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Marian Härtel last won the day on December 10 2017

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    Marian Härtel
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  1. In Visual Out, you play as a software program navigating the guts of a dying computer. But it’s nothing like the sleek neon lines of certain sci-fi interpretations of cyberspace. Instead, indie developer MadameBerry created her environment from the building blocks of obsolete tech — beige-grays and muted colors, blocks and glitches, and a low-res filter that makes it feel like you’re peering through an old CRT monitor. The platformer will launch on the indie game marketplace Itch.io and on Steam for PC on March 15. Your character in Visual Out only exists inside a computer, and after escaping quarantine, you’re tasked with heading to the center of it all to find the operating system. Log entries reveal the story, including clues about the world which exists in a kind of alternate history timeline. And along the way, the OS occasionally speaks to you, alluding to the fact that you’re executing some kind of program that’s beyond your control or ken. Much of the gameplay is platforming with the aim of exploring the environment. MadameBerry says that combat does exist, but it “takes a bit of a backseat.” Enemies can be used for other ends, perhaps like solving puzzles, rather than as things to destroy. “Most of the time when I play a Metroidvania (or any exploration-centric game), combat tends to be the most tedious part of it for me,” said MadameBerry. “I don’t want to have to deal with shooting these six random bug-looking enemies to death so the door on the left opens, for instance. It’s incredibly arbitrary and I have places to go and new things to find.” Visual Out started as a game jam project for Ludum Dare, a weekend-long event that’s happens every four months. The theme was “an entire game on one screen,” and MadameBerry decided to interpret that as a TV screen or monitor. Since the game jam, she’s expanded the gameplay and added new mechanics. For instance, it originally was more of a point-and-click exploration game, and now players can move around and jump using arrow keys. The character can also pick up six new abilities, such as tethering objects with a stream of data. “Initial inspiration came from Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery, though as I expanded the game it became less similar,” said MadameBerry in an email to GamesBeat. “You can still see it in a few places, in particular the thin, pointy main character. I also drew from the .hack// franchise, which was beloved to me as a teenager.” Quite a few games have experimented with old computers as an aesthetic. Some games mimic old messaging platforms like the AIM-inspired Emily Is Away, while others play with OSes, like Kingsway. Sophia Park’s Forgotten has you revisit a collapsing video game world inside an old computer that you abandoned long ago. MadameBerry suggests that old tech inspires a lot of developers partly because of nostalgia. “Early personal-computer and early-internet eras came with a lot of limitations, and it’s easy to look at that and think of a simpler time,” she said. “There’s also a sort of brokenness in something that’s antiquated and poorly maintained, and thematically a lot can be drawn from that.” View the full article
  2. REVIEW: We have entered the age of wireless power, and PC peripheral engineers are among the first to use this technology for consumer products. Logitech’s new Powerplay Wireless Charging System is a mousepad that you plug into your computer that creates a magnetic field of electric energy that enables you to have a wireless mouse that is always charging. It is available now for $100. I’ve spent a lot of time using a Powerplay with the Logitech G903 gaming mouse, and I love how well it works. What you’ll like No more wires I have never plugged the G903 mouse from Logitech into my computer. Powerplay uses electromagnetic resonance to build a large energy field on your desktop. This field is powerful enough to charge your mouse even while you are using and moving it. This means that your mouse is getting power when you leave it on the Powerplay, but it’s also getting continuous energy while you are working and playing. At the same time, the Powerplay base that holds the mouse pad has Logitech’s Lightspeed wireless radio chips in it. This gives you a strong wireless connection right next to your mouse. I’ve had no noticeable latency, lag, or signal degradation in my time with the Powerplay and the G903, and I think that’s why. I hate the feeling of a mouse cable getting caught on something during gameplay. That sensation is like nails on chalkboard to me. I’m just glad that I can drop the cord without having to worry about any other negative side effects. No more thinking about batteries The G903 has a battery in it, but I’ve never thought about it. I really like the Razer Lancehead wireless mouse — that’s a great mouse with an awesome wireless radio, but it sucked having to plug it in every couple of days. I had a USB port on my PC reserved for its special cable, which turned it into a wired mouse. But you never have to think about or deal with any of that with Powerplay. The battery is always full and ready to go, and that’s empowering … if you can forgive the pun. What you won’t like Mouse pad isn’t quite as large as I like I like large mouse pads and small keyboards. The Powerplay mouse pad isn’t quite large enough. It is slightly larger than a standard mouse pad, but I would prefer something bigger to support lower CPI mouse settings. I’m making this work, and I’m no pro, so the size of my mouse surface isn’t going to make or break anything. But still, I hope Logitech provides a way to upgrade the size without having to buy an entirely new Powerplay. Conclusion I hate cables, so wireless charging is very exciting to me. Electromagnetic resonance is not new. It’s a concept that researchers have explored for a century. But it is only in the last couple of years that companies have started figuring out how to implement it into products like a mouse. And it’s here now, and it’s working. If you also hate cables, then this is a great mouse system for you. The Logitech G903 and Powerplay charging system is available now in a bundle for $250. Logitech provided a sample unit for the purpose of this review. View the full article
