An era closes at Zynga as FarmVille co-creator Mark Skaggs resigns

Mark Skaggs, showing off The Ville.

Mark Skaggs, a seasoned game designer that created hits such as FarmVille and Empires & Allies, has decided to leave Zynga after nearly seven years, GamesBeat has learned.

Laura Revenko, chief people officer at Zynga.

Above: Laura Revenko, chief people officer at Zynga.

Image Credit: Zynga

Skaggs’ games have seen play from hundreds of millions of gamers during his time at Zynga since 2008. But after spending a lot of his time commuting from Texas to California, he is stepping down. The company described the departure as amicable, with Skaggs saying he plans to spend more time with his family.

Meanwhile, Zynga also announced a number of new hires and promotions. Laura Revenko, a former HR executive at Hasbro, is the new  “chief people officer” at Zynga.


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Zynga is dependent on seasoned game designers such as Skaggs, and it still has plenty of experienced people in its ranks. Zynga is also announcing today that it is promoting Lincoln Brown and Joe Kaminkow to senior vice president posts. Both are focused on social casino slots games, a category that was up 274 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier.

Chief executive Mark Pincus, in a blog post that Zynga provided exclusively to GamesBeat, thanked Skaggs for his years of service. Skaggs led the team that created FarmVille on the Facebook social network in 2009. That game got as many as 32 million daily active users at one point. He created other big games such as CityVille, The Ville, Treasure Isle, and Command & Conquer Generals at EA.

“He’s going to spend some time with his family before determining what his next adventure will be,” said Pincus. “We thank Mark for his leadership and contributions to Zynga over the years across a range of games, including FarmVille, CityVille and most recently into the action strategy category with Empires & Allies.”

Pincus said the Empires & Allies team will now be under the leadership of Katherine De Leon as general manager. Empires & Allies will launch new features in the coming weeks such as Alliance Warfare and War Factory. Game veteran Pete Hawley will oversee De Leon and the action and strategy business.

Zynga said earlier that it is happy with the performance of Empires & Allies, which is one of the first titles to go after hardcore gamers on mobile devices.

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Localization at scale: Being relevant to your customers wherever they are (webinar)

flags localization

Join us for this live webinar on Tuesday, September 29 at 9 a.m. Pacific, 12 p.m. Eastern. Register here for free.

While technology has paved the road to localization, it’s the expectations of today’s users that are pushing companies to location-based relevance at a faster pace — particularly with a generation that’s come of age with the technology.

“Millennials and GenY’s are expecting to have things that are local,” says Dave Fish, SVP, Expert Services of the customer experience company MaritzCX and one of our upcoming panelists tomorrow. “They prefer to buy groceries that are sourced locally and they prefer to know the people they’re dealing with rather than dealing with a big anonymous corporate entity.”

It’s this kind of thinking that is creating a challenge for companies providing localized experiences and communication — at scale. That gets even more complicated when you’re in the context of going global, where cross-cultural considerations can spell mammoth success or embarrasing failure.

“If you’re not communicating using local language or idioms, you can be very off-putting,” says Fish. “What can be a good engagement can turn into something that’s very, very negative. So it’s a requirement nowadays rather than a nicety.”

It’s why for Fish, the experience is what it all comes down to. Whether you’re one of the 3,000 micro-breweries across the U.S. trying to express that unique pride of place, or a global brand appealing to a vast market, you need to be able to cross the great divide with ease.

“You have a brand that stands for something — and that should be translatable across cultures and langauges and local markets,” says Fish. It can come down to specific channels and what works and doesn’t in different countries.

“In some countries, you can do email, in some countries, you can’t,” he explains. “In some you can do telephone, in some you can’t and in some you can do mail, some you can’t — so just picking the right modality to communicate is important.”

And while Fish believes that the role of Chief Customer Experience Officer is now essential to organizations — and many are rolling that out in various ways — localization can be boiled down to something rather simple.

“It’s really just a subset of segmentation,” he says. “Just a different way of looking at people.”

Join us tomorrow as Fish will join Stewart Rogers, VB Insight’s Director of Marketing Technology for an important discussion on what’s needed to get localization right, whether it’s the next state, or the next continent.
They’ll be sharing tips not just on the process, but on how to deliver better metrics to senior leadership to communicate the true story of your brand’s globalization.


