All posts in “Gaming”

Facebook launches gameshows platform with interactive video

Rather than build its own HQ trivia competitor, Facebook is launching a gameshow platform. Today the company announced a new set of interactive live and on-demand video features that let creators adds quizzes, polls, challenges, and gamification so players can be eliminated from a game for a wrong answer. The features could help Facebook achieve its new mission to push healthier active video consumption rather than passive zombie watching that hurts people’s well-being. Creators and publishers who want early access can sign up here.

Gameshow launch partners include Fresno’s What’s In The Box where viewers guess what’s inside, and BuzzFeed News’ Outside Your Bubble where contestants have to guess what their opponents are thinking. Plus, Facebook is testing the ability to award prize money with (Business) INSIDER’s Confetti, where viewers answer trivia questions and can see friends’ responses, with winners splitting the cash.

“Video is evolving away from just passive consumption to more interactive two-way formats”, Simo tells TechCrunch. “We think creators will want to reward people. If this is something that works will with Insider and Confetti, we may consider rolling out payments tools.”

When asked if Facebook was inspired by HQ, Simo repeatedly dodged the question and avoiding mentioning the startup’s name, but relented in saying “I think they’re part of a much broader trend that is making content interactive. We’ve seen that across much more than one player.”

Facebook won’t be taking a share of the prize money in this test. For now, it’s also forgoing its cut of its $4.99 per month subscriptions option that lets fans pay for exclusive content, which rolls out today to more creators. Facebook also just launched its Brand Collabs Manager that we scooped in May, which helps brands browse creators by demographic and portfolio so they can set up sponsored content and product placement deals.

Initially Facebook is not taking a cut there either. For all three of these features, though, Simo says “that doesn’t mean we never will.” Creators can sign up for these monetization options here.

The new interactive video features will be available to all publishers and creators, alongside the global launch of the Android version of Facebook’s Creator app for web celebs. The tools range from offering basic in-video polls to creating a full trivia gameshow. Creators and will be able to write out their trivia questions and designate correct answers, as well as “write down the logic of the game” says Simo.

While polls will work for Live and on-demand videos, gamification that impacts the outcome of the broadcast is only for Live. Brent Rivera and That Chick Angel are two creators who will be testing the features in the coming weeks. Facebook already found that fans enjoyed polling on its Watch show Help Us Get Married, which let viewers influence the wedding planning decisions about themes and the venue.

Facebook’s last attempt at original video, its Watch hub, saw mediocre adoption as the content felt also-ran rather than something special or must-see. That’s why Facebook is expanding Watch to offer a broader range of shows for more creators, including potentially longer or non-episodic content. That includes bringing Facebook videos originally only hosted on Pages into the Watch destination.

Facebook’s family of apps will get another chance at an original video home run when Instagram launches its long-form video hub tomorrow, according to TechCrunch’s sources.

What we’re seeing here is positioning that diverges Facebook and Instagram’s video efforts. Facebook’s might be more interactive, about playing and watching with friends, and embrace more novel new formats like mobile gameshows. Instagram, with its history of polished photos, could house more traditional high-end entertainment content.

“We’re not trying to do one show or one trivia game. We’re trying to get every creator to create such gameplay. The beauty of the creators space is that they each have a unique audience” Facebook’s VP of video product Fidji Simo tells me. With 2.2 billion users, making an in-house one-size-fits-all game may have been impossible.

Bet money on yourself with Proveit, the 1-vs-1 trivia app

Pick a category, wager a few dollars, and double your money in 60 seconds if you’re smarter and faster than your opponent. Proveit offers a fresh take on trivia and game show apps by letting you win or lose cash on quick 10-question, multiple choice quizzes. Sick of waiting to battle a million people on HQ for a chance at a fraction of the jackpot? Play one-on-one anytime you want or enter into scheduled tournaments with $1,000 or more in prize money, while Proveit takes around 10 percent to 15 percent of the stakes.

“I’d play Jeopardy all the time with my family and wondered ‘why can’t I do this for money?’” says co-founder Prem Thomas.

