All posts in “Nintendo”

3 lessons from Roblox’s growth to gaming dominance

Our recently published EC-1 on Roblox recounts the origin story and growth prospects of the company. But there’s one more piece to the story: what Roblox’s impact will be on gaming and the broader startup industry, if the company manages to multiply its current 90 million users.

roblox maus 1

Sources: TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Roblox

We’ve distilled three key ideas out of the EC-1 — lessons that may apply not only to game developers and gaming entrepreneurs, but also to the broader startup industry.

Lesson 1: UGC is a missed opportunity in games

Roblox has shown that user-generated content (UGC) is a missed opportunity for much of the game industry. The company aspires, in a way, to be the YouTube of games. And it is succeeding, with 2 million experiences to date.

The game industry generally has two problems with UGC. One is the games themselves: AAA games today are too complex, and lack the flexibility and simplicity needed for robust UGC. Roblox shows that a simpler look and feel is a valid alternative to today’s super-sized, beautiful AAA games. (Minecraft proved much the same.)

The other problem is the greater complexity of making games than, say, videos or music. Roblox solved this problem by building its own game engine, which is designed solely to output Roblox-style experiences.

But increasingly, engines like Unity are capable of accomplishing similar feats: games are getting easier to build. It’s now possible that savvy entrepreneurs could build a platform like Roblox, without building an entire game engine.

Lesson 2: New opportunities in gaming are still coming

The game industry is infamously cyclical. New platforms emerge, become promising, then grow overcrowded and competitive. Usually, this cycle relates to hardware (the iPhone, virtual reality helmets, game consoles like the Nintendo Switch) or massive changes in consumer behavior (the emergence of Facebook, the early growth of the internet). But Roblox, a pure software play, shows that exceptions could exist.

It’s still early days. Roblox reported that it paid out $30 million to game developers in 2017, doubling to $60 million in 2018. Since Roblox keeps 65 percent of revenue from its games, that means it made around $230 million total in 2018. Its top 10 developers made about $2.5 million each. Seven of its games have also entered a “billion plays” club:

Adopt Me, a newer game, hit 440,000 concurrent users in June, a new record for the platform.

When a new platform appears, it’s usually found by amateur developers first. That’s certainly the case with Roblox: its successes are being created almost exclusively by first-time game developers in their teens and twenties. At some point, professional developers are likely to conclude they can do at least as well. The current market is particularly exciting because many games are fairly simple and lightweight — recent breakout hits like Camping 2 and Weight Lifting Simulator 3 are significantly smaller than comparable games on other platforms.

For entrepreneurs interested in creating new platforms or portals Roblox’s success as a combined game engine and self-contained platform also shows that opportunities still exist — if you have the patience to wait for them to mature.

Lesson 3: Patience can create amazing growth cycles

It took Roblox 15 years to grow to its current point. But most of that growth is recent: as seen in the chart above, Roblox experienced 10x growth in about 3 years, from 9 million users in February 2016 to 90 million in April 2019.

So what went into the decade or so during which Roblox was a much smaller platform? As we tell it in the origin story: a great deal of work, and very little paid acquisition.

In its early years, Roblox did buy users, to seed a user base while it worked on an impossibly large vision that included a game engine, platform, social features, a creator community, and its own games. But after a few years, it stopped buying users.

All of its growth since has been organic. That’s from two main sources: word of mouth, and YouTube users who watch one of the many Roblox streamers. Of course, any company can try to do the same. But Roblox had the patience to build a unique product — one which took years of work to even reach partial completion.

The key to it all was long-term adherence to a long-term goal: the creation of a new category, which it calls “human coexperience”. Today, Roblox still can’t be called part of a new category; it’s a game platform. But with more years of work, it may eventually get there.

For more on the Roblox story, see Part 1: The Origin Story, and Part 2: The Business Plan.

Week-in-Review: Google’s never-ending autonomous road trip

Hello, weekend readers. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how Alexa wasn’t forgetting what you requested because that data was more valuable than one might think.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The big story

In thinking about what to highlight in this week’s newsletter, I was tempted to talk about Zoom and Apple and Superhuman and the idea that secure communications can get screwed up when consent is bypassed, and I’m sure that’s something I’ll dig into down the road, but what intrigued me most this week was a single factoid from Google’s self-driving unit.

Waymo’s CTO told TechCrunch this week that the company has logged 10 billion miles of autonomous driving in simulation. That means that while you might have seen a physical Waymo vehicle driving past you, the real ground work has been laid in digital spaces that are governed by the laws of game engines.