Don’t miss out!

Register here for free.


In this webinar, you’ll learn how to:

  • Re-think campaign creation at the regional level — and the global one
  • Effectively use in-market experts to drive better impact
  • Make your branding as world-ready as possible.
  • Use metrics to show the truest picture of your campaign’s effectiveness
  • Enhance the customer experience through added local flavor

Speakers:

Stewart Rogers, Director of Marketing Technology, VB Insight

Dave Fish, SVP, Expert Services, MaritzCX


This webinar is sponsored by Lionbridge.

 

More information:

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Publishing site Medium takes on $57M led by Andreessen Horowitz

medium-home

Medium has more money in its coffers thanks to the enormous Series A investment it just received. The company announced that it has raised $57 million in new capital in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz, which it intends to use to help bring out the best content on the Internet.

Additional investors in the round include “significant participation” from Google Ventures and Greylock Partners, along with contributions from previous investors Obvious Ventures, The Chernin Group, and other angels. The company disclosed that founder Ev Williams remains the majority shareholder.

Since its founding in 2012 and public debut a year later, Medium set out to be this easy-to-use writing tool that seemed to foster content creation while implementing a network effect like what you’d expect with Tumblr and Blogger. And blogging is certainly nothing new for Medium’s founder as he’s one of the creators of Blogger, which was acquired by Google in 2003.

It started off as invite-only and wanted to be that service where thoughtful articles were composed and shared. Eventually it opened up to everyone and now more than 20,000 people are writing on the platform every week.

The company’s reported valuation is around $400 million. In total the company has raised $82 million in capital.

And it’s not done yet: the company will be holding an event on October 7 to announce new products and partnerships.

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Madison Reed Locks In $16.1 Million Series C To Grow The Business And Push Into Television

Madison Reed At-home professional hair color delivery startup Madison Reed tells us they’ve pulled in $16.1 million in Series C financing to “scale the business and invest in expanding marketing, specifically on TV.” The move to television commercials is interesting, considering so many companies- particularly in the startup space – seem to favor digital marketing tactics such as… Read More

PlayStation is one of the most ‘intimate’ brands for millennials

The PS4 has ridden a wave of positive consumer sentiment.

We live in a cyberfuture, which means we have relationships with brands — and now, someone has started measuring how close we are with the companies in our lives.

Sony’s PlayStation gaming division is ranked the No. 3 “most intimate brand’ among millennials (people between the ages of 18 and 34), according to a report from marketing firm MBLM. It ranks behind only Amazon and Apple. If you’re wondering what the hell “intimacy” means in this situation, MBLM defines it as a tight relationship between a person and a brand that can help a business grow.

We’ve seen evidence of PlayStation’s connection with gamers over the last couple years, as the company’s PlayStation 4 console has sold faster than any Sony system ever based largely on the company’s reputation among fans. The worldwide gaming market is worth around $100 billion, and Sony has proved that establishing a rapport with consumers can help a company capture a big piece of that.


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Gaming is in its golden age, and big and small players alike are maneuvering like kings and queens in A Game of Thrones. Register now for our GamesBeat 2015 event, Oct. 12-Oct.13, where we’ll explore strategies in the new world of gaming.

MBLM specializes in help companies build up their brands, and so it obviously has an interest in helping people believe this metric is an important one. As part of its report, MBLM polled 6,000 consumers from the United States, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates. Collectively, those subjects gave 54,000 evaluations of various brands. This, MBLM claims, enabled it to gauge the emotions that certain companies elicit.

Amazon, which is getting deeper into the gaming business, came out on top because — according to the researchers — it has built a ritual with savvy, connected customers. For millennials, Amazon has set up a fulfillment chain that fits into their lifestyle.

Sony’s PlayStation division is using a bit of a different tactic. Its product, the PS4, is nearly indistinguishable from its Microsoft competition. The two systems run many of the same games with roughly the same performance. They also have similar features like PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold.

Where Sony has stood out from Microsoft, however, is in the messaging and culture.

