HQ Trivia lays off ~20% as it preps subscriptions

HQ Trivia is struggling after a mutiny failed to oust its CEO. Downloads per month are down 92% versus last June according to Sensor Tower. And now four sources confirm that HQ laid off staff members this week. One said about 20% of staff was let go, and another said six to seven employees were departing. That aligns with Digiday reporter Kerry Flynn’s tweet that 7 employees were let go bringing HQ to under 30 (shrinking from 35 to 28 staffers would be a 20% drop).

That will leave the company short-handed as it attempts to diversify revenue with the upcoming launch of monthly subscriptions. “HQ Words Everyday. Coming next month . . .  Bigger prizes . . . More ways to win. $9.99/mo. subscription” the company tweeted from the account for its second game, the Wheel Of Fortune-style HQ Words. The company has been trying to regain momentum with new hosts since the departure of Quiz Daddy aka Scott Rogowsky, HQ Trivia’s original host.

hq trivia app 1

The cuts hit HQ’s HR, marketing, and product engineering teams, according to LinkedIn profiles of employees let go. The cuts could further hamper morale at the startup following a tough first half of the year. HQ Trivia and co-founder Rus Yusupov did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

HQ Trivia employees petitioned to remove co-founder Rus Yusupov from the CEO position

Following the tragic death of co-founder and CEO Colin Kroll, Yusupov retook control. But staff found him difficult to work with as he’d allowed the product to stagnate and popularity to decline. Yusupov was slow to make changes to the app, and “no one wanted to work under Rus” a source told me.

That led 20 of 35 staffers to sign a letter to HQ Trivia’s board asking them to remove Yusupov, though it was never formally sent. Yusupov caught wind of the plot and fired two of the leaders of the petition. That further sunk morale, leading to the exit of HQ Trivia’s SVP of brand partnerships and its marketing manager. The board began a search for a new CEO, though it’s unclear how that’s panned out.

Since then, new games HQ teased in April haven’t materialized as its download rate continued to suffer. It’s dropped to the #731 US game on iOS according to AppAnnie. HQ Trivia saw just 827,000 downloads from January through June 2019, down 92% from the 10.2 million it saw in the same time frame in 2018 according to Sensor Tower. That’s the same percentage drop in downloads from June 2019 versus June 2018, indicating Rogowsky’s replacements that started in April couldn’t turn things around.

Interest in the live game show format seems to be waning as a whole. HQ Trivia fan site HQTrivia.fan shut down this week fearing the end was near for the official game, and the (Business) INSIDER-run clone of the game on Facebook Watch called Confetti stopped airing at the end of June.

Rather than solely monetizing a waning audience via in-app purchases and sponsorships, HQ Words announced it would debut a $9.99 monthly subscription sometime this month that would grant access to winning “bigger prizes”. This could be a smart way to squeeze more dollars out of a smaller but more diehard audience.

While HQ Trivia was an inspiring approach to mobile gaming, its twice-daily games didn’t fit the always-on nature of mobile. It’s failed build a proper onboarding experience that gives users a taste of it games right away rather than forcing them to wait for the next scheduled match as we suggested over a year ago. Gamers are fickle, craving instant gratification, and HQ hasn’t tried to meet them in middle.

Perhaps there’s a future for HQ on cable television, or as a small but steady business on mobile catering to loyalists. But all the unfortunate events and mismanagement may make it difficult to exceed the $100 million valuation it raised money at during its peak.

 

With Super Mario Maker 2, Nintendo both unleashes and leashes creators

Nintendo’s Mario Maker series is among the most generous gifts the company could have given to its fans, and the new installment on Switch is better than its predecessor in every way. Yet despite the freedom and encouragement it gives, it’s hard not to feel a gentle tug groundward when your ambitions begin to soar.

For those unfamiliar with Mario Maker, the original was a totally unexpected joy on the Wii U and one of the few games that truly took advantage of that console’s unusual hardware. It allowed players to use the touchscreen and stylus to put together Mario levels in a variety of styles, and the resulting number and complexity of creations boggled minds worldwide.