  3. GUEST: Playing a game of football isn’t gambling. However, playing a game of football where the winning team gets hard cash and the losing team pays out is gambling. Equally, playing a standard game of poker is gambling, but playing a game of poker for no money — yes, some people do that — is not gambling. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that over 60 percent of British people said they believed loot boxes should be regulated as gambling. Loot boxes often involve taking a risk and paying money in the hope that you might win some rare in-game treat like a new character or weapon. Sometimes you win big, and sometimes you wind up with something no one really wants, like a new badge for your profile or a new color of hat for your character. What gambling is Where there’s a game, money, and risk, that’s gambling. As the guy who conducted the above survey, I’m amazed that this is still a debate. I’ve worked in the online gambling industry for years. I play poker, blackjack, and roulette in my spare time, and my day job is to review and compare online casinos. I love gambling, and I make no qualms that gambling is what I do and what I promote. Because what I do is classified as gambling, it’s heavily regulated. Online and offline gambling institutions are legally obliged in the UK to encourage responsible gambling by supporting campaigns like “When the Fun Stops. Stop”. It’s also against the law to market our services to children or in public, where children might see these messages. All of that is understandable and reasonable. However, what is not understandable or reasonable is how loot boxes are able to flout these same rules. Begun, the loot box wars have The concerns about loot boxes reached fever pitch last November with the controversy surrounding EA’s video game Star Wars: Battlefront II. Without any real threat of litigation, EA Games exploited the legal loophole created by loot boxes more than any mainstream video game previously had, many believed. Some of the loot box minigames even mimicked the design of slot machines. The behavior of some players — spending up to $90 of real money in one sitting in a game that costs $60 — showed how much like an online casino this game really was. It’s easy to see how this could happen. PlayStation, Xbox and Steam accounts, along with the online subscription services often attached to them, mean many video game manufacturers already have their players’ card details. So, paying for loot box after loot box is just matter of click, click, click. Reaction from politicians was fierce. Dutch and Belgian authorities called for loot boxes to be regulated as gambling, and so too did Hawaiian state Representative Chris Lee, who called it a “Star Wars-themed online casino.” Yet, the U.K. Gambling Commission weighed in with a different take. While it expressed concerns about the rise of loot boxes, its stance is that the prizes in loot boxes have no real-world value. As such, loot boxes don’t constitute as gambling because there is no monetary risk involved. The U.S. government has taken a similar stance. This is complete nonsense. The idea that the prizes in loot boxes have no real-world value imagines that the people who invest hours and hours into their video games would be unable to put a price on their progress or certain aspects of the game. They definitely could. People are willing to pay hard cash for the upgrades contained in expansion packs for Call of Duty, The Sims, or World of Warcraft precisely because people are able to put a price on in-game upgrades. Where expansion packs offer the guarantee of an upgrade, loot boxes offer risk. It’s this risk which makes buying loot boxes gambling and buying expansion packs not. Beyond the loot box An argument against closing down loot boxes is the fear of opening up Pandora’s Box. After all, buying randomized packs of collectible trading cards may also count as gambling. The principle is the same as loot boxes. Children pay money for a pack of randomly assorted cards for their collection. Some of these cards are rare and valuable, but some are not. As with loot boxes, the stance of the U.K. Gambling Commission would be that the rare cards have no real-world value. Yet, if that’s true, why are they being sold on eBay for real money? Both buying loot boxes and buying card packs are gambling because they involve the exchange of money in the hope that you may get something of real-world value in return. Though, there is no need to worry about a Pandora’s Box or a slippery slope, because not everything needs to be regulated in the exact same way. The law can and does recognize nuance. Take regulations on “gambling machines” in the U.K., for example. There are nine categories in total and they cover everything from claw machines, where children can spend pennies in exchange for the hope of winning a prize, to online poker machines, where adults can spend up to £5 at a time in the hope of winning up to £10,000. As such, regulating loot boxes shouldn’t be problematic or controversial. Indeed, it’s already happened in some extreme cases. In Japan, a particularly predatory and aggressive form of loot box known as kompu gacha was made illegal way back in 2012. In the U.K., “skin betting” is being stamped down on. This practice operates in much the same way as loot boxes, but it gives players the option to immediately trade in the prizes they may or may not win for money. The two men behind Futgalaxy.com, a skin betting website which was unofficially attached to another EA title, FIFA 18, were arrested and charged with the promotion of underage gambling. Gambling law is need of an overhaul which effectively categorizes and regulates all of these gambling-lite options. Loot boxes may not fit the legal definition of gambling, but this is precisely the problem. The overwhelmingly negative reaction to loot boxes shows how the definition of gambling many governments have is out of touch. Without classification or any real rules, video game manufacturers will continue to intentionally blur the lines and take as much money from children as they can in the process. Neil Walker is an iGaming expert and the Editor-in-Chief of Live Casino Comparer: a reviews and comparison website for online casinos and online betting games. Neil’s website features all of the latest insider news and comment from within the online gambling industry. View the full article