While Microsoft dug itself a hole in the early days of the Xbox One with policies and features — like always on digital-rights management and no used games — Sony put forth executives in videos like the following to take jabs at Microsoft:

That sort of confident messaging helped establish PlayStation 4 as the brand that “gets” gamers, and that reputation has held. This is despite that Microsoft long ago undid every major issue that gamers claimed to have with the Xbox One. These days, as I mentioned, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are pretty much the exact same thing. Yet PlayStation has already won over too many hearts and minds.

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Facebook has now gone down three times this month

Facebook ANdroid opopododo Flickr

At about 12:00 p.m. PDT today (3:00 p.m. EDT), Facebook went down. This is the third time the social network has gone down this month.

VB staff from across the world confirmed they either couldn’t reach the social network or it was incredibly slow. The generic “Service Unavailable” and “Sorry, something went wrong.” errors showed up, as did another generic “Page not found” message. A quick check at DownForEveryoneOrJustMe confirmed the issue was widespread: “It’s not just you! http://facebook.com looks down from here.”

It’s always news when Facebook goes down, because the service is so incredibly reliable. But three times in the span of 11 days? That’s unprecedented.

facebook_something_went_wrong

To be clear, as I write this article, Facebook is still accessible for some and is failing for others. But even if it does load, it’s incredibly slow or doesn’t load the page completely (Update: Now it seems down for everyone).

The first outage lasted an average of five minutes for most users. The second one took about 10 minutes to fix. Today’s outage appears to be the longest by far, though there are periods where it appears the site is working again.


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Got translation? You got problems. We’re here to help. Localization and translation tips from the best minds in marketing.

Most importantly, Facebook is still refusing requests for an explanation. Both on September 17 and September 24, we asked the company what had caused each of the outages. We sent out a request today as well, though at this rate, we’re not expecting a reply.

This is getting ridiculous. Much like Google, Facebook is seen as a site that never goes down. The three outages in September 2015, however, are seriously putting its reliability into question.

Update at 12:10 p.m. PST: Facebook has confirmed the problem via its developer site. “A Facebook-wide issue is causing the Facebook Graph API to be temporarily unavailable. We’re working with our core infrastructure teams to identify the issue and will update you when we have more information.”

Of course it’s more than just the Graph API, but at least the company is finally acknowledging the existence of an issue.

Update at 1:00 p.m. PST: Facebook is back, though some users are still experiencing problems. We’re still waiting for an official statement, but it appears that the downtime this time last for about an hour.

Update at 1:02 p.m. PST: Facebook says it has a fix ready for the Graph API issue. “We have identified the issue and are in the process of pushing the fix.”

Update at 1:05 p.m. PST: “We’re currently restoring Facebook services that people had trouble accessing earlier today due to a configuration issue,” a Facebook spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We’re working to bring things back to normal for everyone. We apologize to those who have been inconvenienced.”










Investors on Apple’s ‘record’ iPhone 6s opening weekend: Meh

Iphone 6S

Apple announced this morning that it sold more of its new iPhone 6 phones on opening weekend than any other iPhone — 13 million plus — but before we start planning the parade we should consider the big caveat in those figures: China.

Apple sold more iPhone 6s’s this year because it offered way more people the chance to buy one. Apple added China to the list of 12 countries that would be part of the launch this year (New Zealand, too), adding millions more potential phone buyers.

At least 2 million Chinese, and possibly more, bought the new phone, analysts say. By comparison, Apple sold 10 million iPhones during the first three days of iPhone 6 sales last year, with no China sales adding to the total.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 11.06.34 AM

The Street wasn’t overly impressed with Apple’s announcement. Apple stock made a short run after the opening bell (moving from $113.90 to $114.50 at 9:37 a.m. EST), but then headed back downward, bottoming out at $112.50 at 10:10 a.m. EST. The price was moving between $113 and $113.50 at the time of this writing.

Many analysts had expected Apple to sell around 12 million phones over the weekend, so the company did beat analyst expectations even with China figured in. But analysts weren’t feeling so good that they changed their ratings on the stock, in most cases.


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Still, many Wall Street analysts are feeling positive about Apple’s numbers. “While units are up more than 30 percent from last years launch, we believe the organic unit number excluding China may be a more accurate indicator, said Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster in a research note today.

