From Project Scarlett to Gooigi: The best of E3 2019

Every story about E3 has opened with a mention of Sony’s absence, and this one’s no different. The lack of one of gaming’s “big three” loomed large over the show, right down to a strange sense of space on the showroom floor.

Even Xbox chief Phil Spencer mourned the absence of the company’s biggest competitor, stating, “I wish Sony was here,” during a live stream.

But the show went on, as it has through countless ebbs and flows of the gaming industry. Sony’s clearly got plenty up its sleeve with regard to next-generation content, and frankly, no one’s too worried about their health.

Microsoft, meanwhile, came out swinging on Sunday. The company had a TON of games to reveal at the show, with dozens of trailers, all told. And while Microsoft did touch upon two key pieces of news, it ultimately ended up blowing through those announcements, with very little time devoted to either its next-generation 8K console, Project Scarlett, or its streaming service, Project xCloud.

In fact, we ultimately went back to Microsoft later in the week to clarify some things about the service and discovered in the process that console streaming will be free and not a part of the broader xCloud offering.

While Microsoft ultimately seemed cautious (or pressed for time) to go into either xCloud or Game Pass in too much detail onstage, streaming was unquestionably the biggest story of the show. That’s due in no small part to the fact that Google took a little wind out of E3’s sails by shedding more light on its Stadia offering during a surprise press conference last Friday.

On Tuesday, a Nintendo executive confirmed for me that the company is exploring streaming, but wasn’t able to comment on any specifics. Regardless, the writing is clearly on the wall here, and Nintendo has certainly taken notice. In the meantime, the company showed off its latest Animal Crossing title, a sneak peek of the next Zelda and the surprise hit of the show: A gooey Luigi called, naturally, Gooigi. Honestly though, I’m most excited about that Link’s Awakening remaster.

Square’s big event was fairly lackluster, though we did get a preview of the Uncanny (Valley) Avengers. Ubisoft had some cool demos on tap, including Watch Dogs: Legion and story mode for Assassin’s Creed. The publisher is also launching its own streaming service, with help from Google Stadia. Bethesda, meanwhile, is getting in on the battle royale phenomenon with a new mode for Fallout 76. Though the Fall Guys’ version is far more adorable.

There’s a Razer energy drink, Opera gaming browser, new George R.R. Martin game, Warcraft-meets-The-Office show from the It’s Always Sunny crew and a dance game for the Nintendo Wii. Not the Switch, not the Wii U, the Wii. Happy E3 2019!

How to make remote work work

Every time I see a “the future of work is remote” article, I think to myself: “How backwards! How retro! How quaint!” That future is now, for many of us. I’ve been a fully remote developer-turned-CTO for a full decade. So I’m always baffled by people still wrestling with whether remote work is viable for their company. That jury rendered its verdict a long time ago.

One reason companies still struggle with it is that remote work amplifies the negative effects of bad practices. If everyone’s in one place, you can dither, handwave, vacillate, micromanage, and turn your workplace into an endless wasteland of unclear uncertainty, punctuated by ad-hoc last-second crisis meetings — and your employees will probably still conspire against your counterproduction to get something done, albeit much less than what they’re capable of.

If they’re remote, though, progress via conspiracy and adhocracy is no longer an option. If they’re remote, you need decisive confidence, clear direction, iterative targets, independent responsibilities, asynchronous communications, and cheerful chatter. Let me go over each of those:

Decisive confidence. Suppose Vivek in Delhi, Diego in Rio, and Miles in Berlin are all on a project. (An example I’m drawing from my real life.) It’s late your time. You have to make a decision about the direction of their work. If you sleep on it, you’re writing off multiple developer-days of productivity.

Sometimes they have enough responsibilities to have other things to work on. (More on that below.) Sometimes you don’t have to make the decision because they have enough responsibility to do so themselves. (More on that below.) But sometimes you have to make the business-level decision based on scant information. In cases like this, remember the military maxim: “Any decision is better than no decision.”

Google’s Game Builder turns building multiplayer games into a game

Google’s Area 120 team, the company’s in-house incubator for some of its more experimental projects, today launched Game Builder, a free and easy to use tool for PC and macOS users who want to build their own 3D games without having to know how to code. Game Builder is currently only available through Valve’s Steam platform, so you’ll need an account there to try it.

After a quick download, Game Builder asks you about what screen size you want to work on and then drops you right into the experience after you tell it whether you want to start a new project, work on an existing project or try out some sample projects. These sample projects include a first-person shooter, a platformer and a demo of the tool’s card system for programming more complex interactions.

The menu system and building experience take some getting used to and isn’t immediately intuitive, but after a while, you’ll get the hang of it. By default, the overall design aesthetic clearly draws some inspiration from Minecraft, but you’re pretty free in what kind of game you want to create. It does not strike me as a tool for getting smaller children into game programming since we’re talking about a relatively text-heavy and complex experience.