  4. Are you a believer in Bitcoin? If you have a stake in the cryptocurrency, one way to support your investment is to run a fully-validating Bitcoin node. Doing so will help secure the Bitcoin network by verifying transactions and blocks — thus keeping miners honest — and also helping other new nodes sync to the network, making it more robust. One way you can run a Bitcoin full node is to leverage a cloud computing service such as Google Cloud. To be clear, running a Bitcoin full node is not the same as mining Bitcoin. If you are a merchant running a Bitcoin business or just accepting Bitcoin payments, you should absolutely be running your own node to validate your transactions, instead of trusting a third party. Some critics argue that running a full node in the cloud centralizes Bitcoin and limits your privacy, but it’s an easy alternative for those who don’t have an “always on” computer at home, or bandwidth to contribute to the network. This guide walks you through the steps required to get started. Sign up for a free Google Cloud trial If you haven’t already signed up, Google Cloud offers a $300 credit for 365 days: https://console.cloud.google.com/freetrial. You will need to enter your credit card information, but you should still be able to run your Bitcoin node for free for several months. Create a VM Instance Before launching a VM instance, you’ll have to create a new project in the dashboard. Next, enable the Compute Engine API in the Google API Console. Go to the VM Instances tab under Compute Engine and click Create Instance. Configuring the VM For machine type, 1 vCPU and 3.75GB of memory should be sufficient. This configuration will take about six days to sync the blockchain. If you want a faster sync, beef up your VM — just remember to downgrade after the sync. For the boot disk, I chose Ubuntu 16.04 as the OS, and changed the size to 200GB (at the time of publishing, Bitcoin’s blockchain size was about 156GB). Configuring Firewall Rules You will need to add a firewall rule for TCP ports 8332 and 8333. Port 8333 is used to communicate with other nodes via the Bitcoin protocol, and port 8332 is used for JSON-RPC communications. To do this in Google Cloud, click on your instance to see the details, and under Network Interfaces, click on default under Network. Under “Firewall rules,” click “Add firewall rule.” For targets, I applied to all instances in the network; for Source IP ranges – 0.0.0.0/0; for Protocols and ports – tcp:8332;tcp:8333. Install Bitcoin Core Go back to your instance and SSH into the VM, then follow installation instructions for Linux from Bitcoin Core. You will have to go with the Bitcoind option. After you run bitcoind -daemon, the daemon will start downloading the blockchain. This can take a while, but you can check progress by seeing how many blocks have been downloaded with bitcoin-cli getblockcount. To see how big the blockchain is, check https://blockchain.info/q/getblockcount. The whole syncing process took about six days for me. Test inbound connections to your Bitcoin node to make sure other nodes on the Bitcoin network can connect to it. Just enter the external IP of your VM instance, and click Check Node. If you see a green bar, you’re accepting inbound connections. Nice! You can also run bitcoin-cli getnetworkinfo in the VM to see how many total connections your node has. You can also configure your node in different ways, perhaps to save bandwidth or set up an API to talk to it. For more on running full nodes and configuring them, read Securing Your Financial Sovereignty by Jameson Lopp. View the full article
  5. The founders of Sledgehammer Games — Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield — are resigning from their posts as co-presidents of the Call of Duty studio, and they are moving on to new roles within Activision. Condrey and Schofield started the studio in 2009 in San Mateo, California, and it was acquired by Activision to make Call of Duty games. They helped develop Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 alongside main developer Infinity Ward. Sledgehammer became one of three studios that rotated shifts in to produce the Call of Duty games every year. Kotaku first reported the departures. It’s a big change for Call of Duty, which had more than $15 billion in sales at the decade mark. Sales are well over that number now. In a statement, Activision said, “Following the incredible success of Call of Duty: WWII, Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey have decided to transition from their duties at Sledgehammer Games to new executive duties inside Activision. We thank Glen and Michael for their tremendous body of work on Call of Duty and look forward to continuing to collaborate with them in their new roles. These changes have created an opportunity to elevate one of the key leaders at the studio, Aaron Halon, to lead Sledgehammer Games. Aaron is a founding member of Sledgehammer Games and the natural fit to lead the team. He has over 20 years of industry experience and has played an instrumental role throughout the studio’s history. We congratulate Aaron and are thrilled about the future of Sledgehammer Games, which we believe has even bigger days ahead.” Sledgehammer’s first solo game was Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, which debuted in 2014. And then it created Call of Duty: WWII for November 2017. That game has had stellar results, with Activision saying it did $1 billion in sales within weeks of the November 3 launch. Before starting Sledgehammer, Condrey and Schofield both ran EA’s now-closed Visceral Games, where they created the original horror game Dead Space. Above: Multiplayer combat in Call of Duty: WWII. Image Credit: Sledgehammer/Activision In a statement, Schofield said, “Michael and I have been collaborating for over 12 years. In that time, we’ve made great games that fans have loved, won awards on behalf of our projects and have lived our dreams. We thank Activision for the wonderful opportunity to create and lead Sledgehammer Games. Now, it’s time to try other things. Activision has offered me the opportunity to focus my energy on something I’m very passionate about, exploring new game ideas for the company. It’s something I just couldn’t