The idea of simulation-training is hardly new; it’s how we’re building plenty of computer vision-navigated machines right now — hell, plenty of self-driving projects have been built leveraging systems like the traffic patterns in games like Grand Theft Auto. These billions of logged miles are just another type of training data, but they’re also a pretty clear presentation of where self-supervised learning systems could theoretically move, creating the boundaries for a model while letting the system adjust its own rules of operation.

“I think what makes it a good simulator, and what makes it powerful is two things,” Waymo’s CTO Dmitri Dolgov told us. “One [is] fidelity. And by fidelity, I mean, not how good it looks. It’s how well it behaves, and how representative it is of what you will encounter in the real world. And then second is scale.”

Robotics and AV efforts are going to rely more and more on learning the rules of how the laws of the universe operate, but those advances are going to be accompanied by other startups’ desires to build more high visual fidelity understanding of the world

There are plenty of pressures to create copies of Earth. Apple is building more detailed maps with sensor-laden vehicles, AR startups are actively 3D-mapping cities using crowd-sourced data and game engine companies like Unity and Epic Games are building engines that replicate nature’s laws in digital spaces.

This is all to say that we’re racing to recreate our spatial world digitally, but we might just be scratching the surface of the relationship between AI and 3D worlds.

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On to the rest of the week’s news.

(Photo: by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context.

  • Trump must unblock his Twitter critics
    Twitter is a consumer product, so politicians using it might feel like it’s their own personal account, but when they use it for political announcements it becomes an official communications channel, and using features like blocking stifles national free speech. So says an NY-based appeals court this week of President Trump’s habit of blocking critics. It’s undoubtedly a ruling that’s going to have far-reaching implications for U.S. political figures that use social media. Read more here.
  • Nintendo switches up the Switch
    The Nintendo Switch arrived on the scene with the bizarre notoriety of being a handheld system that was also a home console, but it’s not enough for the Japanese game company to capture the hybrid market, it’s looking to revisit the success it had back in the peak Nintendo DS days. The company announced the Switch Lite this week, which strips away a number of features for the sake of making a smaller, simpler version of the Nintendo Switch that is handheld-only and sports a longer battery life. Read more here.
  • Google and Amazon bury the home-streaming hatchet
    At long last, one of the stranger passive aggressive fights in the smart home has come to a close. Amazon’s Prime Video is finally available on Google’s Chromecast and YouTube is now on Fire TV after a years-long turf war between the two platforms. Read more here.
  • AT&T maxes out its HBO ambitions
    When AT&T bought HBO, via its Time Warner acquisition, execs made clear that they had acquired a premium product and planned to shift its standing in the market. The company announced this week that it will be launching a new service called HBO Max next year that will bring in new content, including “Friends.” Read more here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Apple nips a security nightmare in the bud:
    [Apple disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability]
  2. Amazon warehouse workers plan strike:
    [Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota plan to strike on Prime Day over labor practices]

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Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another great week of deep dives. My colleague Zack Whittaker revisited the WannaCry ransomware that hit in 2017 with a lengthy profile and interviews with the researchers that stopped the malware dead in its tracks. After you dig into that profile, you can check out his Extra Crunch piece that digs further into how security execs and startups can learn from the saga.

“…There is a good chance that your networks are infected with WannaCry — even if your systems haven’t yet been encrypted. Hankins told TechCrunch that there were 60 million attempted “detonations” of the WannaCry ransomware in June alone. So long as there’s a connection between the infected device and the kill switch domain, affected computers will not be encrypted….”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we talked a bit about the future of car ownership and “innovation banking.”

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8 reasons Nintendo Switch owners might not want to buy the Switch Lite

The baby-sized Nintendo Switch Lite is pure plastic eye candy. The new handheld comes in three fun colors, plays nearly all existing Switch games (digital or cartridge), and has a wee bit longer battery life. 

And at $200, you can bet all your Mario merch Nintendo will sell a ton of them come Sept. 20. I want it (in turquoise no less), but the more I look into the handheld’s features, the more the Switch Lite seems like it might disappoint existing Switch owners like myself.

To be clear: this isn’t a review or a hands-on. I haven’t put my mitts on the Switch Lite and can’t say definitively if the features Nintendo’s cut from the regular Switch are really dealbreakers.

As a gadget nerd and consumer, though, based on what’s Nintendo’s revealed, I think I’ll most likely stick to my regular Switch. Here is why. 

1. It doesn’t connect to a TV

Being able to switch between portable and TV mode is what makes the Switch — well — a Switch...