Remarkably, it’s all legal. The Proveit team spent two years getting approved as ‘skill-based gaming’ that exempts it from some laws that have hindered fantasy sports betting apps. And for those at risk of addiction, Proveit offers players and their loved ones a way to cut them off.

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The scrappy Florida-based startup has raised $2.3 million so far. With fun games and a snackable format, Proveit lets you enjoy the thrill of betting a moment’s notice. That could make it a favorite amongst players and investors in a world of mobile games without consequences.

“I could spend $50 for a three-hour experience in a movie theater, or I could spend $2 to enter a Proveit Movies tournament that gives me the opportunity to compete for several thousand dollars in prize money” says co-founder Nathan Lehoux. “That could pay for a lot of movies tickets!”

Proving It As Outsiders

St Petersburg, FL isn’t exactly known as an innovation hub. But outside Tampa Bay, far from the distractions, copycatting, and astronomical rent of Silicon Valley, the founders of Proveit built something different. “What if people could play trivia for money just like fantasy sports?” Thomas asked his friend Lehoux.

That’s the same pitch that got me interested when Lehoux tracked me down at TechCrunch’s SXSW party earlier this year. Lehoux is a jolly, outgoing fella who became interested in startups while managing some angel investments for a family office. Thomas had worked in banking and health before starting a yoga-inspired sandals brand. Neither had computer science backgrounds, and they’d raised just a $300,000 seed round from childhood friend Hilt Tatum who’d co-founded beleaguered real money gambling site Absolute Poker.

Yet when he Lehoux thrust the Proveit app into my hand, even on a clogged mobile network at SXSW, it ran smoothly and I immediately felt the adrenaline rush of matching wits for money. They’d initially outsourced development to an NYC firm that burned much of their initial $300,000 seed funding without delivering. Luckily, the Ukranian they’d hired to help review that shop’s code helped them spin up a whole team there that built an impressive v1 of Proveit.

Meanwhile, the founders worked with a gaming lawyer to secure approvals in 33 states. “This is a highly regulated and highly controversial space due to all the negative press that fantasy sports drummed up” says Lehoux. “We talked to 100 banks and processors before finding one who’d work with us.”

Proveit founders (from left): Nathan Lehoux, Prem Thomas

Proveit was finally legal for the 3/4s of the U.S. population, and had a regulatory moat to deter competitors. To raise launch capital, the duo tapped their Florida connections to find John Morgan, a high-profile lawyer and medical marijuana advocate who footed a $2 million angel round. A team of grad students in Tampa Bay was assembled to concoct the trivia questions, while a third-party AI company assists with weeding out fraud.

Proveit launched early this year, but beyond a SXSW promotion, it has stayed under the radar as it tinkers with tournaments and retention tactics. The app has now reached 80,000 registered users, 6,000 multi-deposit hardcore loyalists, and has paid out $750,000 total. But watching HQ trivia climb to over 1 million players per game has proven a bigger market for Proveit.

Quiz For Cash

“We’re actually fans of HQ. We play. We think they’ve revolutionized the game show” Lehoux tells me. “What we want to do is provide something very different. With HQ, you can’t pick your category. You can’t pick the time you want to play. We want to offer a much more customized experience.”

To play Proveit, you download its iOS-only app and fund your account with a buy-in of $20 to $100, earning more bonus cash with bigger packages (no minors allowed). Then you play a practice round to get the hang out of it — something HQ sorely lacks. Once you’re ready, you pick from a list of game categories, each with a fixed wager of about $1 to $5 to play (choose your own bet is in the works). You can test your knowledge of superheroes, the 90s, quotes, current events, rock’n’roll, Seinfeld, tech, and rotating selection of other topics.

In each Proveit game you get 10 questions, 1 at a time, with up to 15 seconds to answer each. Most games are head-to-head, with options to be matched with a stranger, or a friend via phone contacts. You score more for quick answers, discouraging cheating via Google, and get penalized for errors. At the end, your score is tallied up an compared against your opponent, with the winner keeping both player’s wagers minus Proveit’s cut. In a minute or so, you could lose $3 or win $5.28. Afterwards you can demand a rematch, go double-or-nothing, head back to the category list, or cash out if you have more than $20.

