Amazon rolls out early Prime Day deals on devices including Fire TV Recast, services and more

In addition to expanding Prime Day to a two-day long sale event, taking place on July 15-16, Amazon today announced it’s kicking things off with early Prime Day sales across a range of devices and services. The pre-sale includes discounts on the Fire TV Recast, Ring Video Doorbell, and Echo Dot — the latter a perennial best seller during past Prime Day events and holiday sales. The retailer is also discounting services like Amazon Music, Prime Video, Kindle Unlimited, Audible and more.

The Fire TV Recast is the leading deal today. At $100 off, the now $129.99 Fire TV device is at its lowest price to date. The Recast offers everything you’d get with Fire TV plus the ability to hook up to an antenna to watch and record live TV. It’s a good deal for cord cutters who prefer to watch over-the-air TV for free, without paying for a TiVo subscription or a streaming TV service, like Hulu’s, YouTube TV, Sling TV or others.

In addition, Amazon says on July 8, the bundle with the Ring doorbell and Echo Dot will drop to $169.

Device deals often help to power Amazon Prime Day, as the retailer is known for slashing prices on its own hardware to cost or even lower. But already, Amazon’s top-seller the Echo Dot is listed at $24.99 — so how much lower can it go, unless Amazon just starts throwing a free Dot in with every Prime Day order?

Echo and Echo Plus are also already affordable at $69.99 and $149.99, respectively, as are the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick 4K, at $39.99 and $49.99.

Meanwhile, the other early Prime Day deals those that seem designed to entice shoppers while they’re already on the site — but they’re not all necessarily outrageous enough to actually bring in traffic by themselves. And others were already underway ahead of today.

For example, Amazon in late June started giving away 4 months of Amazon Music Unlimited for $0.99, as well as 3 months of Kindle Unlimited for free, and a year of Audible for $119.50 (or $4.95/month for 3 months), with an Echo Dot thrown in.

These deals were again touted today, along with others.

The remaining deals include:

  • Prime Video: 50% off select movie rentals
  • Twitch Prime: an exclusive Legend and weapon skins for Apex Legends, and content from multiple EA Sports titles. (announced on Friday)
  • Amazon Fashion: save up to 30% on Tommy Hilfiger select clothing and shoes; up to 70% savings on Seafolly Australia Swimwear; up to 50% savings on athletic shoes from Reebok, Puma, and others; up to 30% savings on kid’s and baby styles from Gerber, The Children’s Place, and more
  • Amazon Brands: up to 50% off women’s activewear from Amazon Essentials, Core 10 and Starter, up to 40% on men’s shirts from Goodthreads, Buttoned Down and Amazon Essentials, up to 30% on women’s styles from Daily Ritual, up to 20% off furniture and décor from Rivet, Stone & Beam, and Ravenna Home, up to 20% off AmazonBasics, and up to 30% off everyday essentials from Solimo, Presto!, and Happy Belly, among others.
  • Prime Now: Save up to 40% on Amazon’s two-hour delivery service. Plus, new Prime Now customers can receive $15 off their order of $35 or more. (The same deal is available for AmazonFresh)
  • Prime Book Box: 30% off the first box ($13.99)
  • Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card: If approved, members receive an $80 gift card that is added directly to their Amazon.com Gift Card balance
  • Amazon Books and Amazon 4-star: $10 Amazon.com Gift Card on a purchase of $50 or more throughout the store (beginning July 6)
  • Amazon Pay: gift card with purchase (offers vary)
  • Amazon Handmade products: Save up to 30%
  • Whole Foods Market: From July 3 – July 16, get a $10 Prime Day credit when you spend at least $10 in store

Amazon’s 2017 Prime Day sale will be July 11th

 Amazon just announced its third annual Prime Day, the retailer’s answer to Black Friday that originally started to celebrate its 20th anniversary. While Amazon had previously said they would be doing a third year of Prime Day, this is the first time we’re getting the actual date and previews of some of the sales. Amazon is tempting Prime customers by saying there will be… Read More

Apple Music’s new student membership option discounts the service by 50%

apple-music-android Amid news that Apple Music is getting a makeover come this summer, Apple today launched a new plan to boost subscribers to its streaming music service and competitor to Spotify, SoundCloud, Tidal and others. It’s introducing an Apple Music student plan which will discount the service by 50 percent for those who are enrolled in an eligible college or university. That means in the U.S.,… Read More

Fewer deals and smaller checks: Startups suffered in Q1 as first-time financing fell 31%

martech-2015-funding-exits-money

While it’s never easy for entrepreneurs to convince venture capitalists to invest in their new companies, it was especially difficult during the first quarter of this year. Fewer startups received first-time funding, and those that were fortunate to do so saw smaller checks.

