The need-to-know takeaways from VidCon 2019

VidCon, the annual summit in Anaheim, CA for social media stars and their fans to meet each other drew over 75,000 attendees over last week and this past weekend. A small subset of those where entertainment and tech executives convening to share best practices and strike deals.

Of the wide range of topics discussed in the industry-only sessions and casual conversation, five trends stuck out to me as takeaways for Extra Crunch members: the prominence of TikTok, the strong presence of Chinese tech companies in general, the contemplation of deep fakes, curiosity around virtual influencers, and the widespread interest in developing consumer product startups around top content creators.

Newer platforms take center stage

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Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images

TikTok, the Chinese social video app (owned by Bytedance) that exploded onto the US market this past year, was the biggest conversation topic. Executives and talent managers were curious to see where it will go over the next year more than they were convinced that it is changing the industry in any fundamental way.

TikTok influencers were a major presence on the stages and taking selfies with fans on the conference floor. I overheard tweens saying “there are so many TikTokers here” throughout the conference. Meanwhile, TikTok’s US GM Vanessa Pappas held a session where she argued the app’s focus on building community among people who don’t already know each other (rather than being centered on your existing friendships) is a fundamental differentiator.

Kathleen Grace, CEO of production company New Form, noted that Tik Tok’s emphasis on visuals and music instead of spoken or written word makes it distinctly democratic in convening users across countries on equal footing.

Esports was also a big presence across the conference floor with teens lined up to compete at numerous simultaneous competitions. Twitch’s Mike Aragon and Jana Werner outlined Twitch’s expansion in content verticals adjacent to gaming like anime, sports, news, and “creative content’ as the first chapter in expanding the format of interactive live-streams across all verticals. They also emphasized the diversity of revenue streams Twitch enables creators to leverage: ads, tipping, monthly patronage, Twitch Prime, and Bounty Board (which connects brands and live streamers).

Twitch continues to dominate live streaming with its second-biggest quarter to date

Twitch continues to lead rivals including, YouTube Live, Facebook Gaming and Microsoft’s Mixer, when it comes to live-streaming video. Despite experiencing its first decline in hours watched in Q2 2019, the Amazon-owned game-streaming site still had its second-biggest quarter to date, with more than 70% of the hours watched during the quarter.

According to a new report from StreamElements, Twitch viewers live-streamed a total of 2.72+ billion hours in Q2 — or 72.2% of all live hours watched — compared with 735.54 million hours on YouTube Live (19.5%), 197.76 million on Facebook Gaming (5.3%) and just 112.29 million hours (3%) on Mixer.

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Combined, the total hours watched across all four platforms was 3.77 billion in Q2.

While none of Twitch’s rivals are nearly catching up, YouTube Live did have a good month in May, breaking its own record with 284 million hours watched. Overall, YouTube Live’s hours watched improved in Q2 as a result, while Twitch saw a slight decline.

Facebook Gaming is also gaining steam. It’s now the third-biggest live-streaming platform, having passed Microsoft Mixer.

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Despite its traction, Twitch doesn’t have much of a long tail when it comes to stream viewership. That’s a problem it has faced for some time, as newcomers complained they spent years broadcasting to no one in hopes of gaining a fan base, with little success. Twitch has tried to remedy this problem with various educational efforts as well as product features like Raids and Squad Streams, for example.

However, the new report finds that the majority (almost 75%) of Twitch’s viewership still comes from people tuning in to the top 5,000 channels. Out of the 2.7 billion hours watched in Q2, these top 5,000 channels drove 2 billion of those hours watched.

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In addition, the average concurrent viewership (viewers watching at the same time) of the top 5,000 channels increased by 12% in Q2 2019, compared with Q1. The top 200 channels have the highest concurrent viewership with 10,590 people watching together, on average.

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Also in the quarter, viewership of top titles like Fortnite, League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive declined, while vlogging — aka “Just Chatting” — grew, along with other titles.

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Esports, meanwhile, still draws big numbers, but represents only a small slice of the overall pie.

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The full report, which takes a look at other trends, including which streamers are gaining and losing popularity, is available here.

Digging into the Roblox growth strategy

Could Roblox create a new entertainment and communication category, something it calls “social co-experience”?

When it was a small startup, few observers would have believed in that future. But after 15 years — as told in the origin story of our Roblox EC-1 — the company has accumulated 90 million users and a new $150 million venture funding war chest. It has captured the imagination of America’s youth, and become a startup darling in the entertainment space.