The speed element creates intense, white-knuckled urgency. You can get every question right and still lose if your opponent is faster. So instead of second-guessing until locking in your choice just before the buzzer like on HQ where one error knocks you out, you race to convert your instincts into answers on Proveit. The near instant gratification of a win or humiliation of a defeat both nudge you to play again rather than having to wait for tomorrow’s game.

Proveit will have to compete with free apps like Trivia Crack, prize games like studen loan repayer Giveling and virtual currency-based Fleetwit, and the juggernaut HQ.

“The large tournaments are the big draw”, though, Lehoux believes. Instead of playing one-on-one, you can register and ante up for a scheduled tournament where you compete in a single round against hundreds of players for a grand prize. Right now, the players with the top 20 percent of scores win at least their entry fee back or more, with a few geniuses collecting the cash of the rest of the losers.

Just like how DraftKings and FanDuel built their user base with big jackpot tournaments, Proveit hopes to do the same…then get people playing little one-on-one games in between as they wait for their coffee or commute home from work.

Gaming Or Gambling?

Thankfully, Proveit understands just how addictive it can be. The startup offers an “self-exclusion” option. “If you feel that you need to take greater control of your life as it relates to skill-gaming”, users can email it to say they shouldn’t play any more, and it will freeze or close their account. Family members and others can also request you be frozen if you share a bank account, they’re your dependent, they’re obligated for your debts, or you owe unpaid child support.

“We want Proveit to be a fun, intelligent entertainment option for our players. It’s impossible for us to know who might have an issue with real-money gaming” Lehoux tells me. “Every responsible real-money game provides this type of option for its users.

That isn’t necessarily enough to thwart addiction, because dopamine can turn people into dopes. Just because the outcome is determined by your answers rather than someone else’s touchdown pass doesn’t change that.

Skill-based betting from home could be much more ripe for abuse than having to drag yourself to a casino, while giving people an excuse that they’re not gambling on chance. Zynga’s titles like Farmville have been turning people into micro-transaction zombies for a decade, and you can’t even win money from them. Simultaneously, sharks could study up on a category and let Proveit’s random matching deliver them willing rookies to strip cash from all day. “This is actually one of the few forms of entertainment that rewards players financially for using their brain” Lehoux defends.

With so much content to consume and consequence-free games to play, there’s an edgy appeal to the danger of Proveit and apps like it. Its moral stance hinges on how much autonomy you think adults should be afforded. From Coca-Cola to Harley Davidson to Caesar’s Palace, society has allowed businesses to profit off questionably safe products that some enjoy.

For better and worse, Proveit is one of the most exciting mobile games I’ve ever played.

For the next Xbox and PlayStation, game streaming will be front and center

E3 2018 is in full swing, and, as expected, all’s quiet on the hardware front — but the future has been teased with one word: streaming.

Streaming not in the Twitch sense, where you watch someone play a video game for fun, but rather an à la carte style of selecting a game and being able to play it in seconds without waiting for lengthy downloads or installs.

It’s a great idea, but even with streaming, you’ll still need something to play the game on, and streamed games won’t signal the end for consoles. Microsoft announced at E3 that it’s officially working on the next Xbox (codenamed “Scarlett”), and PlayStation will likely follow suit with another console, so that war is far from over. The difference is that the next generation of consoles will be designed for streaming from the start.

The streaming advantage

From a user standpoint, streamed games work the same as regular titles, except that the heavy lifting of the gameplay is done in the cloud, not locally on the console. You’d select titles as normal, but you wouldn’t need to install much more than an alias on your console to play.

The advantages are numerous: Besides there being no need for big downloads, your console’s processing power is freed up considerably. Also, streamed games are much more suited to be cross-platform (at least theoretically) — able to run on consoles, phones, tablets, PCs, and more.