Being able to switch between portable and TV mode is what makes the Switch — well — a Switch…

Image: nintendo

Nintendo is making it very clear the Switch Lite is a portable gaming device as opposed to the regular Switch, which is both a handheld and a home console when connected to a TV via its dock.

How is the Switch Lite even a Switch if it doesn’t, um, switch between two modes? Yeah… 

Without the ability to switch between portable and home modes, the Switch Lite instantly loses a lot of its appeal. Don’t get me wrong, I mostly play my Switch on the go, but I know plenty of friends who really love connecting it to a TV, especially for multiplayer in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Visually stunning games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild look good on the Switch’s 6.2-inch screen, but better on a big screen.

2. The screen is smaller and still only 720p resolution

Text might be hard to see on the smaller screen.

Text might be hard to see on the smaller screen.

Image: nintendo

Which leads me to the next change that might frustrate existing Switch owners: the Switch Lite has a 5.5-inch screen, a downgrade from 6.2 inches. 

OK, a smaller screen on a smaller device (the Switch Lite is about the same size as a Switch with one of its Joy-Con controllers removed) makes sense, but it would have been nice if Nintendo at least bumped up the resolution to 1080p instead of leaving it at 720p.

In docked mode, the Switch can output video to a TV at up to 1080p resolution. Since the Switch Lite can’t connect to a TV, a sharper screen would have good way to compensate.

3. Doesn’t work with AirPods

No love for AirPods or Bluetooth audio? Wahhh!

No love for AirPods or Bluetooth audio? Wahhh!

Image: zlata ivleva / mashable

What year is it? Hang on. *Checks calendar*. Oh right, it’s 2019 and many phones don’t have headphone jacks. Which means wireless headphones and earbuds like Apple’s AirPods are all the rage. 

So why doesn’t the Switch Lite support Bluetooth audio (without needing a separate dongle receiver)? Nerd me is gonna say: audio syncing latency. Duh! Fair enough, but like come on guys! If a PlayStaton 4 and Xbox One can work fine with wireless headphones, surely Nintendo could’ve made it happen on the Switch Lite.

It’s all the more baffling that a device that’s being pitched as a portable, meant to be played on the go, doesn’t work with wireless earbuds. Ugh.

4. Goodbye Joy-Cons

The Switch’s signature detachable Joy-Con controllers are no more on the Switch Lite. While Nintendo’s spinning the death of the Joy-Cons on the Switch Lite (and the new D-pad on the left side) as a positive tradeoff for a more compact design, I think it’s a loss.

I play a lot of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with friends and Joy-Cons make instant local two-player races possible. Sure, you can still connect a Pro Controller or Joy-Cons to the Switch Lite, but that’s just extra plastic to haul around. It’s just not the same spontaneous multiplayer experience you’d get with built-in Joy-Cons that are always attached to the Switch and ready to be detached should you need to throw down.

5. HD Rumble and IR sensor take a hike

So much for HD Rumble...

So much for HD Rumble…

Image: nintendo

If there’s any one Switch feature that few people even know exists, it’s the HD Rumble inside of the Joy-Cons. Unlike most gamepads that have vibration motors that simply increase and decrease the intensity of the rumble, HD Rumble is more nuanced and lets you feel more subtle haptic feedback.

Basically, HD Rumble makes vibrations feel more realistic compared to regular buzzing. 

Much like 3D Touch on the iPhone, HD Rumble didn’t get much love from developers. Still, I believe the tech is innovative enough that Nintendo should be pushing it harder — really demonstrate to developers why it’s so sweet — instead of throwing in the towel so soon.

Similarly, because the Switch Lite doesn’t have Joy-Cons, it also doesn’t have an IR sensor for motion controls. What a bummer. Games that the use IR sensor won’t work on the new Switch Lite.

6. Incompatible with Nintendo Labo

If you like playing with cardboard kits, the new Switch Lite isn't for you.

If you like playing with cardboard kits, the new Switch Lite isn’t for you.

Image: adam rosenberg / mashable

Got a whole bunch of those Nintendo Labo cardboard kits for your Switch piled up at home? I got some bad news: they won’t work with the Switch Lite.

With the Switch Lite being smaller than the Switch, the Labo VR kit won’t fit. Also, since the Switch Lite lacks Joy-Cons, Labo just wouldn’t work since they require them to be detached in order to act as controllers and sensors. Womp womp, indeed.

7. The display doesn’t automatically adjust brightness

Sayonara adaptive brightness!

Sayonara adaptive brightness!

Image: nintendo

I’m sure the Switch Lite’s screen is plenty bright, but not keeping the Switch’s brightness sensor so that it can automatically adjust to different lighting conditions is a thumbs down in my opinion. There are many times where I’m moving my Switch from my dimly lit bedroom to my well-lit living room and not having to fiddle inside the menu to adjust the screen brightness is nice. 