But what, exactly, is social co-experience? Well, it can’t be described precisely — because it’s still an emerging category. “It’s almost like that fable where the nine blind men are touching and describing an elephant.

Everyone has a slightly different view,” says co-founder and CEO Dave Baszucki. In Roblox’s view, co-experience means immersive environments where users play, explore, talk, hang out, and create an identity that’s as thoroughly fleshed out (if not as fleshy) as their offline, real life.

But the next decade at Roblox will also be its most challenging time yet, as it seeks to expand from 90 million users to, potentially, a billion or more. To do so, it needs to pull off two coups.

First, it needs to expand the age range of its players beyond its current tween and teen audience. Second, it must win the international market. Accomplishing both of these will be a puzzle with many moving parts.

What Roblox is today

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One thing Roblox has done very well is appeal to kids within a certain age range. The company says that a majority of all 9-to-12-year-old children in the United States are on its platform.

Within that youthful segment, Roblox has arguably already created the social co-experience category. Many games are more cooperative than competitive, or have goals that are unclear or don’t seem to matter much. One of Roblox’s most popular games, for instance, is MeepCity, where players can run around and chat in virtual environments like a high school without necessarily interacting with the game mechanics at all.

What else separates these environments from what you can see today on, say, the App Store or Steam? A few characteristics seem common.

For one, the environments look rough. One Robloxian put the company’s relaxed attitude toward looks as “not over-indexing on visual fidelity.”

Roblox games also ignore the design principles now espoused by nearly every game company. Tutorials are infrequent, user interfaces are unpolished, and one gets the sense that KPIs like retention and engagement are not being carefully measured.

That’s similar to how games on platforms like Facebook and the App Store started out, so it seems reasonable to say Roblox is just in a similarly early stage. It is — but it’s also competing directly with mobile games that are more rigorously designed. Over half of its players are on smartphones, where they could have chosen a free game that looks more polished, like Fortnite or Clash of Clans.

The more accurate explanation of why Roblox draws big player numbers is that there’s a gap in the kids entertainment market. So far, only Roblox fills that gap, despite its various shortcomings.

“The amount of unstructured, undirected play has been declining for decades. [Kids] have much more homework, and structured activities like theater after school.

One of the big unmet needs we solve is to give kids a place to have imagination,” explains Craig Donato, Roblox’s chief business officer. “If you play the experiences on our platform, you’re not playing to win. You go into these worlds with people you know and share an experience.”

Games like The Sims tried to do the same, but eventually faded in the children’s demo. Roblox’s trick has been continued growth: it provides kids with an endless array of games that unlock their imagination. But just like we don’t expect adults to have fun with Barbie dolls, it’s unlikely most adults would enjoy Roblox games.

Of course, it would be easy to point at Roblox and laugh off its ambitions to win over people of all ages. That laughter would also be short-sighted.

As David Sze, the Greylock Partners investor who led Roblox’s most recent round, pointed out: “When we invested in Facebook there was a huge amount of pushback that nobody would use it outside college.” Companies that have won over one demographic have a good chance of winning others.

Roblox has also proven its ability to evolve. At one time, the platform’s players were 90 percent male. Now, that’s down to about 60 percent. Roblox now has far more girls playing than the typical game platform.

Evolving to new demographics

AI smokes 5 poker champs at a time in no-limit Hold’em with ‘relentless consistency’

The machines have proven their superiority in one-on-one games like chess and go, and even poker — but in complex multiplayer versions of the card game humans have retained their edge… until now. An evolution of the last AI agent to flummox poker pros individually is now decisively beating them in championship-style 6-person game.

As documented in a paper published in the journal Science today, the CMU/Facebook collaboration they call Pluribus reliably beats five professional poker players in the same game, or one pro pitted against five independent copies of itself. It’s a major leap forward in capability for the machines, and amazingly is also far more efficient than previous agents as well.

One-on-one poker is a weird game, and not a simple one, but the zero-sum nature of it (whatever you lose, the other player gets) makes it susceptible to certain strategies in which computer able to calculate out far enough can put itself at an advantage. But add four more players into the mix and things get real complex, real fast.

With six players, the possibilities for hands, bets, and possible outcomes are so numerous that it is effectively impossible to account for all of them, especially in a minute or less. It’d be like trying to exhaustively document every grain of sand on a beach between waves.