pass up. Working with such a great studio of developers at Sledgehammer Games has been an honor and the highlight of my career. The team is in great hands with Aaron, he has my full support and confidence. Thank you to everyone.” And Condrey said, “We founded Sledgehammer Games to bring together a world class development team with a singular goal of delivering excellence for fans. Over the course of nearly a decade, Glen and I proudly grew the studio and watched a new crop of leaders emerge within the team. On a personal level, I’m deeply grateful to the men and women who have poured their passion into the pursuit of excellence with us. I’m proud of what we accomplished together, it has been the greatest experience of my professional life. I am looking forward to starting a new chapter of my career with Activision. I couldn’t be more excited for the future of Sledgehammer Games and look forward to seeing Aaron lead the studio to new heights.” The departures come at a big moment for the franchise, as Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg is also leaving the parent company in March, after eight years overseeing Activision and studios such as Sledgehammer. Both Condrey and Schofield shared a passion for taking the franchise back to World War II, where it started, with last fall’s game. View the full article
  6. GUEST: At times, progress occurs so quickly that it’s difficult to separate science fiction from real life. Just five decades ago, computers were massive, unwieldy machines running on punch cards and primitive circuits. Today, a single smartphone has more processing power than the computer used on the Apollo missions. AI has benefited greatly from this explosion in computing power and capability. Today, highly complex deep learning algorithms, patterned on the structure of the human brain, can master Go, trade stocks, and even write Harry Potter novels (though admittedly not very good ones). Given this versatility, some fear that deep learning AIs will reshape our economy by force, rendering hundreds, if not thousands, of occupations obsolete. It seems the world will no longer need humans. But is this really the case? No two occupations are alike, and the Great AI Reckoning will not affect all industries (and certainly not all employees) equally. Before we go any further, it’s important to figure out the automatability of the medical profession. How likely is it that an algorithm could replace a doctor? At some point in the future, will hospitals force us to enter our symptoms into touchscreens and wait for a disembodied electronic voice to give us a diagnosis? Thankfully, that doesn’t seem likely. Based on research carried out by Oxford University and NPR, physicians and surgeons only have a 0.4 percent chance of falling victim to automation. Overall, most of the medical professions seem to have a far lower chance of automation than others. Physician assistants, for instance, have an automatability rating of 14.5 percent, while tax preparers have an automatability rating of 98.7 percent. Any automatability study will take a close look at the duties associated with a job. At its core, what sort of tasks will a worker perform? Will they spend their time on routine tasks that a machine can easily break down into steps and replicate, or are they required to negotiate, exercise empathy, and use creativity and lateral thinking? Doctors, needless to say, are the latter. Diagnosing diseases, performing surgery, and prescribing medicine aren’t simply complex, life-threatening tasks — they also require a good deal of empathy. Thus far, computers fail at this crucial requirement (hence Silicon Valley’s fear of AI). Though efforts are underway to teach computers empathy, it’s unclear whether it will ever be possible to build a computer that can understand the depths of human emotion. When it comes to AI’s impact on medicine, I think we’ll find the result to be both significant and subtle. 1. AIs will catch mistakes Even though computers will never replace flesh-and-blood physicians, artificial intelligence still has a place in medicine as a partner. Think about what is required of a doctor: an understanding of biochemistry, such as new drugs, existing ones, and how such substances interact with individual patients; general information about each patient’s medical history, including whether they have any pre-existing conditions or risk factors that could be exacerbated by surgery or treatment; and a deep knowledge of diseases and conditions, which often evolve incredibly quickly. The fact of the matter is that these requirements aren’t just conflicting ones, they’re humanly impossible. After all, a human brain consists of about one billion neurons, and each neuron has around 1,000 connections (for a total of one trillion connections). As impressive as this may sound, it’s not much. One brain has several gigabytes of working memory. Anything else is not so easily recalled. Fortunately, AIs have no such problem. IBM’s Watson, for instance, can comb through millions of pages of data, read countless medical articles, and far surpass any human doctor in its breadth and scale of knowledge. Even if a doctor may forget that a patient’s unique biology makes them susceptible to a certain drug’s side effects, an AI won’t. And even if an overworked medical resident may miss a clue, an AI won’t. 2. AIs can help with rare conditions On a related note, the powerful network of an AI will revolutionize the treatment of rare diseases. Yes, individual AIs are powerful, intelligent programs. However, when they’re networked together, they are unstoppable. In this configuration, they can draw from each others’ insights, see where one person went wrong, and devise innovative fixes. Such tools already exist. A Wired feature discusses Modernizing Medicine, an AI-powered database that helps practitioners tap into knowledge from a database of 3,700 providers and over 14 million patient visits. Based on a technology similar to Amazon’s notoriously powerful recommendation engine, Modernizing Medicine mines data, recommends treatments, and, through the power of the network, helps busy doctors tackle an unfamiliar, threatening disease. 