All posts in “Gaming”

Consolidation is coming to gaming, and Jam City raises $145 million to capitalize on it

A slew of banks are coming together to back a new roll-up strategy for the Los Angeles-based mobile gaming studio Jam City and giving the company $145 million in new funding to carry that out.

There’s no word on whether the new money is in equity or debt, but what is certain is that JPMorgan Chase Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and syndicate partners, including Silicon Valley Bank, SunTrust Bank and CIT Bank, are all involved in the deal.

“In a global mobile games market that is consolidating, Jam City could not be more proud to be working with JPMorgan, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Silicon Valley Bank, SunTrust Bank and CIT Group to strategically support the financing of our acquisition and growth plans,” said Chris DeWolfe, co-founder and CEO of Jam City. “This $145 million in new financing empowers Jam City to further our position as a global industry consolidator. As we grow our global business, we are honored to be working alongside such prestigious advisers who share Jam City’s mission of delivering joy to people everywhere through unique and deeply engaging mobile games.”

The new money comes after a few years of speculation on whether Jam City would be the next big Los Angeles-based startup company to file for an initial public offering. It also follows a new agreement with Disney to develop mobile games based on intellectual property coming from all corners of the mouse house — a sweet cache of intellectual property ranging from Pixar, to Marvel, to traditional Disney characters.

Jam City is coming off a strong year of company growth. The Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery game, which launched last year, became the company’s fastest title to hit $100 million in revenue.

Add that to the company’s expansion into new markets with strategic acquisitions to fuel development and growth in Toronto and Bogota and it’s clear that the company is looking to make more moves in 2019.

Jam City already holds intellectual property for a new game built on Disney’s “Frozen 2,” the company’s newly acquired Fox Studio assets like “Family Guy” and the Harry Potter property. Add that to its own Cookie Jam and Panda Pop properties and it seems like the company is ready to make moves.

Meanwhile, games are quickly becoming the go-to revenue driver for the entertainment industry. According to data collected by Newzoo, mobile games revenue reached a record $63.2 billion worldwide in 2018, representing roughly 47 percent of the total revenue for the gaming industry in the year. That number could reach $81.3 billion by 2020, the Newzoo data suggests.

Roughly half of the U.S. plays mobile games, and they’re spending significant dollars on those games in app stores. App Annie suggests that roughly 75 percent of the money spent in app stores over the past decade has been spent on mobile games. And consumers are expected to spend roughly $129 billion in app stores over the next year. The data and analytics firm suggests that mobile gaming will capture some 60 percent of the overall gaming market in 2019, as well.

All of that bodes well for the industry as a whole, and points to why Jam City is looking to consolidate. And the company isn’t the only mobile games studio making moves.

The publicly traded games studio Zynga, which rose to fame initially on the back of Facebook’s gaming platform, recently expanded its European footprint with the late-December acquisition of the Helsinki-based gaming studio Small Giant Games.

Verizon is testing a Netflix-style gaming service that features the latest hits

Image: sony santa monica studio

We’re fast approaching the moment when expensive hardware will no longer be the deciding factor in which video games you can and can’t play. And it looks like Verizon wants to be one of the first contenders aiming to disrupt an entrenched market.

Leaked emails and images indicate that the company has reached the alpha testing stage for a new service called Verizon Gaming. The Netflix-style interface would allow users to select the tile for the game they want and start playing, based on what we’ve seen.

The report comes from The Verge, which confirms via leaked materials that the service is already up and running (for participating testers) on the Nvidia Shield set-top box. Additional documentation suggests that one goal is to bring Verizon Gaming to Android smartphones.

The testing program features 135 games, including a number of surprising titles. The screenshots show PlayStation exclusives like God of War, Detroit: Become Human, and Knack, unreleased games like Metro: Exodus and Anthem, and even Rockstar’s 2018 hit Red Dead Redemption II, which was only released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

That’s not to say all of these games are available for testers right now; just that the leaked images show tiles for each of them. It’s entirely possible that the finished version of Verizon Gaming features a slimmed down lineup; an email sent to testers even suggests as much, noting that the alpha test is focused on gauging the service’s performance.