Yet over 10,000 hands played with champions, Pluribus managed to win money at a steady rate, exposing no weaknesses or habits that its opponents could take advantage of. What’s the secret? Consistent randomness.

Even computers have regrets

Pluribus was trained, like many game-playing AI agents these days, not by studying how humans play but by playing against itself. At the beginning this is probably like watching kids, or for that matter me, play poker — constant mistakes, but at least the AI and the kids learn from them.

The training program used something called Monte Carlo counterfactual regret minimization. Sounds like when you have whiskey for breakfast after losing your shirt at the casino, and in a way it is — machine learning style.

Regret minimization just means that when the system would finish a hand (against itself, remember), it would then play that hand out again in different ways, exploring what might have happened had it checked here instead of raised, folded instead of called, and so on. (Since it didn’t really happen, it’s counterfactual.)

A Monte Carlo tree is a way of organizing and evaluating lots of possibilities, akin to climbing a tree of them branch by branch and noting the quality of each leaf you find, then picking the best one once you think you’ve climbed enough.

If you do it ahead of time (this is done in chess, for instance) you’re looking for the best move to choose from. But if you combine it with the regret function, you’re looking through a catalog of possible ways the game could have gone and observing which would have had the best outcome.

So Monte Carlo counterfactual regret minimization is just a way of systematically investigating what might have happened if the computer had acted differently, and adjusting its model of how to play accordingly.

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The game originall played out as you see on the left, with a loss. But the engine explores other avenues where it might have done better.

Of course the number of games is nigh-infinite if you want to consider what would happen if you had bet $101 rather than $100, or you would have won that big hand if you’d had an eight kicker instead of a seven. Therein also lies nigh-infinite regret, the kind that keeps you in bed in your hotel room until past lunch.

The truth is these minor changes matter so seldom that the possibility can basically be ignored entirely. It will never really matter that you bet an extra buck — so any bet within, say, 70 and 130 can be considered exactly the same by the computer. Same with cards — whether the jack is a heart or a spade doesn’t matter except in very specific (and usually obvious) situations, so 99.999 percent of the time the hands can be considered equivalent.

This “abstraction” of gameplay sequences and “bucketing” of possibilities greatly reduces the possibilities Pluribus has to consider. It also helps keep the calculation load low; Pluribus was trained on a relatively ordinary 64-core server rack over about a week, while other models might take processor-years in high-power clusters. It even runs on a (admittedly beefy) rig with two CPUs and 128 gigs of RAM.

Random like a fox

The training produces what the team calls a “blueprint” for how to play that’s fundamentally strong and would probably beat plenty of players. But a weakness of AI models is that they develop tendencies that can be detected and exploited.

In Facebook’s writeup of Pluribus, it provides the example of two computers playing rock-paper-scissors. One picks randomly while the other always picks rock. Theoretically they’d both win the same amount of games. But if the computer tried the all-rock strategy on a human, it would start losing with a quickness and never stop.

As a simple example in poker, maybe a particular series of bets always makes the computer go all in regardless of its hand. If a player can spot that series, they can take the computer to town any time they like. Finding and preventing ruts like these is important to creating a game-playing agent that can beat resourceful and observant humans.

To do this Pluribus does a couple things. First, it has modified versions of its blueprint to put into play should the game lean towards folding, calling, or raising. Different strategies for different games mean it’s less predictable, and it can switch in a minute should the bet patterns change and the hand go from a calling to a bluffing one.

It also engages in a short but comprehensive introspective search looking at how it would play if it had every other hand, from a big nothing up to a straight flush, and how it would bet. It then picks its bet in the context of all those, careful to do so in such a way that it doesn’t point to any one in particular. Given the same hand and same play again, Pluribus wouldn’t choose the same bet, but rather vary it to remain unpredictable.

These strategies contribute to the “consistent randomness” I alluded to earlier, and which were a part of the model’s ability to slowly but reliably put some of the best players in the world.

The human’s lament

There are too many hands to point to a particular one or ten that indicate the power Pluribus was bringing to bear on the game. Poker is a game of skill, luck, and determination, and one where winners emerge after only dozens or hundreds of hands.

And here it must be said that the experimental setup is not entirely reflective of an ordinary 6-person poker game. Unlike a real game, chip counts are not maintained as an ongoing total — for every hand, each player was given 10,000 chips to use as they pleased, and win or lose they were given 10,000 in the next hand as well.

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The interface used to play poker with Pluribus. Fancy!

