Fortnite adds a $12 monthly subscription bundle

Fortnite’s free to play model has no doubt been a big driver in the battle royale title’s stratospheric success. Epic clearly hasn’t had much issue monetizing the game. While revenue slipped last year, it still managed to pull in a massive windfall of $1.8 billion (down from an even more staggering $2.4 billion).

The company has had no shortage of investments, though it could always use some extra cash for…reasons.

Today, the publisher announced a new model designed to deliver reoccurring payments, in addition to its standard micro transactions — offering up a discount on some of its virtual wares in the process.

The $11.99 monthly Fortnite Crew fee entitles players to a full season battle pass, 1,000 monthly bucks and a Crew Pack featuring an exclusive outfit bundle. The monthly fee adds up — as monthly fees do. It’s certainly significantly pricier than just going in for the standard battle pass, which runs a couple of bucks less and generally lasts a few months or so. Ditto for a 1,000 V-Bucks, which run around $8.

The plan will launch December 2, along Chapter 2, Season 5 of the game. The first pack includes a Galaxia outfit. It’s a space-themed suit that also includes a unicorn-head pickaxe. Content from popular properties like the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian” may also be on the horizon, as well. Certainly exclusive access to well-known IP would go a ways toward sweetening the appeal of yet another monthly subscription.

Gift Guide: Which next-gen console is the one your kid wants?

This holiday season the next generation of gamers, bless their hearts, will be hoping to receive the next generation of gaming consoles. But confusing branding by the console makers — not to mention a major shortage of consoles — could lead to disappointment during the unwrapping process. Before making any big promises this year, you’ll want to be completely clear on two things: which console you’re actually trying to get, and how much of a challenge it might be to get one.

By the way, it’s totally understandable if you’re a little lost — particularly on Microsoft’s end, the branding is a little weird this time around. Even the lifelong gamers on our staff have mixed up the various Xbox names a few times.

If you’re not 100% sure which brand of console your kid (or partner or whoever) has, go take a look right now. An Xbox will have a big X somewhere on a side without cables coming out of it, and a PS4 will have a subtler “PS” symbol embossed on it. The “Pro” has three “layers” and the regular one has two.

Okay, now that you know what you’ve got, here are the new versions that they want:

Sony PlayStation 5

The PlayStation 5, or PS5 for short, is the newest gaming console from Sony. It’s the one your kids want if they already have a PlayStation 4 or even a PlayStation 4 Pro, which they might have gotten a year or two back.

The PS5 is more powerful than the PS4, but it also plays most PS4 games, so you don’t need to worry about a game you just bought for a birthday or whatever. It has some fancy new features for fancy new TVs, but you don’t need to worry about that — the improved performance is the main draw.

There are two versions of the PS5, and the only real difference between them is that one has a disc drive for playing disc-based games; they both come with a controller and are about the same size. The one with the drive costs $500, and is the one you should choose if you’re not completely certain the recipient would prefer the driveless “Digital Edition.” Saving $100 up front is enticing, but consider that some titles for this generation will cost $70, so the capability to buy used games at half price might pay for itself pretty quickly.

The PS5 doesn’t come with any “real” next-generation games, and the selection this season is going to be pretty slim. But your best bet for pretty much any gamer is Spider-Man: Miles Morales. I’ve played it and its predecessor — which Miles Morales comes with — and it’s going to be the one everyone wants right off the bat. (Its violence is pretty PG, like the movies.)

The PS4’s controllers sadly won’t work on PS5 games. But don’t worry about getting any extra ones or charging stands or whatnot right now, unless your gamer plays a lot of games with other people on the couch already.

Microsoft Xbox Series X

The Xbox Series X is the latest gaming console from Microsoft, replacing the Xbox One X and One S. Yes, the practice of changing the middle word instead of the last initial is difficult to understand, and it will be the reason lots of kids unwrap last year’s new console instead of this year’s.

The Xbox Series X is more powerful than the Xbox One X, but should also play almost all the old games, so if you bought something recently, don’t worry that it won’t be compatible. There are lots of fancy-sounding new features, but you don’t need to worry about those or buy them separately — stuff like HDR and 4K all depend on your TV, but any TV from the last few years will look great.

There are two versions of the next Xbox, and they have significant differences. The $500 Xbox Series X is the “real” version, with a disc drive for old and used games, and all the power-ups Microsoft has advertised. This one is almost certainly the one any gamer will be expecting and hoping to get.

