blockchain technology may be the solution we’re looking for, due to the decentralized network and capability to record each transaction to combat fraud. How in-game economies work Economies (virtual or otherwise) are governed by the law of supply and demand. The availability of an item affects the demand for that same item. Generally speaking, the lower the availability, the higher the price. In the real world, items of value are finite. They require time and resources to create which influences their market value. Games attempt to simulate this. Developers set the attributes and rarity of an item in order to incentivize players to spend more time and money to acquire it. There are three main economic models in games: The first is a two (or multiple) currency system that features both in-game and real money. League of Legends and most other FTP MOBAs have this, where many items can be purchased with real money, but players also earn another currency by playing and progressing. The second model is a one-currency system. A number of mobile games use this system, whereby the user pays money to install the app and then gradually earns in-game currency to pay for in-game rewards. There are also massively multiplayer RPGs like World of Warcraft, which has a purchase price and a subscription fee, but also an in-game economy and auction house based entirely on earned gold and crafted items. And finally, there are games that employ no in-game currency at all, and instead opt to implement real money transactions for upgrades and cosmetics. Dota 2 use this as its main form of monetization, differently from its peers. Acquiring items, such as new weapons and armor, is often what progresses players forward and unlocks new content for them to consume. In short, it’s a rewards system that keeps the game alive and profitable. But progress can be expensive in some games. As the free-to-play model becomes more popular, players continue to shell out more real-world money. In 2016, Game of War: Fire Age developer Machine Zone drew an astonishing average of $549.69 per paying user. On average, mobile gamers are paying nearly $10 a month on in-app purchases. All of these economies mix scarcity with real money, a combination that leads to problems — which can be remedied by blockchain. Beware scammers, fraudsters, and dupers Whenever there’s people forking over real money, there’s always a few nefarious types looking to take advantage. It’s estimated that “for every legitimate virtual item sold and downloaded, there are 7.5 virtual items downloads lost to fraud.” That’s an astounding ratio that works to corrupt in-game economies and rip off gamers. Much of the problem exists due to item duping. Fraudsters find exploits within the game that allow them to duplicate what were originally rare and expensive items in high demand. Similar to the real economy, item duping increases inflation while diluting item value.Then there’s identity theft. Criminals use stolen credit cards to purchase in-game items that they sell at discount. The blockchain economy The blockchain, or more specifically, proof of ownership, can fix this. Luckily, proving ownership is one of the things blockchain does really well, and is being used in multiple industries outside of video games. To quickly review, blockchain became famous as the technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. In short, it’s a decentralized ledger that records an action (in the case of Bitcoin, it’s a transaction). Once recorded, the record is encrypted and publicly accessible. If the creation and sale of items — whether via the developer or the player — is what fuels the growth and balance of in-game economies, then proving the source of ownership for those items is essential to fighting fraud. The blockchain would act as the official record of the in-game economy. It would store information about which items were created, when they were created, who created them, and any transactions that occurred involving those items. Duping would be impossible, inflation wouldn’t occur (at least not due to fraud), and gamers wouldn’t be ripped off. Blockchain is already starting to percolate through the gaming industry for these very reasons. CryptoKitties, perhaps one of the more famous (and adorable) examples, allows gamers to buy, sell, and trade digital cats. But unlike other collectible games, CryptoKitties allows players to track ownership of every cat on the blockchain, removing any concern that a player could be victim to the fraudulent sale or trade of these digital felines. As games become more sophisticated in their rendering of real-world systems, they need to also become more knowledgeable about the risks involved. Historically, the gaming industry is always among the first to adopt new technologies. Blockchain should not be an exception. Sam Kim is CEO and co-founder of KR8OS. View the full article