To build more complex interactions, you use Game Builder’s card-based visual programming system. That’s pretty straightforward, too, but also takes some getting used to. Google says building a 3D level is like playing a game. There’s some truth in that, in that you are building inside the game environment, but it’s not necessarily an easy game either.

One cool feature here is that you can also build multiplayer games and even create games in real-time with your friends.

Traditionally, drag-and-drop game builders feel pretty limited. The Area 120 team is trying to overcome this by also letting you use JavaScript to go beyond some of the pre-programmed features. Google is also betting on Poly, its library of 3D objects, to give users lots of options for creating and designing their levels.

It’s no secret that Google is taking games pretty seriously these days, now that it is getting ready to launch its Stadia game streaming service later this year. There doesn’t seem to be a connection between the two just yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Game Builder on Stadia, too.

Google leaks its own phone

Details of the Pixel 4 have been swirling around this week, so Google has decided to just leak the design of its next phone via its official Twitter account, revealing the backplate and new camera module on the smartphone.

Well, since there seems to be some interest, here you go! Wait ’til you see what it can do. #Pixel4″ the tweet from the company’s verified @MadeByGoogle account read.

Renders of the Pixel 4 had leaked this week via smartphone blog Pricebaba.

The back of the phone makes some big changes. Most noticeable is the now-square camera module with a pair of lenses, a flash module and a couple of other sensor modules. Also noteworthy is the apparent lack of a rear fingerprint reader, in contrast to past models. There’s not much else evident here, they didn’t post renders of the device’s front.

Google’s Pixel 3 release kind of cemented that Google doesn’t stake much of the Pixel line’s strengths on hardware specs, it’s all about what it can leverage machine learning software tricks to do within those bounds.

On that note, it’s worth noting that Google has been pretty late to the two-camera rear module setup; at past event the company has always justified this by suggesting that because of their software they can do more with one than most can do with two. This was clearly the case given the strengths of their cameras, but there are undoubtedly advantages to having dual cameras with different specs, it seems Google is now ready to take this plunge.

 

 

 

Do VC associates matter, women’s fertility, online auto marketplaces, and Salesforce + Tableau

Editor’s Note: New feedback buttons

You might have noticed at the top and bottom of this newsletter that we have added new feedback buttons. These are a quick way to express your happiness (or unhappiness, as it were) about this Extra Crunch Roundup newsletter. What do you like, and what do you don’t? All feedback is welcome and extremely valuable as we continue to improve Extra Crunch for members. And as always, you can just hit reply and let me know directly.

Fundraising 101: Do VC associates matter?

There are hundreds of associates working at VC firms traipsing through meetups and coffee meetings trying to find the best new startups. If you are looking to fundraise though — and fundraise quickly — how do you approach these nebulous non-check-writers?

This week, I wrote a guide based on my experience as a VC associate at two firms. The answer is that yes, they can matter, and it usually is quickly apparent how valuable they can be.

Associates can be helpful, they can and should be nice, and they have a useful role to play in the venture landscape. But let’s be clear: they can’t write checks, and checks is what you are looking for. They can be useful mechanisms to get the right meetings with the right partners at exactly the moment you are ready to fundraise. You probably shouldn’t piss them off by being an asshole to them, but at the end of the day, they are not the decision-maker. And if you learn anything about sales, it is that you want to pitch the person that holds the purse strings.

 

What top VCs look for in women’s fertility startups

Women’s fertility is a major area of investment for VC firms these days, and several prominent investors are doing deep dives into the space. Our healthtech writer Sarah Buhr interviewed several VCs about what they’re seeing in the space and why fertility is suddenly in the limelight:

What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

RealityEngines.AI raises $5.25M seed round to make ML easier for enterprises

RealityEngines.AI, a research startup that wants to help enterprises make better use of AI, even when they only have incomplete data, today announced that it has raised a $5.25 million seed funding round. The round was led by former Google CEO and Chairman Eric Schmidt and Google founding board member Ram Shriram. Khosla Ventures, Paul Buchheit, Deepchand Nishar, Elad Gil, Keval Desai, Don Burnette and others also participated in this round.

The fact that the service was able to raise from this rather prominent group of investors clearly shows that its overall thesis resonates. The company, which doesn’t have a product yet, tells me that it specifically wants to help enterprises make better use of the smaller and noisier datasets they have and provide them with state-of-the-art machine learning and AI systems that they can quickly take into production. It also aims to provide its customers with systems that can explain their predictions and are free of various forms of bias, something that’s hard to do when the system is essentially a black box.