Like Sony, Microsoft has a version of the Xbox that has no disc drive: the $300 Xbox Series S. Confusingly, this is the same price, same color, and nearly the same name and type of console as last generation’s Xbox One S, so first of all be sure you’re not buying the One. The Xbox Series S is definitely “next-gen,” but has a bit less power than the Series X, and so will have a few compromises in addition to the lack of a drive. It’s not recommended you get this one unless you know what you’re doing or really need that $200 (understandable).

For a day-one game, there isn’t really a big must-have exclusive. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is probably a good bet, though, if bloody violence is okay. If not, honestly a gift certificate or subscription to the “Game Pass” service that provides free games is fine.

No need for extra controllers — the Xbox Series X supports the last-gen’s controllers. Genuine thanks to Microsoft for that one.

Difficulty level: Holiday 2020

A PS5 and controller.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

Now that you know which console to get (again… a PlayStation 5 or an Xbox Series X), I’ve got some bad news and some good news.

The bad news is they’re probably (read: definitely) going to be sold out. Microsoft and Sony are pumping these things out as fast as they can, but the truth is they really rushed this launch to make it in time for the holidays and won’t have enough to go around.

Resist the urge to buy the “next best” in last year’s model — the new ones are a major change and are replacements, not just upgrades, for the old ones. It would literally be better for a kid to receive a pre-order receipt for a new console than a brand new old one. And don’t go wild trying to find one on eBay or whatever — this is going to be a very scammy season and it’s better to avoid that scene entirely.

The pandemic also means you probably can’t or won’t want to wait in line all night to grab a unit in person. Getting a console will almost certainly involve spending a good amount of time on the websites of the major retailers… and a good bit of luck.  Follow electronics and gaming shops on Twitter and bookmark the consoles’ pages to check for availability regularly, but expect each shipment to be sold out within a minute or two and for the retailer’s website to crash every single time.

Don’t buy them a Nintendo Switch, either, unless they’ve asked for one of course. The Switch is fantastic, but it’s completely different from the consoles above.

The good news is they won’t be missing out on much right now. Almost every game worth having for the next year will be available on the new and old consoles, and in some cases players may be able to start their game on one and continue it on the next. Good luck figuring out exactly which games will be enhanced, upgraded, or otherwise carried between generations (it’s a patchwork mess), but any of the hot new games is a good bet.

Good luck!

 

The promise and challenge of Roblox’s future in China

In a much-anticipated move, California-based gaming firm Roblox filed to go public last week. One aspect driving the future growth of the children- and community-focused gaming platform is its China entry, which it fleshes out in detail for the first time in its IPO prospectus.

Like all gaming companies entering China, Roblox must work with a local publishing and operations partner. And like Riot Games, Supercell, Epic Games, Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, Nintendo and many more, Roblox chose Tencent, the world’s largest gaming firm by revenue, according to Newzoo.

The partnership, which began in 2019, revolves around a joint venture in which Roblox holds a 51% controlling stake and a Tencent affiliate called Songhua owns a 49% interest. The prospectus notes that Tencent currently intends to publish and operate a localized version of the Roblox Platform (罗布乐思), which allows people to create games and play those programmed by others.

User-generated content is in part what makes Roblox popular amongst young gamers, but that social aspect almost certainly makes its China entry trickier. It’s widely understood that the Chinese government is asserting more control over what gets published on the internet, and in recent times its scrutiny over gaming content has heightened. Industry veteran Wenfeng Yang went as far as speculating that games with user-generated content will “never made [their] path to China,” citing the example of Animal Crossing.

Roblox says it believes it’s “uniquely positioned” to grow its penetration in China but its “performance will be dependent on” Tencent’s ability to clear regulatory hurdles. It’s unclear what measures Roblox will take to prevent its user-generated content from running afoul of the Chinese authorities, whose appetite for what is permitted can be volatile. Tencent itself has been in the crosshairs of regulators over allegedly “addictive” and “harmful” gaming content. It also remains to be seen how Roblox ensures its user experience won’t be compromised by whatever censorship system that gets implemented.

Roblox chose Tencent as its Chinese partner. / Image: Roblox

At the most basic level, Roblox claims it works to ensure user safety through measures designed “to enforce real-world laws,” including text-filtering, content moderation, automated systems to identify behaviors in violation of platform policies, and a review team. The company expresses in its filing optimism about getting China’s regulatory greenlight:

While Tencent is still working to obtain the required regulatory license to publish and operate Luobulesi [Roblox’s local name] in China, we believe the regulatory requirements specific to China will be met. In the meantime, Luobu is working towards creating a robust developer community in China.”