“At a later date, when we advance the product, our library will consist of most or all of the top games you are familiar with — but at this early stage we’re working on the engine and its parts,” the email read.

It’s possible that Verizon’s work on this service is tied to the looming rollout of 5G, the next evolution in wireless data networks. The arrival of 5G means faster speeds all around — for mobile users on the go and broadband users at home both. Crucially, 5G also transmits data very quickly — you might hear this termed as “low latency connections” — which should make it perform much better than current options when it comes to streaming games.

Verizon is hardly the first major interest to signal an interest in a streaming games service, but the company’s arrival suggests a breakthrough moment could be coming soon. 

Microsoft, Google, Nvidia and Amazon are all known to be testing streaming services of their own, but Verizon has traditionally existed outside the gaming space. The company’s apparent venture into uncharted territory now suggests a level of confidence in the technology that hasn’t been evident before.

Since this is all technically unconfirmed, that’s all anyone knows at this point. But stay tuned; it’s clear that Verizon is planning some kind of big-time streaming games service, and the fact that it’s in alpha testing now means we could be hearing more sooner than you think.

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This extra-large handheld Nintendo works (and feels) like the real thing

Handheld retro gaming machines come and go, but few go so simply and effectively to the point as My Arcade’s Retro Champ. You stick in your NES cartridge, hit the power button, and assuming you blew on it beforehand, it powers up. This one sets itself apart with a big ol’ screen, Famicom compatibility, and a whopping 35-hour battery life.

I played with the Retro Champ at CES, where they had one under lock and key — it’s not the production version, but that’s coming in the Spring. But it works just like you’d expect, and I was pleased to find it responsive, comfortable, and pleasantly ridiculous. It’s really quite big, but not nearly as heavy as it looks.

The 7-inch screen is bright and the color looked good; it was responsive and the device felt well-balanced. The controls are where you’d expect, with big scoops in the back of the case to help you grip it. NES cartridges go in the top (and stick out as you see) and Famicom cartridges tuck in the bottom.

There’s a stand so you can prop it up and use wireless controllers with it (not included; they’re trying to keep the price low), and you can also plug it straight into your TV via HDMI, which basically makes this thing a spare NES home console. (I’m waiting to hear back on the screen and output resolutions and some other technical details.)

Lastly (and hilariously) there’s a hidden cleaning kit with space for a few Q-tips and a small bottle of solvent, for getting those really grimed-up games working.

My questions went to the usual pain points for scrupulous retro-loving gamers like myself:

Yes, it’s a 16:9 screen, and of course NES games were 4:3. So yes, you’ll be able to change that.

And no, it’s not just loading the ROM data into an emulator. This is the common way of doing it, and it produces artifacts and incompatibility with some games, not to mention control lag and other issues. Things have gotten better, but it’s definitely corner-cutting.

I chatted with Amir David, the creative director and one of the developers of the device. Though he couldn’t get into the technical details (patents pending), he said that they had developed their own chip that runs the game the same way an actual NES would.

So any cartridge that works on the NES, including homebrew and hacked games, will load right up no problem. That means you can also use a cartridge with an SD card loader, like an Everdrive, for those hard-to-get and hacked titles.

Some features are up in the air, for instance save states. It’s possible, but because this is in effect just a small Nintendo and not a virtual one, it’s also tricky. We’ll see.

I was also curious why there were four round buttons instead of the traditional NES D-pad. David said they were still waiting on feedback from players about which worked the best; for an actual controller, the original D-pad might be good, but perhaps not for the handheld style. So they’re considering a few configurations; likewise the buttons on the right — they could get some tweaking before release.

The device goes for $80, which seems fair to me. If you want absolute fidelity for a home console, you can spend five to ten times that amount, while for handhelds there are cheaper and smaller devices out there, most of which use emulators. They’re aiming for enthusiasts who want an easy but uncompromised way of playing their cartridges — lots of us have consoles sitting in boxes, but it’s a pain to get them set up. The Retro Champ could be one of the easiest ways to get back in the game. It ships in June.