Obviously this rather limits the long-term strategies possible, and indeed “the bot was not looking for weaknesses in its opponents that it could exploit,” said Facebook AI research scientist Noam Brown. Truly Pluribus was living in the moment the way few humans can.

But simply because it was not basing its play on long-term observations of opponents’ individual habits or styles does not mean that its strategy was shallow. On the contrary, it is arguably more impressive, and casts the game in a different light, that a winning strategy exists that does not rely on behavioral cues or exploitation of individual weaknesses.

The pros who had their lunch money taken by the implacable Pluribus were good sports, however. They praised the system’s high level play, its validation of existing techniques, and inventive use of new ones. Here’s a selection of laments from the fallen humans:

I was one of the earliest players to test the bot so I got to see its earlier versions. The bot went from being a beatable mediocre player to competing with the best players in the world in a few weeks. Its major strength is its ability to use mixed strategies. That’s the same thing that humans try to do. It’s a matter of execution for humans — to do this in a perfectly random way and to do so consistently. It was also satisfying to see that a lot of the strategies the bot employs are things that we do already in poker at the highest level. To have your strategies more or less confirmed as correct by a supercomputer is a good feeling. -Darren Elias

It was incredibly fascinating getting to play against the poker bot and seeing some of the strategies it chose. There were several plays that humans simply are not making at all, especially relating to its bet sizing. -Michael ‘Gags’ Gagliano

Whenever playing the bot, I feel like I pick up something new to incorporate into my game. As humans I think we tend to oversimplify the game for ourselves, making strategies easier to adopt and remember. The bot doesn’t take any of these short cuts and has an immensely complicated/balanced game tree for every decision. -Jimmy Chou

In a game that will, more often than not, reward you when you exhibit mental discipline, focus, and consistency, and certainly punish you when you lack any of the three, competing for hours on end against an AI bot that obviously doesn’t have to worry about these shortcomings is a grueling task. The technicalities and deep intricacies of the AI bot’s poker ability was remarkable, but what I underestimated was its most transparent strength – its relentless consistency. -Sean Ruane

Beating humans at poker is just the start. As good a player as it is, Pluribus is more importantly a demonstration that an AI agent can achieve superhuman performance at something as complicated as 6-player poker.

“Many real-world interactions, such as financial markets, auctions, and traffic navigation, can similarly be modeled as multi-agent interactions with limited communication and collusion among participants,” writes Facebook in its blog.

Yes, and war.

How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

There are successful companies that grow fast and garner tons of press. Then there’s Roblox, a company which took at least a decade to hit its stride and has, relative to its current level of success, barely gotten any recognition or attention.

Why has Roblox’s story gone mostly untold? One reason is that it emerged from a whole generation of gaming portals and platforms. Some, like King.com, got lucky or pivoted their business. Others by and large failed.

Once companies like Facebook, Apple and Google got to the gaming scene, it just looked like a bad idea to try to build your own platform — and thus not worth talking about. Added to that, founder and CEO Dave Baszucki seems uninterested in press.

But overall, the problem has been that Roblox just seemed like an insignificant story for many, many years. The company had millions of users, sure. So did any number of popular games. In its early days, Roblox even looked like Minecraft, a game that was released long after Roblox went live, but that grew much, much faster.

Yet here we are today: Roblox now claims that half of all American children aged 9-12 are on its platform. It has jumped to 90 million monthly unique users and is poised to go international, potentially multiplying that number. And it’s unique. Essentially all other distribution services offering games through a portal have eventually fizzled, aside from some distant cousins like Steam.

This is the story of how Roblox not only survived, but built a thriving platform.

Seeds of an idea

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(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Before Roblox, there was Knowledge Revolution, a company that made teaching software. While designed to allow students to simulate physics experiments, perhaps predictably, they also treated it like a game.

“The fun seemed to be in building your own experiment,” says Baszucki. “When people were playing it and we went into schools and labs, they were all making car crashes and buildings fall down, making really funny stuff.” Provided with a sandbox, kids didn’t just make dry experiments about mass or velocity — they made games, or experiences they could show off to friends for a laugh.

Knowledge Revolution was founded in 1989, by Dave Baszucki and his brother Greg (who didn’t later co-found Roblox, but is now on its board). Nearly a decade later, it was acquired for $20 million by MSC Software, which made professional simulation tools. Dave continued there for another four years before leaving to become an angel investor.