The company is rightfully optimistic. China is the world’s largest gaming market and Tencent has a proven history of converting its social network users into gamers. Roblox’s marketing focus on encouraging “creativity” might also sit well with Beijing’s call for tech companies to “do good,” an order Tencent has answered. Roblox’s Chinese website suggests it’s touting part of its business as a learning and STEM tool and shows it’s seeking collaborations with local schools and educators.

Nonetheless, the involvement of Tencent is the elephant in the room in times of uncertain U.S.-China relations. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. or CFIUS, which is chaired by the Treasury Department, was inquiring about data practices by Tencent-backed gaming studios in the U.S. including Epic and Riot, Bloomberg reported in September.

Roblox isn’t exempt. It notes in the prospectus that CFIUS has “made inquiries to us with respect to Tencent’s equity investment in us and involvement in the China JV.” It further warns that it “cannot predict what effect any further inquiry by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. into our relationship with Tencent or changes in China-U.S. relations overall may have on our ability to effectively support the China JV or on the operations or success of the China JV.”

The other obstacle faced by all foreign companies entering China is local clones. Reworld, backed by prominent Chinese venture firms such as Northern Light Venture Capital and Joy Capital, is one. The game is unabashed about its origin. In a Reddit post responding to the accusation of it being “a ripoff of Roblox,” Reworld pays its tribute to Roblox and admits its product is “built on the shoulders of Roblox,” while claiming “it did not take any code from Roblox Studio.”

The Beijing-based startup behind Reworld has so far raised more than $50 million and had about 100 developers working on Reworld’s editing tool and 50 other operational staff, its co-founder said in a June interview. In comparison, Roblox had 38 employees in China by September, 38 of whom were in product and engineering functions. It’s actively hiring in China.

Roblox cannot comment for the story as it’s in the IPO quiet period.

Daily Crunch: Roblox is going public

Roblox opens its books, Snap makes an acquisition and Pfizer and BioNTech seek regulatory approval for their vaccine. This your Daily Crunch for November 20, 2020.

The big story: Roblox is going public

The child-friendly gaming company filed confidentially to go public in October, but it only published its S-1 document with financial information late yesterday.

How do the numbers look? Well, Roblox is certainly growing quickly — total revenue increased 56% in 2019, and then another 68% in the first three quarters of 2020, when it saw $588.7 million in revenue. At the same time, losses are growing as well, nearly quadrupling to $203.2 million during those same three quarters.

The company also acknowledged that its success depends on its ability to “provide a safe online environment” for children. Otherwise, “business will suffer dramatically.”

The tech giants

Snap acquired Voisey, an app to create music tracks overlaying your own vocals — Voisey users can apply audio filters to their voices, and they can browse and view other people’s Voisey tracks.

Despite commitment to anti-racism, Uber’s Black employee base has decreased — Uber’s latest diversity report shows a decline in the overall representation of Black employees in the U.S.

Google, Facebook and Twitter threaten to leave Pakistan over censorship law — This comes after Pakistan’s government granted blanket powers to local regulators to censor digital content.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Loadsmart raises $90M to further consolidate its one-stop freight and logistics platform — Loadsmart offers booking for freight transportation across land, rail and through ports, all from a single online portal.

ORIX invests $60M in Israeli crowdfunding platform OurCrowd — OurCrowd also says that the two groups will collaborate to create financial products and investment opportunities for the Japanese and global market.

Kea raises $10M to build AI that helps restaurants answer the phone — CEO Adam Ahmad says the startup has created a “virtual cashier” who can do the initial intake with customers, process most routine orders and bring in a human employee when needed.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

If you didn’t make $1B this week, you are not doing VC right — Don’t yell at me, Danny Crichton said it!

Why is GoCardless COO Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas pivoting to become a full-time VC — “I think this is the best moment in entrepreneurship in Europe.”

What is Roblox worth? — A deeper dive into Roblox’s numbers.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Pfizer and BioNTech to submit request for emergency use approval of their COVID-19 vaccine today — These emergency approvals still require supporting information and safety data, but they are fast-tracked relative to the full, formal and more permanent approval process.

Mixtape podcast: Building a structural DEI response to a systemic issue with Y-Vonne Hutchinson — Hutchinson is the CEO of ReadySet, a consulting firm that works with companies to create more inclusive and equitable work environments.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Extra Crunch roundup: A fistful of IPOs, Affirm’s Peloton problem, Zoom Apps and more

DoorDash, Affirm, Roblox, Airbnb, C3.ai and Wish all filed to go public in recent days, which means some venture capitalists are having the best week of their lives.