For the first three months of 2016, initial funding deals declined 16 percent to 297, and the total dollars invested fell 31 percent to $1.7 billion, according to the latest MoneyTree report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association (based on data from Thomson Reuters).

Moreover, the average amount for first-time financing dropped 17 percent from $6.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2015 to $5.7 million in this quarter.

Source: MoneyTree Report

Source: The MoneyTree Report

Of the $1.7 billion of initial investments, software startups garnered $666 million (39 percent) across 121 deals. The next closest industries were media and entertainment, biotechnology, consumer products and services, and IT services, in descending order.

 

Funding by industry 2016 Q1

Source: The MoneyTree Report

The difficulties faced by companies seeking their initial fundings stood out in a quarter that was largely soft, reflecting the continued overall chill in the venture capital ecosystem. Total venture dollars invested in startups was flat at $12.1 billion, with a total deal count down 5 percent at 969, according to the MoneyTree Report.


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Fewer deals and smaller checks: Startups suffered in Q1 as first-time financing fell 31%

martech-2015-funding-exits-money

While it’s never easy for entrepreneurs to convince venture capitalists to invest in their new companies, it was especially difficult during the first quarter of this year. Fewer startups received first-time funding, and those that were fortunate to do so saw smaller checks.

For the first three months of 2016, initial funding deals declined 16 percent to 297, and the total dollars invested fell 31 percent to $1.7 billion, according to the latest MoneyTree report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association (based on data from Thomson Reuters).

Moreover, the average amount for first-time financing dropped 17 percent from $6.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2015 to $5.7 million in this quarter.

Source: MoneyTree Report

Source: The MoneyTree Report

Of the $1.7 billion of initial investments, software startups garnered $666 million (39 percent) across 121 deals. The next closest industries were media and entertainment, biotechnology, consumer products and services, and IT services, in descending order.

 

Funding by industry 2016 Q1

Source: The MoneyTree Report

The difficulties faced by companies seeking their initial fundings stood out in a quarter that was largely soft, reflecting the continued overall chill in the venture capital ecosystem. Total venture dollars invested in startups was flat at $12.1 billion, with a total deal count down 5 percent at 969, according to the MoneyTree Report.


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GamesBeat Summit will examine what investors seek from game startups

Dan Fiden, chief strategy officer at FunPlus.

We’re happy to be adding four new speakers on our Deals roundtable on game investments for the second annual GamesBeat Summit 2016, an event that’s set for May 3 and May 4 at the scenic Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito, California.

Sunny Dhillon of Signia Venture Partners.

Above: Sunny Dhillon of Signia Venture Partners.

Image Credit: Signia Venture Partners

The speakers include Dan Fiden, the chief strategy officer at Beijing-based FunPlus, which recently set up a $50 million fund to invest in mobile games and other game-related companies. He’ll be joined in the roundtable by Jay Eum, the managing director at Translink Capital; Phil Sanderson, the managing director at IDG Ventures; and Sunny Dhillon, a partner at Signia Venture Partners. They’ll talk about everything from virtual reality to mobile game investments, and what draws their attention as seasoned investors in the game startup ecosystem.

Phil Sanderson of IDG Ventures.

Above: Phil Sanderson of IDG Ventures.

Image Credit: IDG Ventures

This event is about the global business of gaming, which is growing in so many ways and becoming a bigger part of the entertainment and technology industries. We’ve designed this year’s summit to be a more intimate experience for the leaders of the gaming world. Our theme is focused on underdogs and the strategies they use to win.

Jay Eum of Translink Capital

Above: Jay Eum of Translink Capital

Image Credit: Translink Capital

Our goal is to make GamesBeat Summit the best event of its kind. It brings together 180 gaming executives from all segments of the gaming ecosystem to develop a blueprint for the industry’s expansion in 2016 and beyond. New markets, new game genres, and new platforms are opening up for game companies. Virtual reality, augmented reality, and esports are re-energizing developers. Our speakers shed light on the landscape and help you make the right decisions so your company can grow. We’re vetting the speaker candidates for good narratives, such as David and Goliath stories, that hold lessons for us all.

If you want to apply for an invitation, please click here.