“Assuming China accounted for about 2 million units of the opening weekend, it would imply organic units were up 10 percent year-over-year,” Munster wrote.

Apple investors have been anxious about the sustainability of the iPhone huge sales numbers over the past year, and especially about the reliability of the Chinese market to fuel future growth.










Google equips Street View cars with Aclima sensors to map California air quality

Google Street View car equipped with Aclima's air pollution sensing platform

Google wants to help measure air pollution while also mapping air quality in our communities. The company announced that it will be using its Street View cars to traverse through California to understand how safe the air is. It will be using sensors provided by Aclima to collect the data which will be transformed into visual information for scientists to assess how our health is being impacted.

Starting today, as Google’s Street View cars roll through the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Central Valley region, they’ll have Aclima sensors embedded on them to sense air pollution. Google says these three major metropolitan areas were selected because with nearly 30 million registered vehicles, managing the air quality in the state is a big challenge, even with all the environmental policies put in place by Governor Jerry Brown’s administration.

Although San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Central Valley region are named, it appears that other areas within California may be targeted so don’t be surprised when you see the funny Street View car come by.


From VentureBeat
Got translation? You got problems. We’re here to help. Localization and translation tips from the best minds in marketing.

This is the second time Google has worked with Aclima on this type of project. In July, it announced a pilot program in Denver, Colorado using Google Street View cars. So it’s likely that more cities and metropolitan areas will be added in the future.

All of the data collected by the Aclima sensors will be available on Google Earth Engine to anyone who wants to help analyze and model the data.

Why help measure air quality? By having this data, scientists will be able to determine how safe it is and its long-term impact on our health. As Google’s Earth Outreach Program Manager Karin Tuxen-Bettman wrote, “at high concentrations, particulate matter, black carbon, ozone, and other pollutants can trigger asthma attacks and make COPD worse. Worldwide, these pollutants lead to millions of premature deaths each year. These are the pollutants our cars will be measuring.”

Google’s Street View cars give it an incredible opportunity to collect a lot of data from our communities. Not only are these vehicles navigating through neighborhood and city streets, but they’re going to be able to provide specific information by location, not just in general terms. So perhaps we might be able to visualize that a particular block of downtown San Francisco has much cleaner air than, say, the area right near Fisherman’s Wharf.

This isn’t the first environmental-based project that Google has done. Last year, it worked with the Environmental Defense Fund to map methane leaking from natural gas local distribution systems

More information:

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Google equips Street View cars with Aclima sensors to map California air quality

Google Street View car equipped with Aclima's air pollution sensing platform

Google wants to help measure air pollution while also mapping air quality in our communities. The company announced that it will be using its Street View cars to traverse through California to understand how safe the air is. It will be using sensors provided by Aclima to collect the data which will be transformed into visual information for scientists to assess how our health is being impacted.

Starting today, as Google’s Street View cars roll through the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Central Valley region, they’ll have Aclima sensors embedded on them to sense air pollution. Google says these three major metropolitan areas were selected because with nearly 30 million registered vehicles, managing the air quality in the state is a big challenge, even with all the environmental policies put in place by Governor Jerry Brown’s administration.

Although San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Central Valley region are named, it appears that other areas within California may be targeted so don’t be surprised when you see the funny Street View car come by.


From VentureBeat
Got translation? You got problems. We’re here to help. Localization and translation tips from the best minds in marketing.

This is the second time Google has worked with Aclima on this type of project. In July, it announced a pilot program in Denver, Colorado using Google Street View cars. So it’s likely that more cities and metropolitan areas will be added in the future.

All of the data collected by the Aclima sensors will be available on Google Earth Engine to anyone who wants to help analyze and model the data.

Why help measure air quality? By having this data, scientists will be able to determine how safe it is and its long-term impact on our health. As Google’s Earth Outreach Program Manager Karin Tuxen-Bettman wrote, “at high concentrations, particulate matter, black carbon, ozone, and other pollutants can trigger asthma attacks and make COPD worse. Worldwide, these pollutants lead to millions of premature deaths each year. These are the pollutants our cars will be measuring.”