  20. Earlier this week Google and Verily Life Sciences shared the latest advance in computer vision to identify signs of heart disease. With an accuracy of 70 percent, early results from the AI trained on retinal scan images from more than 200,000 patients is as precise as methods that require blood tests for cholesterol, said Google Brain product manager Lily Peng. It’s the latest example of AI being used to tackle the biggest killer in the world: heart disease. It takes more lives than any other cause of death — 800,000 in the United States alone, according to the American Heart Association. To save lives, an AI army is joining the fight. Corti uses pattern recognition in language to identify heart attack calls to emergency services. In trials being run in Copenhagen now, the AI is able to identify a call in which the victim is having a heart attack 95 percent of the time, or more than 20 percent more often than trained human emergency operators. Working with General Electric Healthcare, Arterys uses the cloud and MRI scans to create multidimensional images of blood flow through the heart in 15 minutes. There’s also HeartFlow, which makes detailed images with CT scans, an approach that can reduce the need for angiograms and lower healthcare costs. All of these solutions are designed to improve detection or save time, increasing the likelihood of survival from cardiovascular disease or a heart attack. Taken together, AI applied to matters of the heart is shaping up to be one of the clearest cut examples of AI being used to improve the lives of human beings. That’s not just terribly poetic irony, it also represents an instance of AI in which machines seem to routinely outperform humans. The advancement of AI to solve problems of the heart also reflects the duality of this technology. As recent deepfakes drama and a report from a number of experts from earlier this week makes clear, malicious applications of AI can threaten human values of equality, freedom, and even our collective sense of reality. One of the recommendations of the report from EFF, OpenAI, and other reputable organizations is that people recognize the good and bad ways AI can be used. For professionals in the field, the report argues, this is important for creating common standards, finding ways to evaluate potential malicious applications of AI, and educating policymakers. Acknowledgement of this duality is good advice for the rest of the world too in order to ensure you’re getting a more complete picture of how AI is changing lives. So next time you hear someone reference our inevitable slip into dystopia where we will bow to our robot overlords, talk to them about the heart. As challenging as it is to do so in a world full of filter bubbles, you have to acknowledge these perpendicular trends. To truly grasp their impact, they deserve to be considered alongside one another. Thanks for reading, Khari Johnson AI Staff Writer P.S. Enjoy this conversation about issues facing AI as a field featuring astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about how his view of AI has changed over time. From VB Xiaomi and Microsoft team up on AI, cloud computing, and PCs Xiaomi and Microsoft announced today that they’re deepening a previously established partnership to encompass work on cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and PC hardware. Thus far, the two companies have signed a memorandum of understanding, pledging to evaluate future avenues of collaboration. It’s good news for Microsoft, since Xiaomi is a fast-growing company with a strong […] Read the full story Google launches ARCore out of preview, will expand Lens to Android and iOS devices Ahead of Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona, Google today launched ARCore 1.0, letting developers create AR experiences on Android. Releasing ARCore out of preview means developers can publish apps that can understand your environment, and place objects in it, on the Google Play store. Google today also announced plans to expand its Google Lens […] Read the full story Google Assistant to add over 30 languages and multilingual support by the end of 2018 Google Assistant will soon be able to complete multiple tasks with a single command, speak more than 30 languages, and allow people to use more than one language with their AI assistant. The news comes days before Mobile World Congress, which begins Monday in Barcelona, Spain. “The Assistant is already available in eight languages, and by […] Read the full story Google’s DeepMind wants AI to spot kidney injuries Google subsidiary DeepMind announced today that it’s working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to use machine learning in an attempt to predict when patients will deteriorate during a hospital stay. Deterioration (when a patient’s condition worsens) is a significant issue, since care providers can miss warning signs for potentially lethal conditions that arise […] Read the full story Hypergiant launches AI product incubator and seed stage fund Hypergiant is launching out of stealth today to help large companies develop an AI strategy to meet their business goals. The startup is also launching Hypergiant Ventures, an AI investment fund, and Hypergiant Applied Sciences, a product incubation studio. Hypergiant raised a seed round of an undisclosed amount last August and currently has 24 employees, with […] Read the full story Chris Messina: Alexa leads the ‘god bot’ wars because Amazon gets the most interest from developers A little over two years ago, before Facebook Messenger or iMessage opened to third-party bots, and before the arrival of Google Assistant, conversational AI