Our previously announced speakers include:

Kathy Astromoff, vice president of developer success at Twitch.

Above: Kathy Astromoff, vice president of developer success at Twitch.

Image Credit: Twitch

Kathy Astromoff, vice president of developer success at Twitch, the largest game livestreaming video platform and community for gamers. She has extensive experience in game developer relations and business marketing, including stints at Sega, Ageia, and Game Developers Conference parent UBM. Kathy has contributed to the International Game Developers Association in various roles, including foundation trustee, board chair, and women’s SIG contributor. She follows Cal football through thick and thin, and her favorite scotch is not too peaty.

Amy Jo Kim, game designer.

Above: Amy Jo Kim, game designer.

Image Credit: Amy Jo Kim

Veteran game designer Amy Jo Kim will talk about helping clients find their “alpha moment” in game design and how that can level the playing field for game developers around the world. Kim has a background in neuroscience, computer science, and psychology. She has applied that knowledge to both game design and web community architecture. Her design credits include Rock Band, The Sims, Ultima Online, eBay, Family.com, Nytimes.com, Indiegogo.com, and numerous startups. In 2000, she published the book Community Building on the Web. She has a doctorate in behavioral neuroscience from the University of Washington and is an adjunct game design professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

GamesBeatSummit_JohnRiccitiello2John Riccitiello, the CEO of Unity Technologies, is returning for the second year to our GamesBeat Summit. Riccitiello has been expanding Unity’s reach as a game engine that is democratizing game development by making it easier than ever to make games and publish them across platforms. And now he is adding services for game developers such as advertising and monetization. The former CEO of Electronic Arts is also reportedly raising money at a very healthy valuation. We’re looking forward to quizzing him on a variety of topics in a fireside chat.
Mike Vorhaus (right) of Magid Advisors interviews Owen Mahoney of Nexon at GamesBeat 2015.

Owen Mahoney, the CEO of Nexon. Mahoney is a veteran of the GamesBeat stage, and he continues to make interesting strategic moves in gaming. Most recently, the company acquired DomiNations developer Big Huge Games, a Western studio founded by game pioneers Brian Reynolds and Tim Train. Mahoney has been signing up a lot of famous game developers, mostly by pitching gaming as an art form. He spoke at last fall’s GamesBeat 2015 event, and we’re happy to have him back.
Jeri Ellsworth is a self-taught chip designer at Technical Illusions.

Jeri Ellsworth, the cofounder of augmented reality glasses maker CastAR, will talk about augmented reality glasses based on the company’s new platform. CastAR glasses will be able to overlay animations and other imagery on top of the real world. It’s a creative product from an interesting hardware tinkerer. Ellsworth taught herself how to design chips and became known in 2004 for creating a Commodore 64 system on a chip with a joystick. She went on to become a hardware hacker and was part of a team of researchers at Valve, the maker of the Half-Life games and the new SteamVR virtual reality technology.

Mike Gallagher, the CEO of the Entertainment Software Association. Gallagher is returning to speak as the chief lobbyist for the game industry. We caught him recently at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas, where he aggressively defended and praised the game industry for its fast growth and expansion to new platforms. Gallagher is the chief spokesman for an industry that has reached $99.3 billion in sales around the world, according to market researcher Newzoo.

Gallagher noted that just two decades ago, video games were a niche. Now games are an economic driver, he said, with $23.5 billion in the U.S. in 2015 sales across physical and digital segments. And they remain an innovative force in technology, too — just look at how games could be the killer app for virtual reality. The U.S. has 1,800 video game facilities (companies and offices), with more than 1,600 publishers and developers. And 406 universities have degrees or curricula in video games.
Marvel's Peter Phillips goes over the ins-and-outs of being a brand steward.

Peter Phillips, the executive vice president and general manager of interactive and digital distribution for Disney’s Marvel Entertainment. He oversees Marvel’s New York digital media division, which creates and manages web, app, and social media experiences. He also runs the Los Angeles video games unit, which oversees the development of multiplatform games, and the L.A. digital film and video distribution group.

Basically, he licenses game publishers and developers to make games based on Marvel properties, and that responsibility is a serious one. When he spoke at our event last year, he viewed the role as a “brand steward,” or being a caretaker who was very careful about what he allowed others to do with Marvel brands. We’re delighted to have him back for a fireside chat at a time just before the May 6 debut of Captain America: Civil War in theaters.