Google’s Street View cars give it an incredible opportunity to collect a lot of data from our communities. Not only are these vehicles navigating through neighborhood and city streets, but they’re going to be able to provide specific information by location, not just in general terms. So perhaps we might be able to visualize that a particular block of downtown San Francisco has much cleaner air than, say, the area right near Fisherman’s Wharf.

This isn’t the first environmental-based project that Google has done. Last year, it worked with the Environmental Defense Fund to map methane leaking from natural gas local distribution systems

More information:

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Tax liability nightmares you want to avoid when expanding, selling, or IPO-ready (webinar)

nightmare

Join us for this live webinar on Wednesday, September 30 at 10 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. Eastern. Register here for free. 

Malcolm Ellerbe sees it everyday: SaaS companies or cloud-based companies that are caught off-guard by tax liabilities they’ve been entirely unaware of. Ellerbe is a tax consultant at Armanino LLP and just about all of his clients are investor-backed cloud-based organizations. Once they reach what he calls an inflection-point — where they have 50 percent year-over-year revenue growth — big issues come up that could have been avoided.

“I’ve had so many CEO’s tell me, ‘Malcolm, you don’t understand, it’s software as a service, and services are not taxable,'” Ellerbe says. But just because ‘service’ is in the name, it doesn’t mean what you’re selling is exempt from tax.

“17 states currently tax what I’ll call SaaS /remote-access software,” Ellerbe explains. “Many of those tax that as constructive use of software. Others tax it as data processing. Others tax it as digital automated services — and others may tax it as just a taxable growth receipt.”

It can quickly become a nightmare with a host of issues, not least of which is leaving revenue on the table.

“With sales tax, it’s effectively coming off your margins,” Ellerbe says. “Whereas you could have been collecting this tax from your customers all along.”

Companies also frequently trip up on international tax exposure that could be avoided with the proper planning. “They don’t realize they have liabilities,” says Ellerbe, “or they haven’t structured themselves properly, or they have employees instead of contractors.”

But, of course, the biggest issues develop when a company is entertaining an offer to acquire the company, or getting ready for an IPO. In the case of selling, because taxes are such a common oversight, acquiring companies often want to escrow funds to cover contingent liabilities. “Sales tax is one of the highest profile of those,” says Ellerbe. “The prospective buyer surprises the owner of the company by saying ‘We want to escrow 2 million dollars to cover these taxes and other issues.'”

For an IPO, it’s much more focused on tax compliance. “It’s not just an escrow issue,” says Ellerbe. “In preparation for the S1 filing, auditors will require that control procedures be put into place to be stock compliant — there will be a lot more scrutiny. So it’s not just sales tax, and not just international tax, but true compliance issues around the tax provision.”

Ellerbe would love to see tech execs become far more educated about these issues early on — otherwise ignorance can be a harsh teacher, and the results may not be pretty. He’s seen it just too many times.

“I take the no surprises approach,” says Ellerbe. “The CFO should try and find out what the CFO doesn’t know, because someone on the board may be aware of these issues and catch them flat-footed, and say ‘What do you mean we’ve got this due diligence going on, or we’ve got this IPO coming up, and we’ve got all these tax issues? What’s going on? Weren’t you aware of this?'”

As Ellerbe explains, it’s just a matter of time in a tech company’s life cycle when they’re going to have to deal with these issues. Why not take an hour our of your day, join this stellar panel of tax pros who deal daily with companies like yours, and discover some of those things that are far better understood now than later?


Don’t miss out!

Register here for free.


In this webinar, you’ll:

  • Gain greater visibility to common sales tax loopholes that often snag hot tech startups and entrepreneurs
  • Determine whether sales tax is even an issue for your organization — you might be surprised.
  • Learn ways that international tax in growth stage companies can be the make or break point for that next IPO
  • Get a high level overview of other tax considerations like net operating losses, impact of stock compensation, and the states that are currently taxing cloud computing services.

Speakers:

Malcolm Ellerbe, Tax Partner, Armanino
David Sordello, CPA, Corporate Tax, Armanino
Jon Davies, Tax Partner, International Tax, Armanino


This webinar is sponsored by Avalara.