The sequel, Super Mario Maker 2, announced in February and released at the end of June, is a natural evolution of the previous game. It adds new items, new styles, new ways to sculpt the landscape, and a variety of other complexifiers like conditions you can impose on players: no jumping, carry this item to the goal, and so on.

mario tutorial

A welcome addition is the robust tutorial for the maker mode, featuring the weird/cute duo Nina and Kawamura (a girl and a pigeon) walking the player through the tools and providing what amounts to platformer design 101. There’s also a single-player campaign: A hundred unconnected levels that let you have some good old Nintendo-designed Mario fun, but also serve as inspiration for how to use various blocks and level styles.

storymode levels

Within days of release, the “Course World” is already brimming with strange and fun levels to play, full of ingenious ideas and uses for blocks and enemies that will have you shaking your head — and biting your controller with rage. There’s even a whole category for “auto-Mario” levels (a strange and wonderful genre that sprang out of the original Mario Maker) that take the player through an adventure sometimes without any input at all.

Importantly, this game adds a few things that Mario levels really need: locked doors and keys, for instance, or checkpoints so players don’t have to replay a punishing section. That opens things up considerably and already I have seen lots of interesting levels taking advantage of this to make you visit multiple areas, beat a certain enemy before proceeding, and such.

puzzle

This devious little level is nothing like Mario, yet uses Mario rules.

I’ll let other reviews go into detail about the various more granular improvements the game makes. Suffice it to say here that it’s a ton of fun, making levels is hard, and between the single-player, multiplayer, and Course World modes Mario Maker 2 more than justifies its purchase price. For my part I want to call attention to something I feel is important about the game and the carefully thought-out limitations it places on creators.

Nintendo’s zeal for seeking and destroying copyright violations is well known; just last week we had Mario Royale shut down almost instantly. And the company is also well known for its highly conservative stance on licensing, in some ways at least — for instance, only ever letting Zelda games appear on Nintendo consoles rather than having them come out on Sony and Microsoft platforms as well. There are plenty of good reasons for that, I’m just making a note of it.

Nintendo’s fanbase, however, is the only one that rivals it for zeal, and over the years they have found many ways to modify or reuse the properties that Nintendo has been happy to either let lie or recycle tamely via Virtual Console. Nintendo would never, for example, have made Mario Royale. Nor would it make something like the A Link to the Past Randomizer, which changes the locations of items in the classic game to make each playthrough unique. (A similar one exists for Super Metroid and other beloved and much-played classics.)

Again, Nintendo’s philosophy forbids many of these things — their idea of games is a much more pure one and it’s hard to fault it when the results are things like Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild. But players want more, and they regularly do whatever they can to break Nintendo’s creations out of the carefully manicured walled gardens the company has long cultivated for them.

Enter Mario Maker.

This title essentially performs a bleed on the community that is so fervently dedicated to playing Nintendo’s games outside of Nintendo’s rules. By letting players make their own levels, and by giving them a tool that’s really quite powerful to do so, they remove a great deal of the pressure that has built up and resulted in things like rom hacks.

mycourse

A course I’m working on: Infiltrating Moleville

The second game especially opens up the creative floodgates, since the new items and capabilities make possible the complex levels that have made up the best of Mario from the beginning. Straight-up platforming is always fun, but Nintendo’s level designers have learned to theme each level with a specific skill set or feel in mind, and the sequel’s tools enable that to take place in a much greater way than before.

And yet there are some purposeful omissions. The most purposeful is the lack of any ability to tie levels together using an overworld map or even a 1-1, 1-2, 1-3 structure. While it’s possible some creators may be able to circumvent this in a small way, this is a clear sign from Nintendo that this is a tool for making levels, not games.

Withholding higher structure (that could be as simple as designing playlists) is a strategic move that reserves that structure for official games. And allowing for easy sharing of levels and playlists, instead of relying on Nintendo’s own algorithms and onerous number-based sharing system, makes it trivial for the company to control the means of distribution.

courseworldAgain, I’m not saying they shouldn’t, exactly — and there will be thousands and thousands of levels worth playing, more than any one player could possibly want. But what’s clear from the popularity of Mario Maker is that millions of players also want to see Nintendo’s creations unbound by Nintendo’s strict rules. And while Mario Maker 2 loosens those rules considerably, it also indicates the limits of what Nintendo is willing to allow its community to do.

That said, within those limits there are near infinite variations and, in fact, it’s probable that the game’s creators deliberated intensely on what to include and what to exclude. I’m desperately missing the invincible giant moles from SMW, but would having them (and a dozen other rare critters) in the enemy selection just clutter it up? I’d like to have an overworld, but for the casual maker or speedrunning level maker, wouldn’t that really just be an extra step that would be skipped more often than not? The intention of the game is to facilitate creation, but part of that is knowing what tools not to provide.