champion Chris Messina helped coin the term “conversational commerce.” Messina, who is perhaps best known as the creator of the hashtag, has since 2015 examined trends like chat apps surpassing social […] Read the full story Beyond VB Why AI researchers at Google got desks next to the boss If you want to understand the priorities of a technology company, first look at the seating chart. At Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters, the chief executive, Sundar Pichai, now shares a floor with Google Brain, a research lab dedicated to artificial intelligence. Read the full story How the UAE’s new minister of AI views the future of tech in his desert nation Can you actually have a state “minister of artificial intelligence”? Yes: The United Arab Emirates has actually appointed one. He is State Minister of AI Omar bin Sultan Al Olama. And, during an interview, he told me he is confident about the future of artificial intelligence in his desert nation and the civic benefits that will emerge from these advancements. Read the full story Tech companies should stop pretending AI won’t destroy jobs I took an Uber to an artificial-­intelligence conference at MIT one recent morning, and the driver asked me how long it would take for autonomous vehicles to take away his job. I told him it would happen in about 15 to 20 years. He breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, I’ll be retired by then,” he said. Read the full story Good news: AI is getting cheaper. That’s also bad news. A Silicon Valley start-up recently unveiled a drone that can set a course entirely on its own. A handy smartphone app allows the user to tell the airborne drone to follow someone. Once the drone starts tracking, its subject will find it remarkably hard to shake. The drone is meant to be a fun gadget — sort of a flying selfie stick. But it is not unreasonable to find this automated bloodhound a little unnerving. Read the full story View the full article
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  22. Nintendo updated Super Mario Odyssey with new, free content yesterday. This introduced the Balloon World online mode that enables players to have fun with an asynchronous hide-and-seek mode. Players can either hide a balloon and earn coins as other players take turns failing to retrieve it, or they can try to find other players’ balloons before the timer runs out. This is a fun end-game mode that enables players to use their knowledge of the level maps and how to control Mario to earn a lot of extra coins. You can then use that in-game currency to unlock new costumes or moons. But this mode has also exposed some of Super Mario Odyssey’s seams because players are using glitches to hide balloons out-of-bounds. For example, here is one in the Mushroom Kingdom level: Other players have noticed balloons hidden in this wall, and they are talking about it on Super Mario Odyssey forums. To get this balloon, you’d have to empty out the pond by pulling the four stoppers, and then you’d have to perform some precise movements with Mario to get him to slide through the geometry. For this wall, you’d need to ground pound into a roll toward the wall. As Mario first touches the wall, you need to press Y and B at the same time to throw your hat and to exit the roll simultaneously. This should put Mario inside of the wall. That’s not impossible to do, but this favors the hider. If you are seeking, you have to wager your coins. So you could easily run out of money before you succeed at this challenge. The hider doesn’t have to risk anything, and they can try as many times as they want without losing any coins. And the more people who fail at your balloon, the more coins you get — so the game encourages this kind of cheating. Finally, when you go to seek balloons, the highest-risk/highest-reward missions are these kinds of nearly impossible balloons. But you can’t see if they are using a glitch or not until after you pay. And even then, you may have to pay a couple of times to understand that a particular balloon is impossible unless you understand how the glitches work. Thankfully, this is just a distraction, but I hope Nintendo addresses this mode — because it’s one that I want to use to earn the coins I need to get to 999 moons and 100-percent the game. View the full article
  23. Somewhere: The Vault Papers teases the possibility of an immense conspiracy unfolding — but the only way you can find out more is through texting. French developer Norseman Interactive has teamed up with publisher Playdius on its debut messaging-based narrative mobile game. It launches March 8 on iOS for $3, with an Android release to come at a later date. The player must guide Cat, a journalist who’s been investigating a whistleblower’s claims. At the start of Somewhere, she texts you on accident and from then on, you must help her make decisions to stay alive when people begin pursuing her. Depending on your choices, the game has six different endings to unlock. The story progresses in real-time, much like other mobile games that have mimicked text conversations such as The Pixel Hunt’s Bury Me, My Love, which details the struggles of Syrian refugees escaping to Europe, and Three Minute Games’s astronaut thriller Lifeline. However, Norseman Interactive has added another mechanic to the mix: You’ll also have to open up Google Maps to help Cat at certain points in the game. Mobile texting games evoke a certain sense of true immersion. The games’ user interfaces often imitate real messaging apps, which can make the stories feel even more intense. Somewhere’s inclusion of Google Maps adds yet another parallel to the way folks commonly use their phones. It also incorporates some elements from alternate reality games (ARGs) as players will occasionally have to search for clues on the internet to solve puzzles. View the full article