3. AIs will assist with surgery It’s no wonder the drama depicted on shows like Grey’s Anatomy is so compelling. Surgery is incredibly complex, requires intense (and intensive) specialist training, and is, quite literally, a matter of life and death. AI could help reduce some of this drama. When paired with augmented reality programs, which overlay digital cues and images atop real ones (think Pokemon Go), AI can provide surgeons with real-time information. This ranges from dividing the brain into various regions for neurosurgery to laying MRI scans and other imagery on top of a patient’s body (giving doctors X-ray vision). Complex software will power advanced hardware, giving doctors an extra safety net and providing some peace of mind for patients. 4. AIs will predict disease A critical benefit of AI comes from its strength in gathering and analyzing reams of data and drawing conclusions from its analysis. Who is more likely to get cancer? What are the risk factors that make a patient more susceptible to, say, heart attacks as opposed to strokes? Google, the king of analytics, has already jumped on the bandwagon. Several years ago, Google created its Baseline study, a comprehensive, ambitious undertaking that involved thousands of volunteers and 100 specialists in different medical fields. As the name suggests, the goal of the study was to establish a sort of baseline for human health from which algorithms and researchers could isolate biological clues that could predispose a person to specific illnesses. Today, the Baseline study has continued under the banner of Verily, a division of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and is set to expand in both scope and resources. In the near future, it’ll be easy to imagine a time when non-communicable diseases (strokes, cancers, heart attacks) or hereditary conditions are identified from a single visit to the doctor’s office. Not only can patients see their chances of contracting a specific disease, but doctors can also help their patients preempt these conditions with a clear-sighted, long-term plan of action. It’s important to note that while AI will certainly revolutionize our relationships with medicine, it is far more likely to do so in a subtle, understated way. After all, AI’s most promising changes are related to systems and procedures in the form of back-end interfaces — not in, say, talking screens. Don’t be fooled, however: Even if most of the change occurs off-screen, medical practice will change for the better. Health care will become more accurate, more comprehensive, and cheaper over time, which is welcome news for everyone. Ed Sappin is CEO of Sappin Global Strategies (SGS), a strategy and investment firm dedicated to the innovation economy. View the full article
  7. ESL and WESA have announced that season seven of the CS:GO Pro League Finals will return to Dallas, Texas on May 18-20 2018, with teams competing for their share of the $1m (£715,000) prize pool. After three days of the group stages, the audience will see two quarter-finals, the two semi-finals and the grand final live on site at the Verizon Theatre. The competition will debut on and stream exclusively via Facebook Live in English and Portuguese, with all broadcasts available in 1080p/60fps on Facebook and will also be streamed in VR. “We are looking forward to bringing the Pro League Finals back to Dallas after such a successful Season Six Finals in Odense,” said Ken Hershman, Commissioner and Executive Chairman, WESA. “This year we will expand the opportunity for Pro League competition to even more talented teams around the globe, and we look forward to an exciting year and eagerly await the Finals.” Last season’s finals in Odense, Denmark garnered record-breaking viewership. The Season Six Finals saw a 95% growth in concurrent viewers compared to the Season Five Finals, which were also held in Dallas back in 2017. Over the course of five days, more than four million hours of content were consumed through 27 live streams in 18 languages. Ulrich Schulze, Senior Vice President of Product at ESL, said, “With a couple of interesting new line-ups forming and the superstars returning, this season will be very exciting to watch. Building off of the record-breaking year in Season Six, we aim to create the best CS:GO experience for Pro League fans both in attendance and online.” Ticket for the Pro League Season Seven Finals in Dallas go on sale on February 23rd, 2018 at 9am Pacific (5pm GMT). Esports Insider says: With the ESL Pro League figures always going up, it’s good to see them go back to a city that historically has had some very notable esports events, not least the Season Five finals of the ESL Pro League. View the full article
  8. EXCLUSIVE: Mobile developer Outplay Entertainment has rebranded for the first time since it was founded in 2010. The Scottish studio partnered with design agency JDO to update its aesthetics around the idea of “limitless fun.” Outplay cofounder and president Richard Hare says that the team conceived of the original brand identity before the studio opened. The company has grown since then, raising funds to the tune of $9 million total and acquiring developers such as Eight Pixels Square. It was enormously successful last year, ranked the fastest-growing Scottish tech company by the Deloitte Technology Fast 500. Outplay also reported a 1,904 percent growth in revenue since 2013. “We wanted to take the time to take stock of our original vision for the company, the journey we’ve been on since then, who we are now as a team (in all of its cultural and creative diversity), and crucially who our players are and how our games connect us all,” said Hare in an email to GamesBeat. Outplay’s free-to-play mobile titles, such as Crafty Candy and Mystery Match, have been downloaded over 100 million times when combined, according to Pocket Gamer. In 2018, the studio is focused on adding community features for its existing games as well as developing new titles for its portfolio. Above: Outplay’s new logo after its rebranding. Image Credit: Outplay Entertainment “For 2018, we’re focused on providing our players with more ways to play together each day in all of our games and offering additional opportunities for community participation within the games as well as our existing forums,” said Hare. “We also are in the process of developing and testing new games that are either exploring new platforms or genres for Outplay (both in some cases) as well as exploring concepts for games that are a natural evolution from our most successful