While lag is always a concern, networks have more or less caught up with game-streaming demands: Typically, graphics look sharp, controller input has a fast response time, and, ideally, there’s little latency. Of course, the fundamental requirement here is a fast broadband connection and a server farm capable of supporting the game.

It’s not like game streaming is brand new. OnLive and Gaikai pioneered the idea, and they were acquired by PlayStation. PlayStation Now, launched in 2014, is Sony’s current game streaming service, with around 650 titles. The devices the service works on are limited, though — only the PS4 and some Windows PCs meet the requirements (the now-discontinued PS3, PSVita, and several Smart TVs were compatible, too).

Sony isn’t alone. Nvidia’s GeForce Now lets you play games powered by a cloud server farm. There are around 50 titles accessible on the Nvidia Shield streaming box, and GeForce Now is in beta on the Mac. Like PSNow, the number of supported devices is limited, with just the Shield, some PCs, and now Macs that are compatible.

What’s holding game streaming back

The need for massive processing power in the cloud is one of the big reasons game streaming hasn’t expanded further. To run a reliable game-streaming service, the company behind it needs a giant cloud, with reliably fast speeds. Sony has been growing its cloud with PS Now, but slowly, and even though Nvidia makes chips for a living it still needs to limit the number of devices that connect. Any other company looking to enter this sector will need a substantial backbone.

Image: Microsoft

The Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, confirmed at E3 that Xbox planning for a streaming future, saying, “Our cloud engineers are building a game streaming network to unlock console-quality gaming on any device.” With its Azure cloud, Microsoft has the backbone to support an optimal gaming experience at scale. Other companies can always use Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud Platform, but they won’t quite have the end-to-end control that Microsoft has.

EA also has its eye on game streaming, and the company talked about its planned streaming service at its E3 keynote. Again, device compatibility is a big goal here: The service would support the latest consoles as well as mobile platforms like iOS.

Fortnite, made by Epic, isn’t a streamed game per se, but the experience is a helpful model. Epic Games has managed to release the title for consoles, computers, and mobile phones, offering pretty much the same experience to everyone, while scaling it for massive multiplayer scenarios. That serves as an excellent roadmap, except a true streaming experience would ditch the big downloads and may even add more device support.

With streaming, the full game experience won’t be limited to just PC owners or those who shelled out for a $500 console. Now cheap streaming boxes, iPhones, and even nontraditional devices like wearables could get in on the action.

For now, the most significant obstacle is internet connectivity. Yves Guillemot, co-founder and CEO of Ubisoft, said to Mashable, “Streaming will totally change the way we create and play games … [it] will also require time and technology improvements with bandwidth, connectivity and computing power.”

It’s also not like there’s no lift at all on the developer side. They’d still need to figure out how gameplay changes from a personal touch-enabled device like a phone and a controller-based experience on a console or PC, mapping the controls for different inputs. 

But while they may disagree on exactly when, the big players agree that streaming will guide the next generation of game consoles. The future of gaming is definitely in the cloud.

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This AR guppy feeds on the spectrum of human emotion

Indiecade always offers a nice respite from the wall of undulating human flesh and heat that is the rest of the E3 show floor. The loose confederation of independent developers often produces compelling and bizarre gaming experiences outside of the big studio system.

TendAR is the most compelling example of this out of this year’s batch. It is, simply put, a pet fish that feeds on human emotions through augmented reality. I can’t really explain why this is a thing, but it is. It’s a video game, so just accept it and move on.

The app is produced by Tender Claws, a small studio out of Los Angeles best known for Virtual Virtual Reality, an Oculus title that boasts among its “key features”:

  • 50+ unique virtual virtual realities
  • An artichoke screams at you

TendAR fits comfortably within that manner of absurdist framework, though the title has more in common with virtual pets like Tamagotchi and the belovedly bizarre Dreamcast cult hit, Seaman. There’s also a bit of Douglas Adams wrapped up in there, in that your pet guppy feeds on human emotions detected through face detection.