Tech companies that go public capture our imagination because they are literal happy endings. An Initial Public Offering is the promised land for startup pilgrims who may wander the desert for years seeking product-market fit. After all, the “I” in “ISO” stands for “incentive.”

A flurry of new S-1s in a single week forced me to rearrange our editorial calendar, but I didn’t mind; our 360-degree coverage let some of the air out of various hype balloons and uncovered several unique angles.

For example: I was familiar with Affirm, the service that lets consumers finance purchases, but I had no idea Peloton accounted for 30% of its total revenue in the last quarter.

“What happens if Peloton puts on the brakes?” I asked Alex Wilhelm as I edited his breakdown of Affirm’s S-1. We decided to use that as the subhead for his analysis.

The stories that follow are an overview of Extra Crunch from the last five days. Full articles are only available to members, but you can use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one or two-year subscription. Details here.

Thank you very much for reading Extra Crunch this week; I hope you have a relaxing weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


What is Roblox worth?

Gaming company Roblox filed to go public yesterday afternoon, so Alex Wilhelm brought out a scalpel and dissected its S-1. Using his patented mathmagic, he analyzed Roblox’s fundraising history and reported revenue to estimate where its valuation might land.

Noting that “the public markets appear to be even more risk-on than the private world in 2020,” Alex pegged the number at “just a hair under $10 billion.”

What China’s fintech can teach the world

Alibaba Employees Pay For Meals With Face Recognition System

HANGZHOU, CHINA – JULY 31: An employee uses face recognition system on a self-service check-out machine to pay for her meals in a canteen at the headquarters of Alibaba Group on July 31, 2018 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. The self-service check-out machine can calculate the price of meals quickly to save employees’ queuing time. (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images)

For all the hype about new forms of payment, the way I transact hasn’t been radically transformed in recent years — even in tech-centric San Francisco.

Sure, I use NFC card readers to tap and pay and tipped a street musician using Venmo last weekend. But my landlord still demands paper checks and there’s a tattered “CASH ONLY” taped to the register at my closest coffee shop.

In China, it’s a different story: Alibaba’s employee cafeteria uses facial recognition and AI to determine which foods a worker has selected and who to charge. Many consumers there use the same app to pay for utility bills, movie tickets and hamburgers.

“Today, nobody except Chinese people outside of China uses Alipay or WeChat Pay to pay for anything,” says finance researcher Martin Chorzempa. “So that’s a big unexplored side that I think is going to come into a lot of geopolitical risks.”

Inside Affirm’s IPO filing: A look at its economics, profits and revenue concentration

Consumer lending service Affirm filed to go public on Wednesday evening, so Alex used Thursday’s column to unpack the company’s financials.

After reviewing Affirm’s profitability, revenue and the impact of COVID-19 on its bottom line, he asked (and answered) three questions:

  • What does Affirm’s loss rate on consumer loans look like?
  • Are its gross margins improving?
  • What does the unicorn have to say about contribution profit from its loans business?

If you didn’t make $1B this week, you are not doing VC right

Image Credits: XiXinXing (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

“The only thing more rare than a unicorn is an exited unicorn,” observes Managing Editor Danny Crichton, who looked back at Exitpalooza 2020 to answer “a simple question — who made the money?”

Covering each exit from the perspective of founders and investors, Danny makes it clear who’ll take home the largest slice of each pie. TL;DR? “Some really colossal winners among founders, and several venture firms walking home with billions of dollars in capital.

5 questions from Airbnb’s IPO filing

The S-1 Airbnb released at the start of the week provided insight into the home-rental platform’s core financials, but it also raised several questions about the company’s health and long-term viability, according to Alex Wilhelm:

  • How far did Airbnb’s bookings fall during Q1 and Q2?
  • How far have Airbnb’s bookings come back since?
  • Did local, long-term stays save Airbnb?
  • Has Airbnb ever really made money?
  • Is the company wealthy despite the pandemic?

Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost explains the strategy behind acquiring Spacemaker

Andrew Anagnost, President and CEO, Autodesk.

Andrew Anagnost, president and CEO, Autodesk.

Earlier this week, Autodesk announced its purchase of Spacemaker, a Norwegian firm that develops AI-supported software for urban development.

TechCrunch reporter Steve O’Hear interviewed Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost to learn more about the acquisition and asked why Autodesk paid $240 million for Spacemaker’s 115-person team and IP — especially when there were other startups closer to its Bay Area HQ.

“They’ve built a real, practical, usable application that helps a segment of our population use machine learning to really create better outcomes in a critical area, which is urban redevelopment and development,” said Anagnost.

“So it’s totally aligned with what we’re trying to do.”