Robbie Bach

Robbie Bach, the former chief Xbox officer. Microsoft lost $5-7 billion on the original Xbox, launched in 2001. And it made billions of dollars on the Xbox 360. Depending on the time frame in which you look at it, this was either an insane waste of money or the finest strategic decision that Microsoft ever made. Robbie Bach had to make the call to do it or not. He was the chief Xbox officer from 2000 to 2010. After two console cycles, Bach decided to do work as a “civic engineer” to help fix both charities and governments. We look forward to a discussion of what Bach learned from his efforts and how they are relevant today to companies that are trying to establish new platforms. Bach recently wrote a memoir book, Xbox Revisited, about his time at Microsoft and his own efforts to fix our country’s civic problems.

Rami Ismail, cofounder of Vlambeer, maker of Nuclear Throne and Ridiculous Fishing.

Rami Ismail, the cofounder of Vlambeer. Ismail is one of the most visible independent game developers in the world. The cofounder of the Netherlands-based Vlambeer is trying to use that fame to give back to the indie community and do good. The studio’s has a signature style, and fans have supported it all the way. Five years ago, Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman started the company. Their hits include Super Crate Box (2010), Serious Sam: The Random Encounter (2011), Gun Godz (2012), Ridiculous Fishing (2013), Luftrausers (2014), and Nuclear Throne (2014). Ismail has also been active supporting indies with the Indie Press KitDoDistribute, DoToolKit, and GameDev world. Ismail is outspoken on social issues, and he has taken gamers to task for online harassment. And he remains a big advocate for the global gaming business.

Noah Falstein, chief game designer at Google

Noah Falstein, the chief game designer at Google. Falstein has had a long history of making video games. But at Google, which doesn’t make traditional video games, you would think that he doesn’t have much to do. But he does. Falstein noted in a panel that I moderated last year that Google supports games across the whole spectrum, perhaps more so than any other company. Much of its focus is in getting the next billion people to play games on such platforms as Android devices and virtual reality.

At last year’s Game Developers Conference, Falstein talked about doing games using Google’s Project Tango, the augmented reality technology that can map the 3D space around you and, using a tablet screen or future augmented reality glasses, project an interactive experience into that space. You can conceivably play a 3D horror game inside your own house where you hide behind your own furniture to escape a monster. Falstein has also talked about creating games such as the massively multiplayer online mobile game, Ingress, which was recently spun out of Google as Niantic. Falstein has served in game design roles at the Inspiracy, Suddenly Social, NF Interactive, LucasArts, Dreamworks, and 3DO.

Neil Young of N3twork

Neil Young, the CEO of N3twork. Young and Bob Stevenson launched N3twork as a social network based on interests groups in 2013. It didn’t take off as expected, so they pivoted last fall into mobile gaming. That was an unusual move, but it showed how flexible Young was in adapting to the fast-changing market. And, if anything, gaming has been changing fast in the past few years. It won’t be an easy path as big companies are starting to dominate the top-grossing games in mobile. But Young has pulled off some interesting feats in the past. In 2008, he started Ngmoco with Stevenson at the dawn of the iPhone era. Japan’s DeNA, a mobile and social gaming company, acquired Ngmoco for $400 million in 2010. Before that, Young spent years working on triple-A games such as The Lord of the Rings, The Sims, and the experimental Majestic game at Electronic Arts. He built his first game when he was 14.

Some of our topics include:

Platforms: Where to place your bets: VR, AR, and more

The opportunities in the $90 billion game industry have never been bigger.  Platforms such as smartphones, tablets, and mobile messaging services have created new ways to reach more gamers than ever before. But a single game company can’t do everything. As virtual reality and augmented reality arrive, resource allocation becomes a real challenge. Where should you place your bets? How do you reach the most people? How do you reach the most engaged consumers who are perfect for your games? Our session will help you sort that out.

Monetization: Where mobile game monetization meets marketing and retention

You cannot monetize efficiently without first having an engaged audience. This discussion will host an open round table of mobile experts to dive into crafting the perfect balance between monetization, retention and marketing, creating a game funnel that generates revenue.

Deals: Follow the money

The conventional wisdom says that it’s smarter to invest in the emerging markets of augmented reality and virtual reality than in mobile games. But FunPlus recently announced a $50 million fund to invest primarily in mobile games. The overall surge of investment dollars into private gaming companies has been followed by a slowdown in recent months. Will this snail’s pace continue, or will we see certain segments start the upward cycle again?