  24. Echo Fox‘s ownership group Vision Esports has raised $38 million (£27,200,400) after a funding round saw major celebrities invest. The esports organisation, owned by Rick Fox, received backing Kevin Durant (along with his business partner Rich Kleiman), Odell Beckham Jr., the St. Louis Cardinals, Shamrock Holdings, Seth Bernstein Capital Management, and First Access Entertainment’s Simon Tikhman. The funding round was organised and led by Evolution Media, a firm that is backed by the Creative Artists Agency and TPG Growth. Vision Esports owns and invests in a number of esports properties, first being formed by Stattos Sclavos (a former minority owner in the San Jose Sharks), Jace HGall, and Chris Nordling. The organisation owns competitive gaming organisation Echo Fox, Twin Galaxies, and Vision Entertainment. Dan Good, Vice President, St. Louis Cardinals explained why the company decided to back Vision and subsequently, Echo Fox. “We have been following the esports sector for several years. In the last year, we have gotten to know the team at Vision Esports and felt this was an exciting investment opportunity.” “In addition to the sector’s growth potential, we were impressed with Vision’s depth of experience that is applicable to the new esports ecosystem, including Stratton Sclavos’ experience with the San Jose Sharks; Jace Hall at Warner Brothers Interactive; Chris Nordling at MGM Resorts and Mike Mossholder at UFC,” Good continued. This funding comes in addition to the investment Echo Fox received from the New York Yankees last October. Rick Hess, Founder, Evolution Media discussed this recent venture from Vision. “Evolution Media has spent several years advising and analyzing companies in the esports sector, and we’re particularly excited to partner with a world class management team led by Stratton, who we’ve known since his days running Strikeforce and the San Jose Sharks. Esports is one of the highest growth sectors within all media and entertainment. We couldn’t be more bullish on the space and Vision’s market position.” Esports Insider says: Echo Fox can only benefit from this additional funding, and it’s interesting to see more big time athletes getting involved – no matter the capacity – in the esports industry. We’ll be keeping an eye on the organisation to see where it goes next. View the full article
  25. Dropbox filed for an initial public offering today with the aim to raise $500 million for its cloud-based file storage and collaboration service. It had secretly filed to go public in early January. The San Francisco-based company brought in $1.1 billion in revenue last year, with a net loss of $111 million. It has more than 500 million registered users, 11 million of which are paying users. The company’s last private valuation was $10 billion. Dropbox’s annual revenue has grown significantly year-over-year, while the company has also managed to slash its net loss from nearly $326 million in 2015. Investors and the tech industry will be watching the results of this offering closely, considering that it’s the first big tech IPO of 2018. Dropbox is heading into a potentially choppy market, too: stock prices have been on a roller-coaster ride over the past several weeks, though the market has rebounded significantly from lows earlier this month. It will also be interesting to see how Dropbox fares on Wall Street compared to Snap’s disappointing performance over the last year. Dropbox has plenty going for it with investors. Its model of attracting paying consumer users through a pair of premium plans alongside business sales has generated a ton of revenue, as well as potential up-sell opportunities going forward. The company’s revenue growth rate has begun to slow, however. Founded in June 2007, Dropbox has raised a total of $1.7 billion in equity and debt financing, according to Crunchbase. The Y Combinator graduate is backed by top-tier VCs, including Sequoia Capital, Greylock Partners, Accel, and Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), and a handful of bankers such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. Asset manager BlackRock invested in Dropbox’s last round of $350 million in February 2014. Dropbox faces heavy competition in its market. Major technology titans like Google and Microsoft have their own cloud file storage and collaboration software, which they offer to customers as part of broader productivity suite packages. The company also has to contend with other players dedicated specifically to cloud file storage and collaboration. Box, which went public in January 2015, is one such company. While it’s primarily dedicated to enterprise collaboration and content management, both businesses