Unpacking the C3.ai IPO filing

On Monday, Alex dove into the IPO filing for enterprise artificial intelligence company C3.ai.

After poring over its ownership structure, service offerings and its last two years of revenue, he asks and answers the question: “is the business itself any damn good?”

Is the internet advertising economy about to implode?

Image Credits: jayk7 / Getty Images

In his new book, “Subprime Attention Crisis,” writer/researcher Tim Hwang attempts to answer a question I’ve wondered about for years: does advertising actually work?

Managing Editor Danny Crichton interviewed Hwang to learn more about his thesis that there are parallels between today’s ad industry and the subprime mortgage crisis that helped spur the Great Recession.

So, are online ads effective?

“I think the companies are very reticent to give up the data that would allow you to find a really definitive answer to that question,” says Hwang.

Will Zoom Apps be the next hot startup platform?

Logos of companies in the Zoom Apps marketplace

Image Credits: Zoom

Even after much of the population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, we will still be using Zoom’s video-conferencing platform in great numbers.

That’s because Zoom isn’t just an app: it’s also a platform play for startups that add functionality using APIs, an SDK or chatbots that behave like smart assistants.

Enterprise reporter Ron Miller spoke to entrepreneurs and investors who are leveraging Zoom’s platform to build new applications with an eye on the future.

“By offering a platform to build applications that take advantage of the meeting software, it’s possible it could be a valuable new ecosystem for startups,” says Ron.

Will edtech empower or erase the need for higher education?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Without an on-campus experience, many students (and their parents) are wondering how much value there is in attending classes via a laptop in a dormitory.

Even worse: Declining enrollment is leading many institutions to eliminate majors and find other ways to cut costs, like furloughing staff and cutting athletic programs.

Edtech solutions could fill the gap, but there’s no real consensus in higher education over which tools work best. Many colleges and universities are using a number of “third-party solutions to keep operations afloat,” reports Natasha Mascarenhas.

“It’s a stress test that could lead to a reckoning among edtech startups.”

3 growth tactics that helped us surpass Noom and Weight Watchers

3D rendering of TNT dynamite sticks in carton box on blue background. Explosive supplies. Dangerous cargo. Plotting terrorist attack. Image Credits: Gearstd / Getty Images.

I look for guest-written Extra Crunch stories that will help other entrepreneurs be more successful, which is why I routinely turn down submissions that seem overly promotional.

However, Henrik Torstensson (CEO and co-founder of Lifesum) submitted a post about the techniques he’s used to scale his nutrition app over the last three years. “It’s a strategy any startup can use, regardless of size or budget,” he writes.

According to Sensor Tower, Lifesum is growing almost twice as fast as Noon and Weight Watchers, so putting his company at the center of the story made sense.

Send in reviews of your favorite books for TechCrunch!

Image via Getty Images / Alexander Spatari

Every year, we ask TechCrunch reporters, VCs and our Extra Crunch readers to recommend their favorite books.

Have you read a book this year that you want to recommend? Send an email with the title and a brief explanation of why you enjoyed it to [email protected].

We’ll compile the suggestions and publish the list as we get closer to the holidays. These books don’t have to be published this calendar year — any book you read this year qualifies.

Please share your submissions by November 30.

Dear Sophie: Can an H-1B co-founder own a Delaware C Corp?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

My VC partner and I are working with 50/50 co-founders on their startup — let’s call it “NewCo.” We’re exploring pre-seed terms.

One founder is on a green card and already works there. The other founder is from India and is working on an H-1B at a large tech company.

Can the H-1B co-founder lead this company? What’s the timing to get everything squared away? If we make the investment we want them to hit the ground running.

— Diligent in Daly City

What is Roblox worth?

With Roblox joining the end-of-year unicorn stampede towards the public markets, we’re set for a contentedly busy second half of November and early December. I hope you didn’t have vacation planned in the next few weeks.

This morning we need to get deeper into the Roblox S-1 so that we can better understand the nature of its revenue generation. Why? Because we want to start working on what the gaming company is worth; some comparisons are being made to Unity, another unicorn that went public earlier this year with a gaming focus.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Should we apply Unity’s revenue multiple to Roblox? Or does the company deserve a slimmer multiple based on the substance of its revenue?

We’ll also have to remind ourselves how much capital Roblox last raised while private, and at what price. Given our historical knowledge of its financial results, we might be able to nail some valuations to revenue figures, helping us understand, roughly, how the venture capital community was valuing Roblox while it was private.

If you want an overview of just the numbers, Natasha and I wrote a digest here.

Now, let’s get to work.

What’s Roblox worth as a public company?