Ad fraud: How to deal with it

There’s a dirty secret in mobile gaming when it comes to acquiring users. You have to be able to detect fraud to be able to make sure that you’re really monetizing the way you think you are.

Is the gaming world flat?

What are the ingredients necessary to turn a region into a hub for great game development? That’s a good question, and it’s an economic gold mine for any region that figures it out since games have become a $90 billion industry, according to tech advisor Digi-Capital.

International expansion

East is going West, and West is going East. How do companies expand out of their comfort zone and move into new markets where the users and the spenders are? What are the nuances for moving into these new markets?

Our event advisory board includes:

Call for sponsors

If you’d like to sponsor, please send a message to [email protected]


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GamesBeat Summit will examine what investors seek from game startups

Dan Fiden, chief strategy officer at FunPlus.

We’re happy to be adding four new speakers on our Deals roundtable on game investments for the second annual GamesBeat Summit 2016, an event that’s set for May 3 and May 4 at the scenic Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito, California.

Sunny Dhillon of Signia Venture Partners.

Above: Sunny Dhillon of Signia Venture Partners.

Image Credit: Signia Venture Partners

The speakers include Dan Fiden, chief strategy officer at Beijing-based FunPlus, which recently set up a $50 million fund to invest in mobile games and other game-related companies. He’ll be joined in the roundtable by Jay Eum, managing director at Translink Capital; Phil Sanderson, managing director at IDG Ventures; and Sunny Dhillon, partner at Signia Venture Partners. They’ll talk about everything from virtual reality to mobile game investments, and what draws their attention as seasoned investors in the game startup ecosystem.

Phil Sanderson of IDG Ventures.

Above: Phil Sanderson of IDG Ventures.

Image Credit: IDG Ventures

This event is about the global business of gaming, which is growing in so many ways and becoming a bigger part of the entertainment and technology industries. We’ve designed this year’s summit to be a more intimate experience for the leaders of the gaming world. Our theme is focused on underdogs and the strategies they use to win.

Jay Eum of Translink Capital

Above: Jay Eum of Translink Capital

Image Credit: Translink Capital

Our goal is to make GamesBeat Summit the best event of its kind. It brings together 180 gaming executives from all segments of the gaming ecosystem to develop a blueprint for the industry’s expansion in 2016 and beyond. New markets, new game genres, and new platforms are opening up for game companies. Virtual reality, augmented reality, and esports are re-energizing developers. Our speakers shed light on the landscape and help you make the right decisions so your company can grow. We’re vetting the speaker candidates for good narratives, such as David and Goliath stories, that hold lessons for us all.

If you want to apply for an invitation, please click here.

Our previously announced speakers include:

Kathy Astromoff, vice president of developer success at Twitch.

Above: Kathy Astromoff, vice president of developer success at Twitch.

Image Credit: Twitch

Kathy Astromoff, vice president of developer success at Twitch, the largest game livestreaming video platform and community for gamers. She has extensive experience in game developer relations and business marketing, including stints at Sega, Ageia, and Game Developers Conference parent UBM. Kathy has contributed to the International Game Developers Association in various roles, including foundation trustee, board chair, and women’s SIG contributor. She follows Cal football through thick and thin, and her favorite scotch is not too peaty.

Amy Jo Kim, game designer.

Above: Amy Jo Kim, game designer.

Image Credit: Amy Jo Kim

Veteran game designer Amy Jo Kim will talk about helping clients find their “alpha moment” in game design and how that can level the playing field for game developers around the world. Kim has a background in neuroscience, computer science, and psychology. She has applied that knowledge to both game design and web community architecture. Her design credits include Rock Band, The Sims, Ultima Online, eBay, Family.com, Nytimes.com, Indiegogo.com, and numerous startups. In 2000, she published the book Community Building on the Web. She has a doctorate in behavioral neuroscience from the University of Washington and is an adjunct game design professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

GamesBeatSummit_JohnRiccitiello2John Riccitiello, the CEO of Unity Technologies, is returning for the second year to our GamesBeat Summit. Riccitiello has been expanding Unity’s reach as a game engine that is democratizing game development by making it easier than ever to make games and publish them across platforms. And now he is adding services for game developers such as advertising and monetization. The former CEO of Electronic Arts is also reportedly raising money at a very healthy valuation. We’re looking forward to quizzing him on a variety of topics in a fireside chat.
Mike Vorhaus (right) of Magid Advisors interviews Owen Mahoney of Nexon at GamesBeat 2015.