are still going after some of the same customers. Box CEO Aaron Levie said in an interview with VentureBeat that he looks forward to Dropbox joining the public markets. “I think it’s up to both of us as companies to keep growing this industry, and make sure that we can help move more people off of legacy, on-premises systems to the cloud, and it will be exciting to see how they contribute to that,” Levie said. One of the company’s most interesting risk factors is the shifting state of net neutrality regulation in the U.S. Because Dropbox relies on speedy network connections to provide its customers with the data they need, the company points out that internet providers implementing usage-based pricing or speeding up competing offerings could negatively impact its business. It will be interesting to see how Dropbox’s offering compares to Spotify’s reported plans to directly list itself on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). That will be the first time a tech company of its size chooses to avoid a traditional IPO process and instead publicly list its shares without issuing any new ones. Levie said that he expects this to be the bellwether IPO to kick off 2018. What’s more, he expects that other, smaller companies will use Dropbox’s offering as a signal to go public. “From our perspective, we’ve been very happy to be public, there’s always ups and downs, constant sort of movement in the market, but in general, being able to have the discipline, the operational rigor that comes with being a public company, I think is very healthy, so I think it’ll be good to see more companies that take that leap and take that step,” Levie said. “I think Dropbox is going to open up a bit of a movement on that front.” View the full article
  26. Minecraft players downloaded 239,062 pieces of content from the Minecraft Marketplace in January. The marketplace is available in the unified Bedrock version of Minecraft on Windows 10, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and mobile (Bedrock comes to Switch later this year), and it features products made by both The Minecraft Team and community developers. Players can earn this content through in-game currency, but they can also spend real money, and a portion of those revenues go to the people who made the content. Every month on GamesBeat, I dive into the shop to see what is selling. You can take a look at past results right here. In January, we saw a lot of returning favorites make the list like Blockception’s Whiterock Castle and Noxcrew’s Summer Minigame Festival. The Minecraft audience is probably ready for something new, and we could see creators capitalize on that in February with releases like the new City Life world pack from PixelHeads. For now, however, fantasy worlds and licensed mash-up packs from The Minecraft Team are still dominating. Here’s the top 10 for January: Top Performing Paid Content Content Rank Details Store description “Whiterock Castle” by Blockception 1 World 4.7/5 user rating A medieval fantasy castle with complex architecture “Explore the lands of Whiterock Castle and start your own adventure!” “Dinosaur Island” by PixelHeads 2 World 4.5/5 user rating Deal with a variety of dinosaurs on a tropical island. “Overrun by prehistoric beasts after the scientists lost control of their genetic experiments, explore and discover the hidden mysteries of this intriguing island.” “Wildlife: Savanna” by PixelHeads 3 World 4.7/5 user rating Meet lions, elephants, and more along with your safari crew. “Go on safari in a rugged off-road vehicle to discover brand new landscapes and exotic animals. Find giraffes, zebras and even cheetahs (if you’re quick enough!), and befriend them for a whole new wildlife experience.” Norse Mythology Mash-Up By Minecraft Team 4 Mash-Up Pack 4.8/5 user rating A collection of skins, textures, and worlds inspired by Norse myths. “Compose your own grand saga as you voyage through the 9 realms, from the treetops of Yggdrasil, down into the mines of Svartalfheim and the depths of Hel! The third episode in the mythology series, this pack has hand carved textures, a thunderous soundtrack and a horde of skins.” “Summer Mini Games Festival” by Noxcrew 5 World 4.4/5 user rating A wonderland of obstacle courses and activity centers. “Take a daytrip and test your skills at Mini-Golf, Blocksketball and the shooting range. Other summertime shenanigans include playing Splashdown in a luxury boat, Spleef in a volcano and monkeying around in the Aqua Jungle.” “Sunnyside Academy” by Imagiverse 6 World 4.3/5 user rating A functioning town with a school at its center. “Gear up for school with friends, or tackle solo assignments, build your own home and help maintain the town in this colorful neighborhood!” “Adventure Time Mash-up” by Minecraft 7 Mash-up pack 4.8/5 user rating Brings the Adventure Time cartoon into Minecraft with textures, skins, and the Land of Ooo world. With Jake the Dog and Finn the Human, and a bundle of their friends, it’s Adventure Time!