As RealityEngines CEO Bindu Reddy, who was previously the head of products for Google Apps, told me the company plans to use the funding to build out its research and development team. The company, after all, is tackling some of the most fundamental and hardest problems in machine learning right now — and that costs money. Some, like working with smaller datasets, already have some available solutions like generative adversarial networks that can augment existing datasets and that RealityEngines expects to innovate on.

Reddy is also betting on reinforcement learning as one of the core machine learning techniques for the platform.

Once it has its product in place, the plan is to make it available as a pay-as-you-go managed service that will make machine learning more accessible to large enterprise, but also to small and medium businesses, which also increasingly need access to these tools to remain competitive.

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: Growth Pilots

Growth Pilots is one of the more exclusive performance marketing agencies in San Francisco, but they know how to help high-growth startups excel at paid marketing. CEO and founder Soso Sazesh credits his personal experiences as an entrepreneur along with his team’s deep understanding of high-growth company needs and challenges as to what sets Growth Pilots apart. Whether you’re a founder of a seed or Series D stage startup, learn more about Growth Pilots’ approach to growth and partnerships.

Advice to early-stage founders

“I think a lot of times, especially at the early stage, founders don’t have a lot of time so they’re willing to find the path of least resistance to get their paid acquisition channels up and running. If things are not properly set up and managed, this can lead to a false negative in terms of writing off a channel’s effectiveness or scalability. It’s worth talking to an expert, even if it’s just for advice, to ensure you don’t fall into this trap.”

On Growth Pilots’ operations

“They have good business acumen, move fast and work as an extension to your internal team.” Guillaume McIntyre, SF, Head of Acquisition Marketing, Instacart

“Something we pride ourselves on is working with relatively few clients at a time so we can really focus all of our team’s efforts and energy on doing the highest quality work. Each of our team members works on a maximum of two to three accounts, and therefore they’re able to get very invested in each client’s business and integrated into their team. We really try to simulate the internal team dynamics as much as possible and pairing that with our external capabilities and expertise.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with Growth Pilots Founder and CEO Soso Sazesh

Yvonne Leow: Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into growth.

Soso Sazesh: I grew up in northern Minnesota where there is no tech industry whatsoever and then after high school, I came out to Silicon Valley and got exposed to the epicenter of the technology industry. I became very interested in startups and hustled to find startup internships so I could get experience and learn how they operated.

After a couple of startup internships, I got accepted to UC Berkeley and that gave me even more exposure to the startup ecosystem with all of the startup events and resources that UC Berkeley had to offer. I worked on a couple of startup projects while I was at UC Berkeley, and I taught myself scrappy product management and how to get software built using contract developers.

Card readers at electric vehicle charging stations will weaken security, researchers say

Electric vehicle charging stations could become one of the next big targets for fraudsters — thanks to proposals in several state that researchers say would weaken their security.

Most electric vehicle (EV) charging stations rely solely on a credit card linked to an app or through contactless payments with RFID-enabled credit cards or through a driver’s smartphone. Contactless payments are one of the most secure ways to pay, cutting out the credit card entirely and reducing the chance that a card will be cloned or have its data skimmed. For charging stations — often in the middle of nowhere and unmonitored — relying on contactless payments can reduce device tampering and credit card fraud.

But several states are proposing EV charging stations install magnetic stripe credit card readers, which the researchers are prone to abuse by fraudsters.

Arizona, California, Nevada, Vermont, and several states across New England are said to be considering installing credit card readers at publicly funded EV charging stations.

“While these proposals may be well-intentioned, they could expose drivers to new security risks while providing cyber criminals with easy access to attractive targets,” wrote security researchers April Wright and Jayson Street, in a paper out Monday by the Digital Citizens Alliance, a nonprofit consumer group.

Instead, they say EV charging stations and other point-of-sale machines should continue to rely on contactless payment methods and lawmakers “should engage with the security community to better understand fraud risks associated with credit card readers.”

“These proposals would effectively reverse the industry’s careful considerations regarding EV charger payment options,” said the researchers.

Much of the issues fall on the continued reliance of magnetic stripe cards, which remains one of the most common payment methods in the U.S.

Where other nations, including the U.K. and most of Europe, have adopted chip-and-PIN as the primary way of paying for goods and services, the U.S. still relies on the insecure magnetic stripe. Hackers can easily skim the data off the credit card and repurpose a stolen magnetic stripe to commit fraud. Although chip-and-PIN is more secure than the magnetic stripe, card fraud remains a risk until chip-and-PIN becomes the primary method for making payments. Even with chip-enabled cards, fraudsters can still steal payment card numbers and card verification codes by using hidden pinhole cameras.

Credit card skimming is said to be a $2 billion industry.

Using mobile contactless payments, like Apple Pay or Google Pay, would largely render the risk from card skimming almost entirely moot, they say.

Until more secure options are used, the introduction of magnetic stripe readers at EV chargers “would represent an unnecessary risk” to drivers.