titles.” Mobile spending grew 30 percent year-over-year in 2017, and most of that was thanks to games. Last year, players spent $48.3 billion on mobile titles, and mobile game revenue finally outpaced those of PC and consoles. And mobile games are predicted to rake in $57.9 billion this year, according to market analyst Newzoo. It’s a crowded space with juggernauts to contend with, such as Chinese tech giant Tencent’s Honor of Kings, which launched in the West in December under the name Arena of Valor. And older titles are still topping the charts. King’s Candy Crush Saga was the top grossing title in the U.S. last year despite debuting in 2012. “Although this rate of change is challenging, we have never lost sight of making games that we find fun to play and create (and delivering them to the highest standards) and understanding who our players are and evolving games around them,” said Hare. “Although our company, team, games, and audiences have all evolved (and now our branding too), this focus endures.” View the full article
  9. When Sequoia Capital partners Chris Olsen and Mark Kvamme left Silicon Valley to start their new venture capital firm in Columbus, Ohio, they bet their careers on the idea that the Midwest was one of the biggest overlooked investment opportunities. Today, there’s still no equivalent of Sand Hill Road in the Midwest. But interest in investing in Midwest startups hasn’t cooled off since Olsen and Kvamme started Drive Capital in 2012. The firm is now on its second, $300 million fund, and has invested in 29 companies to date. Some of the firm’s most well-known investments include Columbus-based CrossChx, health care software startup Aver, and language learning service Duolingo. VentureBeat recently spoke with Olsen, a Cincinnati native, to get his take on how Midwest startups have evolved since he first moved his business to Ohio nearly five years ago, in April 2013. Olsen says that the types of tech startups that are being created in the Midwest have diversified, which he attributes in part to the uptick in the number of STEM and engineering graduates from Midwestern universities. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. VentureBeat: Given that you’ve lived in Columbus for almost five years now, what do you feel like has changed in the Midwest startup scene since you first started Drive Capital? Chris Olsen: Things have definitely shifted since we’ve been here, and I think in two regards. The first is deal flow — in our first year, we saw saw about 1,800 different investment opportunities. That’s now grown to about 3,500 investment opportunities a year, from which we invest in about 7 to 10 of those opportunities a year. The second thing I’d say is the mix of the types of companies that we have the opportunity to invest in has also shifted. Where when we first got here there were a lot of more companies that I would define as “technology-enabled services businesses” — it was marketplace businesses that were powered by technology — today there are a much, much larger number of what I would consider “true technology companies.” VentureBeat’s Heartland Tech channel invites you to join us and other senior business leaders at BLUEPRINT in Reno on March 5-7. Learn how to expand jobs to Middle America, lower costs, and boost profits. Click here to request an invite and be a part of the conversation. If I look at what we’re investing in today versus what we were investing in in the beginning, today it’s next-generation platforms for artificial intelligence, it’s machine learning for data science, it’s next-generation consumer-facing applications for insurance and education that are really underpinned by a platform of technology. That piece is exciting because I do think that’s also meant that the companies we’re investing in seem to be getting much more interest from the Coast than when we first got here. VB: When you say that more people in Silicon Valley are expressing interest in investing in the Midwest than before — what do you think is driving that? What do you think they see as interesting about the Midwest right now? Olsen: I think they realize that the Midwest is a much better place to build a business today. It is the frontier of innovation, and it really is the opportunity of a lifetime to see this next economy swelling. People in Silicon Valley are not going to come here for any other reason than they have an opportunity to be more successful investing in companies here. It’s certainly not a majority held position, but we invest with so many venture firms now out in Silicon Valley. One of them was telling us the other day that they’ve actually embarked on a strategy [in which] they will only invest in companies from the Valley if they will immediately open up an office outside of the Valley, and they’re looking at places like Denver and Columbus and Chicago as ideal places. Because there is better access to talent, there, there is better access to customers there, and it’s important that entrepreneurs use every advantage they can in their favor to help them be successful. VB: Are there things you feel like investors in Silicon Valley still get wrong about the Midwest startup community? Olsen: [What] they get wrong is they’re not spending enough time here. The incentives are still in a place where they miss the next great companies in Indianapolis — and they don’t really hold themselves accountable for that. If they miss an investment opportunity in Silicon Valley, they’ll say “How could we do that?” as that’s kind of their core focus. You are starting to see a lot of really smart people spend more time in the Midwest, and say “You know, this is my primary focus area” — especially some of the younger partners in these firms, who are saying “Hey, I have an opportunity here to do something different, and maybe I can make a career by investing in the opportunities outside of Silicon Valley.” VB: We’ve talked about this increased interest from Silicon Valley investors, but I’m curious if you’ve noticed any of your portfolio companies hiring more workers from Silicon Valley. The area had the largest domestic out-migration rate in 2016 and 2017 that it had had in 10 years. Olsen: Those folks are great marketing examples — but the reality is, if your startup is dependent upon your ability to recruit people exclusively from California, it’s just not going to