Contrary to several initial reports, you can adjust the Switch Lite’s screen brightness. You’ll just have to do it manually in the handheld’s settings. That sounds super annoying.

8. No built-in kickstand

RIP kickstand.

RIP kickstand.

Image: nintendo

The lack of a built-in kickstand on the Switch Lite is probably the least disappointing missing feature.

Super flimsy as the Switch’s kickstand is — the thing snaps off if you so much as look at it — I admit it’s nice to be able to prop the device up on a desk or airplane tray table for streaming videos from YouTube or Hulu. (Can we get a Netflix app, Nintendo?).

I doubt many people will cry over the Switch Lite not having a kickstand, but still.

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Nintendo Switch Lite’s trade-off of whimsy for practicality is a good one

Nintendo revealed a new Switch Lite version of its current-generation console today, which attaches the controllers permanently, shrinks the hardware a bit, and adds a touch more battery life – but it also takes away the ‘Switch’ part of the equation, because you can only use it handheld, instead of attached to a TV or as a unique tabletop gaming experience.

The changes mostly seem in service of brining the price down, since it will retail for $199 when it goes on sale in September. That’s $100 less than the original Switch, which is a big price cut and could open up the market for Nintendo to a whole new group of players. But it’s also a change that seems to take away a lot of what made the Switch special, including the ability to plug it into a TV for a big-screen experience, or quickly detach the Joy-Con controllers for motion-control gaming with rumble feedback.

Switch Lite makes some crucial changes that I suspect Nintendo knows are reflective of how a lot of people actually use the Switch, regardless of what the aspirational, idealized Switch customer does in Nintendo’s ads and promo materials. As mentioned, it should bump your battery life during actual gameplay – it could add an extra hour when playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for instance. And the size savings mean it’s much easier to slip in a bag when you head out on a trip.

NSwitchLiteImageWallImg04 image950w

The new redesigned, permanently attached controllers also include a proper D-pad on the left instead of the individual circle buttons used on the Joy-Pad, and the smaller screen still outputs at the same resolution, which means things will look crisper in play.

For me, and probably for a lot of Switch users, the trade-offs made here are actually improvements that reflect 90 percent of my use of the console. I almost never play plugged into a TV, for instance – and could easily do without, since mostly I do that for one-off party game use that isn’t really all that necessary. The controller design with a D-pad is much more practical, and I have never used motion controls with my Switch for any game. Battery life means that you probably don’t need to recharge mid-trip on most short and medium-length trips, and the size savings means that when I’m packing and push comes to shove, I’m that much more likely to take the Switch Lite rather than leave it at home.

Already, some critics are decrying how this model makes the Switch ‘worse’ in almost every way, but actually I think it’s just the opposite – Nintendo may have traded away some of its trademark quirk with this version, but the result is something much more akin to how most people actually want to use a console most of the time.

Nintendo announces a handheld Nintendo Switch Lite for $199

Nintendo has unveiled a new Nintendo Switch called the Nintendo Switch Lite. As the name suggests, this console is a bit cheaper than the original Nintendo Switch, but it comes with a few drawbacks.

The biggest difference between the Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo Switch Light is that you can’t connect the Switch Light to a TV. There’s no dock or port designed for TV connection.

That’s not the only compromise you’ll have to make as the Joy-Con controllers aren’t detachable. You can’t put your Switch on a table and keep the controllers in your hands for instance.

Of course, you can buy Joy-Con controllers or the more traditional Nintendo Switch Pro controller separately. You’ll have to find a way to charge your Joy-Con controllers without the Switch — the Charging Grip could do the job for instance.

lite photo 02

But other than that, you’ll be able to play the exact same games that you’ve been playing on the Switch. As long as games support handheld mode, they will work on the Switch Lite — nearly 100% of games work in handheld mode.

The Switch Lite is slightly smaller and slightly lighter than the Switch — 0.61 lbs versus 0.88 lbs (277 g versus 399 g). It features a 5.5-inch touch screen instead of a 6.2-inch touch screen.

If you were wondering what would come after the 3DS, it sounds like the Switch Lite is the perfect replacement for a cheap handheld console. And the good news is that you should get better battery life. Nintendo says you will be able to play for 3 to 7 hours. In their testings, they could play Zelda: Breath of the Wild during 4 hours.

Nintendo will release the Nintendo Switch Lite on September 20. The device will be available in multiple colors — yellow, gray and turquoise.

lite photo 01

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