Baszucki put money into Friendster, a company that pre-dated Facebook and MySpace in the social networking category. That investment seeded another piece of the idea for Roblox. Taken together, the legacy of Knowledge Revolution and Friendster were the two key components undergirding Roblox: a physics sandbox with strong creation tools, and a social graph.

Baszucki himself is a third piece of the puzzle. Part of an older set of entrepreneurs, which might be called the Steve Jobs generation, Baszucki’s archetype seems closer to Mr. Rogers than Jobs himself: unfailingly polite and enthusiastic, never claiming superior insight, and preferring to pass credit for his accomplishments on to others. In conversation, he shows interests both central and tangential to Roblox, like virtual environments, games, education, digital identity and the future of tech. Somewhere in this heady mix, the idea of Roblox came about.

The first release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nintendo announces a handheld Nintendo Switch Lite for $199

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HQ Trivia has paid out $6M, but winners complain of delays

HQ Trivia’s troubles continue after a failed mutiny to oust the CEO, a 92% decline in downloads since versus a year ago, and layoffs of 20% of its staff last week. Users continue to complain about delays for payouts of their prizes from the live mobile trivia game, and about being booted from the game for no reason while on the final question.

Notably, Jeopardy winner Alex Jacob claims he hasn’t been paid the $20,000 he won on HQ Trivia on June 10th. This could shake players faith in HQ and erode their incentive to compete.

An HQ Trivia representative tells TechCrunch that the game has paid out $6.25 million to date and that 99% of players have been eligible to cash out within 48 hours of winning, but some winners may have to wait up to 90 days for it to ensure they didn’t break the rules to win. Given Jacob’s large jackpot, it’s possible the delay could be due to the company investigating to ensure he won fairly, though he’s clearly skilled at trivia given he won Jeopardy’s Tournament Of Champions in 2015. Jacob did not respond to requests for interview.

“We strive to make a game that is fair and fun for all players. As such, we have a rigorous process of reviewing winners for eligibility to receive cash prizes. Infrequently, we disqualify players for violating HQ‘s Terms of Service and Contest Rules” HQ Trivia’s press alias anonymously reponded to our request for comment. “It may take some eligible winners up to 90 days to receive cash prizes, however 99% of players have been able to cash out within 48 hours of winning a game and we have paid out a total of $6,252,634.58 USD to winners since launch.”

It seems that HQ’s internal problems are now metastasizing into public issues. Its team being short-staffed and distracted by weak morale could lengthen payout delays, which make players worry if they’ll ever get their cash. When they share those sentiments to social media, it could discourage others from playing. That, combined with concerns that bots and cheaters are winning the games, splitting the jackpots into tiny fractions so legitimate winners get less, has hurt the perception of HQ as a game where the smartest can win big.

Back in April, TechCrunch reported that 20 of HQ’s 35 staffers were preparing a petition to the board to remove CEO and co-founder Rus Yusupov for mismanagement. Yusupov caught wind of the plot and fired two of the leaders of the movement. However, HQ’s board decided it would bring in a new CEO. Board member and Tinder CEO Elie Seidman told TechCrunch that Yusupov had accepted he would be replaced by someone with the ability fire him and that a CEO search was ongoing. The startup’s lead investor Lightspeed has pledged to provide 18 months of funding once a new CEO was hired.

However, multiple sources tell TechCrunch that a new CEO has yet to be installed. One source tells me that management had promised a new CEO by the beginning of August, but that Yusupov had stalled the process seemingly to remain in power. HQ Trivia, Yusupov, and Seidman did not respond for requests for comment regarding the CEO search.

When asked about morale at the company, a source familiar with HQ’s internal situation told me “It’s terrible.” Yusupov is said to continue to be tough to work with, making decisions without full buy-in from the rest of the company. A substantial portion of the team was allegedly unaware of plans to launch a $9.99 subscription tier for HQ’s second game HQ Words until the company tweeted out the announcement.

Hopefully HQ Trivia can find a new captain to steer this ship back into smoother waters. The game has hundreds of thousands of players and many more with fond memories of competing. There’s still hope if it can evolve the product to give new users a taste of gameplay without waiting for the next scheduled match, find new revenue in expanded brand partnerships, fight off the bots and cheaters, and get everyone paid promptly. Perhaps there’s room for television tie-ins to bring HQ to a wider audience.

But before the startup can keep quizzing the world, HQ Trivia must endure its internal tests of resolve and find a champ to lead it.