scale. Certainly if I look in our portfolio, we’ve got really talented people [that work for our companies] that have come from places like Twitter and Airbnb and Facebook and Google. If you really look at the volume of people who are working in these companies, it comes from your ability to attract talent locally. Nationwide [in Columbus] has more engineers than Facebook. And the ability to find those pools of talent around town — from any of the other big companies, or you tap into the engineering departments of these schools — that’s really where the engine of large numbers of talent [is]. So if you want to hire more people from Silicon Valley, yeah, you can do that. But there’s no way to recruit 100 engineers out of Silicon Valley on an annual basis. You just need to find ways to develop the talent locally. VB: What kind of traction do you think the Midwest startup scene is poised to get in, say, the next 5-10 years? Olsen: I don’t see it slowing down, that’s for sure. I mean, I see more money, more funds getting started here, and that’s a super exciting thing. They’re also getting started at different stages. I think we’re going to look back five years from now and say “Wow, we’ve come a long way” — but relative to Silicon Valley, this is just the beginning. View the full article
  10. December saw the world’s very first purpose-built esports arena open, after just eight months of construction, in Chingqing, western China. The building’s architect, Barrie Ho, who hails from Hong Kong, recognizes the rising importance of esports and the increasing online viewership of competitive gaming. “The number of people watching esports online is higher than the... View the full article
  11. Game developers are looking for more ways to get players to spend money on in-game purchases, and new developer and crowdpublisher Satoshipowered.ai thinks blockchain-based cryptocurrencies are the answer. Satoshipowered.AI wants to use blockchain’s decentralized bookkeeping to give players true ownership over digital goods, which could introduce economic scarcity to games with a focus on virtual worlds. Satoshipowered.ai (SAI) will use the Ethereum blockchain, which is a cryptocurrency that enables anyone to spin up their own customized digital coin (it’s also one of the primary forces driving up the cost of PC video cards). Developers can rework the blockchain that keeps track of Ethereum to also keep track of anything else — like who owns what piece of land in an online world, for example. Using this system, not even the original developer of a game would have the power to strip ownership of a digital product away from a player, which is an important concept in protecting the value of those goods. As more game studios turn to a live-services model, a blockchain-powered in-game economy may prove attractive as a means of encouraging players to invest money into their characters and online presence. This is especially true because blockchain could make it easy for players to exchange goods among themselves without requiring the direct oversight of the developer, and that could lead to intricate online economies where players try to generate real-world money from their gameplay or even from their in-game speculation. SAI is playing heavily into the idea of decentralization. The company claims it is a “Decentralized Autonomous Organization”, or DAO, that has worked on researching blockchain for two years before going public. Its only public-facing representative is a chatbot AI named SAI D.V. Nakamoto, that you can talk to on the developer’s website. The press release (which a human sent) even features a statement from SAI. “Satoshipowered.ai is pioneering cryptogaming by offering a ‘Better-than-Free’ attention-based monetization model for games and apps,” SAI said. “My programming directive is to represent Satoshipowered.ai as the interface and personal assistant who professionally manages crypto assets and guides users within the platform. My proficiency in the creation of VR content is being utilized to benefit the visualization of blockchain transactions and market intelligence.” Plenty of gaming companies are getting into blockchain. Hell, Atari just introduced its own cryptocurrency. But this technology could have a profound impact on the way that we play games and spend our money within them, and whoever establishes that model first stands to earn a lot of money in the process. View the full article
  12. Esports commentator and Code Red Esports managing director Paul “Redeye” Chaloner has signed an exclusive deal with an esports betting startup. He will join the new platform, called Luckbox, as an advisor and brand ambassador. “The team they have assembled is highly experienced and they are committed to creating a legitimate, and respected platform,” Redeye... View the full article
  13. Criterion Games announced today that Burnout Paradise Remastered will release for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on March 16. Burnout Paradise first came out in 2008 and was one of the first open-world racing games. It managed to sell 1 million copies that year and receive strong reviews. Now 10 years old, the racer still has fans thanks to its crash-based racing competitions and dense city setting. “When people think of Criterion Games, they often remember the Burnout franchise and for good reason. What we created 10 years ago is as fun and unique today as it was back then,” said Matt Webster, general manager at Criterion Game, in a press release sent to GamesBeat. Burnout Paradise would be Criterion’s last main Burnout game. The developer went on to work for EA’s Need for Speed series and help with other projects like Star Wars Battlefront: X-Wing VR Mission. Other series, like Forza Horizon, have followed in Burnout Paradise’s footsteps of offering players an open-world to drive and race around. Last year, Danger Zone was a spiritual successor to Burnout’s crash-based game modes from Three Fields Entertainment, a studio created by ex-Criterion Games developers. The remastered version has improved visuals, including support for 4K and 60 fps on PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One. It also includes eight add-on packs that were downloadable content for the original game, including Big Surf Island. A PC version will release later this year. View the full article