To get a foundation, let’s recall how Roblox was valued during its last private round. According to Crunchbase data, Roblox’s $150 million Series G was raised at a $3.9 billion pre-money valuation. So, Roblox was worth $4.05 billion after the February 2020 funding event.

Naturally there is a lag in between when a deal is struck and when it announced. So, let’s rewind the clock to Q4 2019 and ask ourselves what Roblox looked like at the time. From its S-1, here are the Q4 2019 numbers:

  • Revenue of $138.3 million, +44.2% compared to the year-ago quarter
  • A net loss of $39.6 million, +197.1% compared to the year-ago quarter

Annualizing that revenue figure, Roblox was on a $553.3 million run rate at around the time it raised that Series G. In revenue multiple terms, Roblox was valued at 7.3x its top line on an annualized basis.

If you are a SaaS fan you are probably pretty shocked right now. Why the hell was Roblox, a software company, worth so little? Well let’s remind ourselves how it makes money:

We generate substantially all of our revenue through the sales of Robux to users. Users can spend Robux to purchase access to experiences, enhancements in experiences, and items in the Avatar Marketplace. Robux are available as one-time purchases or monthly subscriptions. We recognize revenue ratably over the estimated average lifetime of a paying user. […]

Other revenue streams include a minimal amount of revenue from advertising, licenses, and royalties.

Google Stadia and GeForce Now are both coming to iOS as web apps

Google and Nvidia both had some news about their respective cloud gaming service today. Let’s start with Nvidia. GeForce Now is now available on the iPhone and the iPad as a web app. The company says it’s a beta for now, but you can start using it by heading over to play.geforcenow.com on your iOS device.

GeForce Now is a cloud gaming service that works with your own game library. You can connect to your Steam, Epic and Ubisoft Connect accounts and play games you’ve already purchased on those third-party platforms — GOG support is coming soon. GeForce Now is also available on macOS, Android and Windows.

Game publishers have to opt in to appear on GeForce Now, which means that you won’t find your entire Steam library on the service. Still, the list is already quite long.

Right now, it costs $5 per month to access the Founders edition, which lets you play whenever you want and for as long as you want. It’s an introductory price, which means that Nvidia could raise prices in the future.

You can also try the service with a free account. You’re limited to one-hour sessions and less powerful hardware. There are also few slots. For instance, you have to wait 11 minutes to launch a game with a free account right now.

Once you add the web app to your iOS home screen, you can launch the service in full screen without the interface of Safari. You can connect a Bluetooth controller. Unfortunately, you can’t use a keyboard and a mouse.

The company says it is actively working with Epic Games on a touch-friendly version of Fortnite so that iOS players can play the game again. It could definitely boost usage on the service.

As for Google, the company issued an update 12 months after the launch of Stadia. Unlike GeForce Now, Stadia works more like a console. You have to buy games for the platform specifically. There are a hundred games on the platform including some games that you get with an optional Stadia Pro subscription.

The company says that iOS testing should start in the coming weeks. “This will be the first phase of our iOS progressive Web application. As we test performance and add more features, your feedback will help us improve the Stadia experience for everyone. You can expect this feature to begin rolling out several weeks from now,” the company wrote.

Houseparty adds ‘Fortnite Mode,’ bringing video chat to the popular game

Epic acquired Houseparty way back in June of last year, following an absolutely massive $1.25 billion raise. It was clear why the Fortnite publisher would be interested in the social video app. After all, Fortnite is one of the most social games around.

Now, after several months of global quarantining, the deal is finally bearing some fruit. Today Epic announced that the title is getting video chat via Houseparty integration. Starting today, the feature is available on a handful of platforms: PC and PlayStation 4 and 5.

Image Credits: Epic

Users will need to install Houseparty on an Android or iOS device and connect the app with their Epic Games account. From there, the video chat will be integrated into the game. Images are cropped tight on the player’s face and a virtual background is added, à la Zoom. Given the all-ages nature of the game, there are some additional safety features on board, including the ability for parents to toggle off the feature in Fortnite’s settings.

How esports can save colleges

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about esports and the Olympics after sitting on a panel discussing whether, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, esports had an opportunity to work with the International Olympic Committee. After careful consideration and research, my conclusion was basically, “I think that the Olympics need esports a whole lot more than esports needs the Olympics.”

I was surprised by some of the data I uncovered in the course of researching the Olympics piece, specifically on audiences for international, professional and collegiate sports. I observed that while the esports model isn’t as mature as in traditional sports, esports actually garnered close to the same level of viewership, and the audience was growing astronomically. I couldn’t help but wonder how long this phenomenon would go unacknowledged by the institutions that might benefit most from it.