… Mash-up! Featured in this pack: your favorite Adventure Time characters, the Land of Ooo, a bespoke texture set, BMO themed UI and original soundtrack. “The Crater” by Blockception 8 World 4.2/5 user rating A settlement inside of a huge impact crater. “A vast crater is the setting of this survival spawn – the result of a devastating meteorite impact and now a remnant of destruction turned into an idyllic spawn.” “PureBDcraft” by BDcraft 9 Texture pack 5/5 user rating Revamps every texture to make things look more comic-book-like. Completely transform your Minecraft world into a comic! Blocks, Items, Mobs and UI are revamped with this bright, bold High Def pack in 32x, 64x and 128x resolutions, full of details and geeky references. “Dustville Survival Spawn” by Noxcrew 10 World 3.8/5 user rating Start your new game in a Western frontier town. Begin your life in the Wild West in the desert town of Dustville. Wander in the shade of the canyons and the old mines. Settle a farm out in the mesa. Ride out and find your own fortune! And here’s the best-performing content that people earned through their in-game efforts. Dinosaur Island by PixelHeads Norse Mythology Mash-Up by The Minecraft Team Wildlife: Savanna by PixelHeads Adventure Time Mash-Up by The Minecraft Team PureBDCraft by BDCraft Halloween Mash-Up by The Minecraft Team DestructoBot 5000 by Noxcrew Lapis Lagoon by Imagiverse Dragon Hero by PixelHeads Fallout Mashup by The Minecraft Team I got in touch with BDCraft to talk about its texture pack, which is a regular on the top 10. You can catch that interview soon. View the full article
  27. As tech executives call for state education programs to do a better job of providing STEM education, states are jockeying to show that they are attuned to the industry’s needs. This week, Michigan’s Republican governor Rick Snyder unveiled what he calls the “Marshall Plan for Talent” — a $100 million, five-year investment to restructure Michigan’s education system to do a better job of preparing students for the tech fields that are positioned to have the most job openings. The program will incentivize school districts and universities to offer more work-based learning programs, through both state grants and bringing on private sector businesses as partners. States launch talent development programs every year to little fanfare. So Gov. Snyder is taking on some risk by setting ambitious expectations for his state’s program — the original Marshall Plan was a $130 billion investment from the U.S. to help rebuild Europe after World War II that’s now frequently cited in history textbooks. But he believes the Marshall Plan can serve as a nationwide example for how states should be educating their students in the digital age, when so few states are ill-equipped to do so. “This talent gap has been a huge problem everywhere, so let’s be the best at solving it because it will be a great economic engine for Michigan and good for our nation,” he told VentureBeat in a phone interview. Gov. Snyder’s term ends in 2018, and term limits make him ineligible for re-election. How transformative the talent development program will truly be is up for debate. But many of the pillars of the plan echo some of the most popular ideas being currently being discussed in tech education. Learning on and for the job Portions of the talent development program were first uncovered as part of the city of Detroit’s unsuccessful bid to land Amazon HQ2, alongside the Canadian city of Windsor. Gov. Snyder, a former venture capitalist, told VentureBeat that representatives from Amazon did express concerns about the state’s ability to provide talent. “I think the whole Amazon headquarters process was a helpful catalyst to really make sure our citizens can appreciate what we need to to to address this question [of how to train talent],” Gov. Snyder said. The most concrete goal of the Marshall Plan for Talent is to ensure that Michiganders have the skills needed to fill a projected 811,055 statewide job openings through 2024 in five industries — information technology and computer science; manufacturing; health care; professional trades; and other business services jobs like financial managers and market researchers. The way Gov. Snyder sees it, most degrees are awarded based upon “how many classes you attend and how many credit hours you took” — and the classes themselves don’t do a good enough job of giving the students the skills they need to land a job. In competency-based learning programs, students will have to pass a certification test or demonstrate the skills they’ve learned in a practical setting, like the workplace at the end of their program. This is necessary not only to help students land a job, but also to help them prepare for a future where more of an emphasis will be placed on life-long learning, and workers will have to earn more certificates at different points in their career. One way to do so is through apprenticeships, which have received support from President Donald Trump. This line of thinking is one that has been echoed by some in tech, most notably Google CEO Sundar Pichai. “Twenty, thirty years ago — you educated yourself, and that carried you through for the rest of your life. That’s not going to be true for the generation which is being born now. They have to learn continuously over their lives — we know that, so we have to transform how we do education,” Pichai said told MSNBC and Recode last month. Of the $100 million being doled out by the Marshall Plan for Talent, $50 million will go toward the creation