Owen Mahoney, the CEO of Nexon. Mahoney is a veteran of the GamesBeat stage, and he continues to make interesting strategic moves in gaming. Most recently, the company acquired DomiNations developer Big Huge Games, a Western studio founded by game pioneers Brian Reynolds and Tim Train. Mahoney has been signing up a lot of famous game developers, mostly by pitching gaming as an art form. He spoke at last fall’s GamesBeat 2015 event, and we’re happy to have him back.
Jeri Ellsworth is a self-taught chip designer at Technical Illusions.

Jeri Ellsworth, the cofounder of augmented reality glasses maker CastAR, will talk about augmented reality glasses based on the company’s new platform. CastAR glasses will be able to overlay animations and other imagery on top of the real world. It’s a creative product from an interesting hardware tinkerer. Ellsworth taught herself how to design chips and became known in 2004 for creating a Commodore 64 system on a chip with a joystick. She went on to become a hardware hacker and was part of a team of researchers at Valve, the maker of the Half-Life games and the new SteamVR virtual reality technology.

Mike Gallagher, the CEO of the Entertainment Software Association. Gallagher is returning to speak as the chief lobbyist for the game industry. We caught him recently at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas, where he aggressively defended and praised the game industry for its fast growth and expansion to new platforms. Gallagher is the chief spokesman for an industry that has reached $99.3 billion in sales around the world, according to market researcher Newzoo.

Gallagher noted that just two decades ago, video games were a niche. Now games are an economic driver, he said, with $23.5 billion in the U.S. in 2015 sales across physical and digital segments. And they remain an innovative force in technology, too — just look at how games could be the killer app for virtual reality. The U.S. has 1,800 video game facilities (companies and offices), with more than 1,600 publishers and developers. And 406 universities have degrees or curricula in video games.
Marvel's Peter Phillips goes over the ins-and-outs of being a brand steward.

Peter Phillips, the executive vice president and general manager of interactive and digital distribution for Disney’s Marvel Entertainment. He oversees Marvel’s New York digital media division, which creates and manages web, app, and social media experiences. He also runs the Los Angeles video games unit, which oversees the development of multiplatform games, and the L.A. digital film and video distribution group.

Basically, he licenses game publishers and developers to make games based on Marvel properties, and that responsibility is a serious one. When he spoke at our event last year, he viewed the role as a “brand steward,” or being a caretaker who was very careful about what he allowed others to do with Marvel brands. We’re delighted to have him back for a fireside chat at a time just before the May 6 debut of Captain America: Civil War in theaters.

Robbie Bach

Robbie Bach, the former chief Xbox officer. Microsoft lost $5-7 billion on the original Xbox, launched in 2001. And it made billions of dollars on the Xbox 360. Depending on the time frame in which you look at it, this was either an insane waste of money or the finest strategic decision that Microsoft ever made. Robbie Bach had to make the call to do it or not. He was the chief Xbox officer from 2000 to 2010. After two console cycles, Bach decided to do work as a “civic engineer” to help fix both charities and governments. We look forward to a discussion of what Bach learned from his efforts and how they are relevant today to companies that are trying to establish new platforms. Bach recently wrote a memoir book, Xbox Revisited, about his time at Microsoft and his own efforts to fix our country’s civic problems.

Rami Ismail, cofounder of Vlambeer, maker of Nuclear Throne and Ridiculous Fishing.

Rami Ismail, the cofounder of Vlambeer. Ismail is one of the most visible independent game developers in the world. The cofounder of the Netherlands-based Vlambeer is trying to use that fame to give back to the indie community and do good. The studio’s has a signature style, and fans have supported it all the way. Five years ago, Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman started the company. Their hits include Super Crate Box (2010), Serious Sam: The Random Encounter (2011), Gun Godz (2012), Ridiculous Fishing (2013), Luftrausers (2014), and Nuclear Throne (2014). Ismail has also been active supporting indies with the Indie Press KitDoDistribute, DoToolKit, and GameDev world. Ismail is outspoken on social issues, and he has taken gamers to task for online harassment. And he remains a big advocate for the global gaming business.

Noah Falstein, chief game designer at Google

Noah Falstein, the chief game designer at Google. Falstein has had a long history of making video games. But at Google, which doesn’t make traditional video games, you would think that he doesn’t have much to do. But he does. Falstein noted in a panel that I moderated last year that Google supports games across the whole spectrum, perhaps more so than any other company. Much of its focus is in getting the next billion people to play games on such platforms as Android devices and virtual reality.