Enter colleges’ and universities’ flirtation with esports: There are currently more than 170 collegiate varsity gaming programs in NCAA Division I, and the number of clubs is even higher. So even as institutions investment in esports, there are still many misunderstood and overlooked aspects of the potential to drive value (and even revenue) in the collegiate esports space.

College in the 21st century

The college experience today is very different than it was 50 years ago. The pace of change outside of institutions is ever-accelerating, often leaving colleges struggling to keep up. Technology, students’ interests, evolving economies and workplaces, and changes in cultural norms have left colleges and universities in a place of less relevance than at many points in the past.

The same can be said of college sports: Outside forces have eroded a once-near-hegemonic source of collegiate pride, cultural power, recruitment, alumni engagement and, in some cases, revenue.

I did a quick review of the audience for the biggest NCAA events in the world; the Football Bowl Subdivision Bowl Championship and the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.

pre-championship viewers FBS bowls

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

post-championship viewers

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

Look at the average viewership of the big bowl games before the championship system went into effect in 2015, as well as after. Above, you see the trend line for viewership for the various big bowl viewership as well as an average. While there are certainly occasional spikes, the best case you could make here is that the product is flat — when you isolate the trend line for both, here is the result:

average viewership all bowls

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

In the aggregate, the trend seems mostly downward.

Look at the same trends in viewership for the NCAA Final Four — the early semi-final, the late semi-final and finally the championship game.

final four viewership

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

They look rather similar. So, while collegiate sports still have a massive following, there are two concerning issues here. First, the audience isn’t growing at all; in fact, it appears to be slightly contracting. Secondly, the audience is aging, making collegiate sports less relevant to younger people. While an older audience is still a valuable source of alumni donations and ancillary revenue, it doesn’t exactly align with another core target demographic: potential college students.

Now despite this, there is data that suggests that schools with elite academic departments do enjoy a phenomenon known as the “Flutie effect,” named after Doug Flutie, a quarterback for Boston College whose exciting performance on the gridiron was credited with boosting BC applications. An article in Forbes breaking down an HBS study goes into the phenomenon more deeply than we can here.

Granted, much of the data is from a few years ago, when college sports were perhaps more relevant, but the point is broadly the same: Having an elite program in an activity students enjoy benefits the institutions that sponsor and promote them. But what happens when enthusiasm for those activities among the student body is waning? One idea is to explore involvement in what the students of today are interested in.

As a comparison to FBS football (maxed out at 35 million viewers) and the NCAA Final Four (maxed out at 28 million), Riot Games’ Mid-Season Invitational event for League of Legends had a total viewership of 60 million people. In second place is the Intel Extreme Masters tournament in Katowice with 46 million people. While precise demographic data isn’t readily available, it stands to reason that the latter two events skew younger than the former two.

A few caveats, as these are not precisely apples-to-apples comparisons: These esports events are broken up over a number of days and encompass a significant number of matches — comparable to March Madness, perhaps — and the content is consumed in different ways. Much of the NCAA’s content is presented on television, some of which is on paid, premium channels. Esports events are broadcast on Twitch and YouTube via streams for free.

But the thing to understand is that esports audiences are growing at a 15%-16% year-over-year clip and it commands a worldwide audience, meaning its total addressable market (TAM) is MUCH bigger. The NCAA events are not likely to draw serious audiences outside of North America.

COVID-19

In the context of the pandemic, colleges are hamstrung by students’ inability to engage in a college experience in-person, which is one of the primary reasons one goes to college. Networking, developing new friends and having new experiences are all a part of the collegiate draw, none of which work as well from students’ parents’ living rooms. Similarly, collegiate sports as we know them have essentially ceased to exist, along with their functions of institutional pride, marketing and revenue. The NCAA Tournament was canceled in March of 2020 and there is no sign that it, or any other sport, will be back anytime soon.

Esports, on the other hand, are thriving in this context, thanks mostly to their ability to offer remote competition and viewing. Esports tournaments can isolate audiences, teams and even referees to allow for safe content creation and consumption.

Esports and college

Believe it or not, esports is a better fit for college than it is for the pros. I won’t go into all of the details here, but I actually wrote a separate article about why the pro sports model is NOT a good one for esports. In this article we talk about intellectual property, who owns the league in esports and how all of the entities make money. The biggest problem is, in pro sports, the teams own the league and can then act in the best interest of all of the teams. In esports, the league is usually owned or regulated by the publisher of the video game, meaning you have hands in the monetization pie in a way that pro sports doesn’t have.