Warframe promotional stunt brings a video game gun to the real streets of New York

To promote the free-to-play console game Warframe, director
Michael Krivicka brought a little taste of video game mayhem to New York City.

In the video above, you can see bystanders asked to pose for photos with a model of the Opticor, an elaborate gun from the game. They’re warned not to pull the trigger — but what they don’t know is that a nearby police car and mailbox have been rigged to explode. That’s exactly what happens on-camera, leading to shock and embarrassment from participants and bystanders.

I spoke Krivicka earlier this week to learn more about how the video was staged. He explained that the props, created by custom design and fabrication firm A2ZFX, were all synchronized, with a remote control that could set off the gun, car and mailbox at the same time.

The exploding effects use compressed air, with a small team taking about 15 minutes to reset everything between each take — which also provided the time needed for bystanders to move on, so that there’s always a fresh set of eyes who have “no idea what’s going to happen.”

Director Michael Krivicka, Producer Chris Yoon

Director Michael Krivicka, Producer Chris Yoon

He also noted that this was a “very controlled environment,” with New York City police officers off-camera: “I suggest through editing that it was a lot more rogue than it really is.”

Although this is Krivicka’s first game-related video, he’s made a number of other viral marketing videos in the past, including ones where the spooky girl from the “Ring” movies actually crawls out of a TV and a “Cobra Kai” video where casual karate moves can split motorcycles in half. The common goal, he said, is to “always bring the sci-fi to life in the real world.”

This is also the first major video produced by Krivicka’s new agency WhoIsTheBaldGuy, but he said his aims haven’t changed: “I want to really create things where people are going, ‘Oh my God, what the fuck!’ I just want to go bigger and bolder. That’s the stuff that performs really well online.”

Mario creator Miyamoto counters cloud gaming hype (but don’t count Nintendo out)

Cloud gaming — however a company chooses to define that — is shaping up to be a big part of the next generation of consoles and other platforms. But Mario creator and Nintendo veteran Shigeru Miyamoto says his company won’t be so quick to jump on the bandwagon.

Speaking to shareholders at Nintendo’s annual general meeting, Miyamoto and other executives addressed a variety of issues, among them what some interpret as a failure to keep up with the state of the industry. Sony and Microsoft (together, amazingly) are about to lock horns with Google, Nvidia, and others in the arena of game streaming, but Nintendo has announced no plans whatsoever regarding the powerful new technology.

As reported by GamesIndustry.biz, Miyamoto was unfazed by this allegation.

“We believe it is important to continue to use these diverse technical environments to make unique entertainment that could only have been made by Nintendo,” he said. “We have not fallen behind with either VR or network services… Because we don’t publicize this until we release a product, it may look like we’re falling behind.”

But although this hinted that Nintendo is working in this direction, Miyamoto didn’t sound convinced that cloud gaming was a home run.

“I think that cloud gaming will become more widespread in the future, but I have no doubt that there will continue to be games that are fun because they are running locally and not on the cloud,” he said.

The Nintendo focus on local multiplayer and complete offline single-player games is certainly emblematic of this point of view. And while Nintendo has been slow to adopt the latest gaming trends, it has shown that it can pull them off very well, indeed like no other, for example with the excellent Splatoon 2 and its constantly evolving seasons and events.

Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa said they see how gaming technology is evolving and that it’s important to “keep up with such changes,” but like Miyamoto made no indication that there was anything concrete on the way.

Instead, he indicated (again in true Nintendo style) that the company would reap the benefits of cloud gaming whether or not it took part in the practice.

“if these changes increase the worldwide gaming population, that will just give us more opportunities with our integrated hardware and software development approach to reach people worldwide with the unique entertainment that Nintendo can provide,” he said.

In other words, a rising tide lifts all boats, and if the others did the work to raise the water level, well, that’s their business.

The rumor on everyone’s mind after E3 is whether a new Switch or Switches are on the way. Naturally Furukawa demurred, saying that of course they were aware of speculation, but wouldn’t comment. However, he added: “It would spoil the surprise for consumers and is against the interests of our shareholders, so we are withholding any discussion.”

Of course a new Switch is on the way — that’s about as much as a confirmation anyone would be able to get from Furukawa or the other highly trained executives at Nintendo, even if the new hardware was coming out tomorrow. But at this rate it seems more likely that the new hardware will be timed to pull in buyers around the holidays — which may have the knock-on effect of taking the wind out of Microsoft and Sony’s sails (and sales) when they debut their next-generation consoles next year.