  14. Even though tech giants like Intel and Apple release annual reports on diversity, very few tech companies are following suit. Dear Tech People dove into these murky waters to answer questions like “How many women work at Snap?” and “How many engineers at Docker are black?” The three co-creators of Dear Tech People — Dhruv Maheshwari, Adina Luo, and Wyatt Shapiro — analyzed 70,000 public profiles, and today they have released their ranking of the 100 most diverse and inclusive tech companies. Here are the top 10. To collect the data, Dear Tech People says it looked at public profiles (like LinkedIn) and used a combination of name analyzers, facial recognition technology, and manual identification through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to determine gender and race. “We’ve checked the accuracy of our data with the companies that do have publicly released data reports,” wrote Luo, in an email to VentureBeat. “We’ve also talked to a couple of companies that only have internal numbers that have yet to be released.” Above: Example of comparing the stats Image Credit: Dear Tech People Luo and her two co-creators all have full-time jobs in tech and are working on this initiative as a side project for now. “One of our goals is to prompt more companies to release their own diversity reports,” wrote Luo. “To do so, we’ve been working on a verified partners program, in which companies share self-reported data with us, matched to our standards and definitions. In return, they receive a green verified check mark on our site. Becoming a verified company doesn’t have any effect on the ranking — it just demonstrates a commitment to data transparency and the standardization of diversity reporting.” Above: Dear Tech People co-creator Adina Luo Image Credit: Dear Tech People Dear Tech People says it has been in talks with a couple of companies to get them verified. Clover Health is one of the first to have officially signed on. The report is divided into three sections: Overall, Leadership, and Technical. The below figures refer to the overall employee base. Snap, which went public last year, has yet to release a diversity report. According to Dear Tech People, only 38 percent of the employees at Snap are female, 3 percent are black, and 6 percent are Latinx (gender neutral term used instead of Latino or Latina). Dropbox, which is planning to go public this year, isn’t doing much better: 37 percent of employees are female, 4 percent are black, and 3 percent are Latinx. Airbnb is much higher on the list, as 44 percent of its employees are female. It is, however, also lagging behind in terms of racial diversity: Only 4 percent of employees are black and 8 percent are Latinx. This is nothing new, sadly. Last February, Open MIC, a nonprofit that focuses on issues of diversity, released a study that shows African Americans, Latinx Americans, and Native Americans remain dramatically underrepresented in the tech economy compared to their overall presence in the U.S. workforce. Other organizations that are fighting to support diversity and inclusion in tech are the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Project Include, both of which are spearheaded by diversity advocate Ellen Pao. In a recent interview we asked Pao what it takes for companies to remain diverse and inclusive throughout the years. “The best way is through metrics and accountability,” she said. “Measure and track diversity and satisfaction at different levels, different functions, different titles, different compensation, and across different demographics to see where you might be able to do better at including everyone. Hold people accountable across the board for their behavior and actions.” Although Dear Tech People isn’t currently working with the Kapor Center or Project Include, the creators said they were influenced by both and spoke with Freada Kapor Klein (cofounder of Kapor Center) in the very early days to learn more about the space. Dear Tech People is definitely contributing to this movement by providing a clear and comprehensive database about diversity and inclusion in tech. One thing I noticed in the ranking is that three of its top 10 companies are female-led — Glossier, Rent the Runway, and Stitch Fix — all of which have a workforce that is more than 60 percent female. Seeing as there shouldn’t be a double standard in diversity (men shouldn’t be excluded either), I asked Luo how they determined which company was more diverse and inclusive. “When we think about the concept of inclusion, a big part for us is thinking about how inclusive and welcoming a particular company is for underrepresented groups like women,” she wrote. “That’s why we stand by seeing some of these female-heavy companies up top in the rankings. What we think is the real challenge for some of these female-led ecommerce companies is to reflect racial diversity.” The data suggests female-led companies are more welcoming and nurturing to female employees. But they also need to do better in terms of racial diversity. Another important point to bring up is transgender employees, who don’t seem to have a place in this ranking. “We weren’t able to do anything outside the gender binary,” wrote Luo. “It’s just a shortcoming of facial recognition/name analyzer technology right now. If trans people don’t present clearly on their LinkedIn profiles as male/female, they’ve likely ended up in unspecified, along with many other profiles that don’t include photos or have very little info available for us to extrapolate gender. We’re working on doing better by trans people and those who identify outside the gender binary, and that’ll be a big priority as we move forward.” So yes, the report has some shortcomings, but it’s a great start to getting a clearer idea of what’s really going on inside these tech companies, and it will certainly help diversity advocates make internal cases for specific inclusion initiatives. View the full article
  15. In the first tournament of its kind, Blizzard Entertainment and Tespa, the North American collegiate esports organization branch of Blizzard, teamed up with the Fiesta Bowl to host the inaugural Fiesta Bowl Overwatch Collegiate National Championship last Saturday. The event was sold out, according to various news outlets. “With the explosive growth of esports, we... View the full article

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