At last year’s Game Developers Conference, Falstein talked about doing games using Google’s Project Tango, the augmented reality technology that can map the 3D space around you and, using a tablet screen or future augmented reality glasses, project an interactive experience into that space. You can conceivably play a 3D horror game inside your own house where you hide behind your own furniture to escape a monster. Falstein has also talked about creating games such as the massively multiplayer online mobile game, Ingress, which was recently spun out of Google as Niantic. Falstein has served in game design roles at the Inspiracy, Suddenly Social, NF Interactive, LucasArts, Dreamworks, and 3DO.

Neil Young of N3twork

Neil Young, the CEO of N3twork. Young and Bob Stevenson launched N3twork as a social network based on interests groups in 2013. It didn’t take off as expected, so they pivoted last fall into mobile gaming. That was an unusual move, but it showed how flexible Young was in adapting to the fast-changing market. And, if anything, gaming has been changing fast in the past few years. It won’t be an easy path as big companies are starting to dominate the top-grossing games in mobile. But Young has pulled off some interesting feats in the past. In 2008, he started Ngmoco with Stevenson at the dawn of the iPhone era. Japan’s DeNA, a mobile and social gaming company, acquired Ngmoco for $400 million in 2010. Before that, Young spent years working on triple-A games such as The Lord of the Rings, The Sims, and the experimental Majestic game at Electronic Arts. He built his first game when he was 14.

Some of our topics include:

Platforms: Where to place your bets: VR, AR, and more

The opportunities in the $90 billion game industry have never been bigger.  Platforms such as smartphones, tablets, and mobile messaging services have created new ways to reach more gamers than ever before. But a single game company can’t do everything. As virtual reality and augmented reality arrive, resource allocation becomes a real challenge. Where should you place your bets? How do you reach the most people? How do you reach the most engaged consumers who are perfect for your games? Our session will help you sort that out.

Monetization: Where mobile game monetization meets marketing and retention

You cannot monetize efficiently without first having an engaged audience. This discussion will host an open round table of mobile experts to dive into crafting the perfect balance between monetization, retention and marketing, creating a game funnel that generates revenue.

Deals: Follow the money

The conventional wisdom says that it’s smarter to invest in the emerging markets of augmented reality and virtual reality than in mobile games. But FunPlus recently announced a $50 million fund to invest primarily in mobile games. The overall surge of investment dollars into private gaming companies has been followed by a slowdown in recent months. Will this snail’s pace continue, or will we see certain segments start the upward cycle again?

Ad fraud: How to deal with it

There’s a dirty secret in mobile gaming when it comes to acquiring users. You have to be able to detect fraud to be able to make sure that you’re really monetizing the way you think you are.

Is the gaming world flat?

What are the ingredients necessary to turn a region into a hub for great game development? That’s a good question, and it’s an economic gold mine for any region that figures it out since games have become a $90 billion industry, according to tech advisor Digi-Capital.

International expansion

East is going West, and West is going East. How do companies expand out of their comfort zone and move into new markets where the users and the spenders are? What are the nuances for moving into these new markets?

Our event advisory board includes:

Call for sponsors

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Cloud building management startup KGS takes in $2 million

KGS' managing partners, from left to right: John Anastasio, Sian Kleindienst, and Nicholas Gayeski.

KGS Buildings, a SaaS startup that helps buildings to keep track of their operation systems, announced today that it took in a $2 million investment from energy management and automation company Schneider Electric.

KGS’ technology provides buildings with operation and lifetime management of all its mechanical functions, such as heating and cooling levels, as well as pipe and water pressure.

The startup says its software offers one of the few ready-to-go analytics tools for an industry in which most solutions have to be built from scratch.

“This strategic investment positions our organizations for long-term collaboration and leadership in an analytics-driven facility services industry, while maintaining the independence that has enabled us to be nimble and adaptive while analytics technologies continue to grow and evolve,” said KGS cofounder Nicholas Gayeski.

The startup says its partnership with Schneider Electric will help KGS to grow its team and further build its software and cloud-based solution.


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Shopify acquires Kit, the artificially intelligent marketing bot

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We’re standing on the edge of the chatbot revolution, and I’m reminded of how I felt when those first apps hit the store in 2007. Only this time, the apps talk back.

And following its announcement at Facebook’s F8 developer conference yesterday — where it became the first commerce platform to announce an integration with Facebook Messenger — Shopify has today announced that it has agreed to acquire privately held Kit CRM Inc. Details of the deal were not disclosed.