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The app is designed for two players, both holding onto the same phone, feigning different emotions when prompted by a chatty talking fish. If you fail to give it what it wants, your fish will suffer. I tried the game and my guppy died almost immediately. Apparently my ability to approximate sadness is severely lacking. Tell it to my therapist, am I right?

The app is due out this year for Android.

Here’s when you can expect next-gen Xbox consoles and Surface devices

The Xbox One X is Microsoft's most powerful console ever.
The Xbox One X is Microsoft’s most powerful console ever.

Image: Adam Rosenberg / Mashable

If you’re thinking about selling your Xbox One because a new release is imminent, you may not want to unplug it from your TV just yet.

A new report from Thurrott, a tech blog that’s previously leaked accurate information about unannounced Microsoft products, claims the next Xbox won’t arrive until 2020. The site also obtained details on next-gen Microsoft Surface devices, including when a new Surface Pro will be launched.

At E3 this year, Xbox boss Phil Spencer openly said Microsoft was hard at work on the next-gen Xbox.

“The same team that delivered unprecedented performance with Xbox One X is deep into architecting the next Xbox consoles, where we will once again deliver on our commitment to set the benchmark for console gaming,” Spencer said during a media briefing.

Note Spencer’s wording: Xbox consoles — plural. This could mean Microsoft is planning to release several different versions of a new Xbox — prior to the Xbox One’s launch, a smaller and cheaper set-top box Xbox was rumored, but it never materialized — or it could mean the company’s simply planning out the roadmap for Xbox consoles that’ll come years down the road after the next one ships.

Aside from a codename “Scarlett,” we know nothing else about the next Xbox. But we can take a few guesses ourselves based on the current Xbox One X and Microsoft’s work on a game streaming service.

  • It’ll be more powerful than the Xbox One X (it’s not gonna be weaker, that’s for sure), so expect at least 4K and HDR support

  • Microsoft’s game-streaming service could be central to it much like Xbox Live was to the original Xbox

  • It’ll likely be backward compatible with Xbox One games

  • It’ll probably have a new Halo and Gears game for it

New Surface devices

The Surface Pro is due for an update.

The Surface Pro is due for an update.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Xbox may be Microsoft’s most popular hardware product, but the Surfaces are reportedly due for some much-needed love soon, too.

In a separate Thurrot report, the tech blog’s sources claim the next Surface Pro, codenamed “Carmel,” is in development, although there’s no timeline for when it’ll be released or what kind of updates Microsoft’s looking to give it.

The blog also corroborates an earlier report from Bloomberg about a cheaper “low-cost” Surface tablet due by the end of the year. The device, codenamed “Libra,” is reportedly expected to compete with Apple’s iPad Pro and could sell for as low as $400.

Finally, there are murmurs about a dual-screened device, codenamed “Andromeda.” It’s unclear what Microsoft’s planning with Andromeda, but Thurrot suggests it could be a reference design related to the Intel’s recently announced dual-screen “Tiger Rapids” prototype devices. Whatever Andromeda turns out to be, Microsoft will reportedly announce it by the end of this year as well.

That leaves questions all around for the Surface Laptop and Surface Studio? Will they get updates? The Thurrott report claims documentation suggests the Surface Laptop will get revamped, but no word on the desktop Studio.

The Surface Laptop was one of the best laptops of 2017.

The Surface Laptop was one of the best laptops of 2017.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

So, new Xboxes and new Surface devices are coming. This is good news for gamers and PC users. Microsoft has slowly built a formidable hardware empire with its game consoles and home-designed computers.

With new Xboxes, Microsoft has a shot at going on the offense against Sony, which shot right out of the gate with the PlayStation 4 and has left the Xbox One in its dust ever since. Sony has reportedly sold about 79.5 million PS4 consoles worldwide, while Microsoft has only sold about 37.5 million Xbox Ones, according to VGChartz.

New Surface products will also put the heat on Apple and other PC makers to stay competitive with products that are either powerful, affordable, or have new form factors. 

We’re halfway through 2018 and have yet to see any cool new devices from the likes fo Apple or Microsoft. The second half, however, could be a whole new ball game to look forward to if the rumors are true. 

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