of new educational programs and grants that will help schools transition to this new type of educational model. For example, grants will be provided to K-12 schools that work alongside businesses to develop new classes and make curriculum adjustments, as well as to purchase new technical equipment that the state hopes will be matched by the private sector. A number of other states, such as Utah, are also placing a greater emphasis on turning to public-private partnerships to develop curriculum. Utah launched an IT Pathway Program in 2017 to kickstart a discussion between the tech community and educators about how to improve STEM education. The governor’s plan also proposes $25 million toward the creation of scholarships for low-income residents — including those that can assist with other obstacles to education, like lack of access to transportation and child care. $20 million will go toward creating marketing and educational campaigns promoting career opportunities in the state of Michigan, and $5 million will go toward providing incentives for current teachers to receive training in areas that are currently understaffed, as well as finding ways to train career experts to become teachers. Piloting the future of work The Marshall Plan for Talent still needs to be approved by the state legislature along with the rest of Gov. Snyder’s 2019 budget. The governor’s website states that the plan will be paid for via bond refinancing. Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told VentureBeat that the $100 million allocation essentially amounts to “a line item” in the state budget. He views the Marshall Plan for Talent as more of a pilot than a one-time investment. “Tech really lends itself to work-based learning. The question is that work-based learning clearly requires a lot of organization and a large number of employers who want to go down that path. So there’s both an organizing issue — who is going to set up and organize all of this? — and are these companies ready to embark on this?” Muro told VentureBeat. The governor’s office cited existing partnerships with Microsoft’s TEALS program and Cisco — which runs a program in Michigan that offers IT courses that can be transferred to other state universities — as indicative of the level of interest the private sector has in working with schools. Muro also noted that working with private companies might provoke fears of excessive market concentration — bigger companies will likely lobby to ensure their needs are met the most — so the state should also consider working with STEM nonprofits to develop curriculum. In transitioning to this new model of competency-based learning, Michigan will face the same challenges as those traditionally faced by public universities and K-12 schools: ensuring that all students across the state will have access to the same resources, not just students in the wealthiest school districts or bigger cities; finding ways to lower the cost of education; and ensuring adequate access to the right teachers. Michigan, like other states, faces a teacher shortage — the number of initial teaching certificates issued in Michigan each year has fallen from 6,077 in in 1996 to 3,696 in 2016, as spending for K-12 funding has seen its ups and downs in the state, particularly during the recession. “As I meet high school students who are coming up into the college level, there’s a very distinct level in skill sets based upon what was available at that high school that these students are coming from,” Tom Brady, a Michigan native and the CTO and cofounder of Ann Arbor-based drone inspection company SkySpecs, told VentureBeat. Many of the most well-known tech startups in Michigan — such as Duo Security, currently the state’s only unicorn — are located in Ann Arbor, close to the University of Michigan, which they say has provided a healthy pipeline of engineering graduates. Brady, who founded SkySpecs in 2012, says that finding software developers is still difficult. Another metric that the Marshall Plan for Talent will likely be judged on is: Can it provide enough talent as the state’s fast-growing tech startups continue to scale (SkySpecs currently has 23 employees) and successfully place students outside of Ann Arbor and Detroit, currently the city’s two biggest hubs for tech. For Michigan, ensuring that its students are prepared for the economic distribution of the future holds a particular level of importance. As the auto industry was decimated starting in the early 2000s, the state lost jobs every year for nearly 10 years, before a turnaround starting in 2011. “It [The Marshall Plan] was a one-time investment over a number of years that was a catalyst for fundamental transformation. And that’s what this is … we’re doing well as a state, [but] we had really difficult times,” Gov. Snyder told VentureBeat. View the full article
  28. Blizzard Entertainment is known for their creative marketing, especially when it comes to Overwatch. However, the game’s esports scene and the Overwatch League have not necessarily been the focal point of the game’s marketing to a casual audience. That is, until earlier this week. Celebrate the #YearOfTheDog with a new breed of esports. The Puppy... View the full article
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