Kit is the virtual marketing assistant I’ve covered at length before. It leverages SMS and other messaging platforms to help companies market their online stores by asking salient questions at the right time.

Kit can email your customers, build Facebook ads, sponsor Instagram photos, and send you timely reports to let you know if you sold those last ten pairs of designer jeans. And last month we announced it had launched an API, allowing partners to expand on its artificial intelligence. It can now help you set discounts, retarget website visitors, engage with the customer after an abandoned cart, and handle 404 errors — all through a simple chat interface, and in 20 countries.

“The Kit team has been focusing on the intersection of commerce and messaging since their inception,” Craig Miller, chief marketing officer at Shopify told me. “Their vision of the future is squarely aligned with ours. This acquisition accelerates our product roadmap and also brings top talent to Shopify.”

With Shopify’s announcement yesterday that it is building commerce bots for Facebook Messenger Platform, I wondered how this acquisition dovetails with that intent.

“We believe messaging apps are the gateway to the Internet on mobile, and conversational commerce represents a huge opportunity for Shopify,” Miller said. “The acquisition of Kit, along with Shopify’s integration with the new Facebook Messenger Platform announced yesterday, further supports our focus on helping merchants embrace conversational commerce.”

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With so many bot fingers in the messaging and chat app pie, Shopify must be tempted to roll Kit into its Messenger project. For now, though, it appears nothing will change.

“In the near term Kit will remain as a Shopify app in our App Store,” Miller said.

For Michael Perry, founder and CEO at Kit, today’s acquisition is a milestone in a journey that started in 2013.

“Shopify is the ideal company to acquire Kit,” Perry said. “Their commitment to business owners and their view of the future is directly aligned with our own mission and goals. We both want small business owners and entrepreneurs to be successful.”

The original mission remains the same too.

“Kit will continue to work as a team that is laser-focused on building the future of virtual workforce and conversational commerce for business owners,” Perry said. “I feel very fortunate that we have Shopify’s full support to build the future of commerce together.”

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Japan’s Gree creates a $12M virtual reality investment fund

Gree's Tomb of the Golem is a Samsung Gear VR game coming in April.

Japanese Gree makes about billion dollars a year in revenue for mobile games. But the company is signaling a shift today as it is creating a $12 million fund to invest in virtual reality games and applications.

It’s a sign of the times, as virtual reality is expected to become a $30 billion industry by 2020, according to tech adviser Digi-Capital. Other companies such as the Venture Reality Fund, Colopl, and Presence Capital have also set up funds to invest in VR and augmented reality.

Teppei Tsutsui, managing director at Gree VR Capital in San Francisco, said in an interview with GamesBeat that the company will invest in early-stage VR companies that make either games or non-game applications.

“It’s become a very interesting area and we are pretty excited about doing this,” he said. “We are pretty committed to mobile gaming, but there’s another emerging platform for the industry.”

Gree set up its own Gree VR studio last November to make internally produced games. But there’s a bigger opportunity here where Gree can partner with other funds that are working in the VR space, Tsutsui said.

Tomb of the Golem

Above: Tomb of the Golem

Image Credit: Gree

“For now, we are focused on the North American market, but that doesn’t mean we are not looking at a global scale,” Tsutsui said.

Years ago, Gree set up a $10 million fund to invest in mobile games at the dawn of the smartphone gaming era in North America. Back then, the aim was to jumpstart games on the Gree platform, which needed a lot of content. Gree will also invest in augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) companies as it finds them. Gree made a game, Sarah and the Viper’s Crown, for Google Cardboard last year, and it is about to launch a new VR game for the Samsung Gear VR. That game is called Tomb of the Golems.

So far, Gree has made two VR investments to date. One is VRChat, a platform that allows users to create, publish and explore VR worlds with users around the world. Gree also invested in Spaces, which isn’t describing what it is doing yet.

Gree’s VR fund includes outside partners, including the Colopl VR Fund and Mixi.

“The GVR Fund highlights Gree’s commitment to the potential of virtual reality as an emerging platform,” said Naoki Aoyagi, senior vice president at Gree, in a statement. “We not only see ourselves as a content developer but as an investor as well. We want to create same values we successfully did in the past through investments in companies when the mobile platform took off.”

Tomb of the Golem by Gree

Above: Tomb of the Golem by Gree

Image Credit: Gree

 

 


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