The interesting thing about this is that college athletics actually has the same problem and has found a way to mitigate that. The athletes get their scholarships, and the schools, their athletic conference, and the NCAA itself all own a piece of the pie that gets packaged and sold for distribution to the ESPNs and Fox Sports of the world.

This is a much better model for esports. It’s unlikely that any group that “owned” football IP would tell the Dallas Cowboys how to market their team, what their cut is and how it will be distributed. This process happens all the time in college, though. In fact, in order for everyone to get their seat at the table, you HAVE to work all of this out so that the schools make some money (equivalent to a team), the conference makes their money (equivalent to the league) and the NCAA makes their money (equivalent to the publisher themselves). If the chain breaks down at any point, then the whole process grinds to a halt and nobody makes money.

I mention this in my article about the Olympics. The IOC is used to having full autonomy over how the Olympic Games are broadcast, which events are part of the games, who is eligible and who isn’t, etc. There is no chance this would be the case if the Olympics took on esports. The publisher would absolutely wield an incredible amount of influence over how the games are portrayed, broadcast, judged and the like. The IOC isn’t used to that. In college, that’s just a typical Saturday afternoon.

College admission is down and not just because of COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, colleges were trying to find their footing with potential students as people reevaluate the college experience. Forbes wrote back in 2019 that college enrollments were down two million students in that decade. Add onto that the preliminary data we are getting on the effect of COVID on colleges, we could see enrollment in 2020 down anywhere from 5%-20%.

Student enrollment at US colleges has been declining since 2011

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

The outlook

For colleges, it’s not great. Revenue is massively down, with even stalwarts like Harvard University hemorrhaging cash. With enrollment down before the pandemic, we have reached a point where colleges and universities have to adapt to survive.

The good news is, I believe that esports could be an opportunity to do just that. Colleges are diving into esports, with 115 different programs offering scholarships for esports and club programs are growing even faster. Certainly, it will help attract students, but monetization in esports is really tricky.

It’s critical that colleges and universities get expert advice on how to create an ecosystem that ultimately compensates all of the stakeholders, including the college themselves. It also will require universities to move quickly and get on board with a model that is still being formed in real time. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, but I think there will be many colleges that will. The time to move is now.

Animal Jam was hacked, and data stolen. Here’s what parents need to know

WildWorks, the gaming company that makes the popular kids game Animal Jam, has confirmed a data breach.

Animal Jam is one of the most popular games for kids, ranking in the top five games in the 9-11 age category in Apple’s App Store in the U.S., according to data provided by App Annie. But while no data breach is ever good news, WildWorks has been more forthcoming about the incident than most companies would be, making it easier for parents to protect both their information and their kids’ data.

Here’s what we know.

WildWorks said in a detailed statement that a hacker stole 46 million Animal Jam records in early October but that it only learned of the breach in November.

The company said someone broke into one of its systems that the company uses for employees to communicate with each other, and accessed a secret key that allowed the hacker to break into the company’s user database. The bad news is that the stolen data is known to be circulating on at least one cybercrime forum, WildWorks said, meaning that malicious hackers may use (or be using) the stolen information.

The stolen data dates back to over the past 10 years, the company said, so former users may still be affected.

Much of the stolen data wasn’t highly sensitive, but the company warned that 32 million of those stolen records had the player’s username, 23.9 million records had the player’s gender, 14.8 million records contained the player’s birth year, and 5.7 million records had the player’s full date of birth.

But, the company did say that the hacker also took 7 million parent email addresses used to manage their kids’ accounts. It also said that 12,653 parent accounts had a parent’s full name and billing address, and 16,131 parent accounts had a parent’s name but no billing address.

Besides the billing address, the company said no other billing data — such as financial information — was stolen.

WildWorks also said that the hacker also stole player’s passwords, prompting the company to reset every player’s password. (If you can’t log in, that’s probably why. Check your email for a link to reset your password.) WildWorks didn’t say how it scrambled passwords, which leaves open the possibility that they could be unscrambled and potentially used to break into other accounts that have the same password as used on Animal Jam. That’s why it’s so important to use unique passwords for each site or service you use, and use a password manager to store your passwords safely.

The company said it was sharing information about the breach with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

So what can parents do?

  • Thankfully the data associated with kids accounts is limited. But parents, if you have used your Animal Jam password on any other website, make sure you change those passwords to strong and unique passwords so that nobody can break into those other accounts.
  • Keep an eye out for scams related to the breach. Malicious hackers like to jump on recent news and events to try to trick victims into turning over more information or money in response to a breach.