Ultimately my wish that Nintendo demolish the walls of its garden amounts to nothing more than asking them to give away the keys to the castle, so to speak. And it’s not like I’m being oppressed here — I can barely put together a decent course of my own, and others are happy to work within these constraints. Not being a genius Maker myself, I tend to see the restrictions rather than the possibilities.

I just want more Mario, and in fact more Mario than Nintendo is willing to give. With Mario Maker it has secured me a constant drip-feed of Mario-adjacent content that’s just enough to keep me playing but also just limited enough that I look forward with immense impatience to the next “real” game. Whether that’s a kindness or a cruelty I can’t say, but whatever it is, it’s going to take up a hell of a lot of my time over the next couple years.

Stranger Things portals have appeared in Fortnite

This summer has blessed us with a wealth of awesome television options, from Big Little Lies to Chernobyl to The Handmaid’s Tale. And the good times keep rollin’. Tomorrow, Stranger Things Season 3 drops on Netflix.

To celebrate, it would appear that Epic Games is adding portals in Fortnite’s Mega Mall.

Netflix’s Chris Lee, director of interactive games, confirmed that there would be more crossover goodness on a panel at E3 after fans noticed the Scoops Ahoy ice cream store, which is the same name of the ice cream parlor in the show, in the Fortnite Mega Mall. Today, portals (that look like the ones leading to the Upside Down in the show) were also added to the Mega Mall.

These portals don’t actually transport you to the Upside Down, but rather to a separate shop in the Mega Mall.

Based on Fortnite’s past collaborations — the game did an in-game promo with Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, and John Wick 3, to name a few — we can expect to see plenty more Stranger Things content on The Island starting tomorrow.

Fortnite has a growing revenue opportunity from these types of native advertising/marketing promotions. The Verge cites analyst firm SuperAnalytics in saying that Epic earned $2.4 billion in 2018, estimating the revenue earned from in-game purchases and BattlePass subscriptions. There was no mention of advertising revenue, however, which seems to be a growing segment for the company.

And let’s not forget, Netflix considers Fortnite to be bigger competition than HBO or Hulu. So it’s no surprise then, maybe, that Netflix is heading on over to The Island to promote one of its most popular original series this July 4 holiday.

Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ comes to Roblox ahead of its July 4 premiere

Netflix is bringing its hit TV show Stranger Things to Roblox. On Monday, Roblox announced the launch of limited-time, Stanger Things-themed items that will be made available to its over 90 million players, who can earn them by solving daily riddles and puzzles. Other free, limited-time items like a “Scoops Ahoy” hat and Demogorgon mask will also be offered as virtual items for players’ Roblox avatars.

The first of the two themed items are live now and will be free to download through July 12. Four more items can be unlocked by solving daily riddles and puzzles, with a new clue arriving each day ahead of the July 4 premiere of Stranger Things Season 3.

Roblox will also share clues across its social media accounts on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, it says.

What’s interesting about the Roblox integration is that it may reach children younger than those ages 14 and up — the ages that the series itself is rated for (TV-14). (Likely, some braver tweens are already familiar with the show and are watching alongside mom or dad…or at least with their approval).

However, the Roblox partnership is only one of several gaming-focused initiatives Netflix has planned to market some of its most anticipated programming, including both Stranger Things and other titles.

At this year’s E3, Netflix detailed a series of gaming initiatives, including integrations with partners like Ubisoft, Behavior Interactive, and even Fornite, in addition to Roblox. Already, some Fornite players had found the “Scoops Ahoy” easter egg back when Season 9 launched, Netflix said.

Plus, the company is preparing not one but two new Stranger Things-themed games. The first, called Stranger Things 3: The Game, will launch across platforms including Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac, Android and iOS on the same day the third season premieres. Like its predecessor, also by developer BonusXP, the game is meant to be a companion to the current season and features 16-bit action for a nostalgic feel.

Next year, Netflix is planning another new Stranger Things title, with a mobile game for iOS and Android. This one is a location-based RPG/puzzler where players explore The Upside Down hidden all around them, while working with other players to “overcome its emerging evils.”

Netflix is also preparing to launch a turn-based tactics game adapted from the Netflix Original series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and Mac.

A wave of digital marketing isn’t entirely new for the streaming service.

In the past, it toyed with mobile experiences to advertise its shows — like the standalone Orange is the New Black app it launched back in 2014, or the “FakeBlock” app introduced to advertise the new season of Arrested Development.

The company also toyed around with a cross between games and TV with the 2018 launch of Minecraft: Story Mode, which some could consider a form of gaming. Netflix, however, did not. It even claimed at the time that the company did not have any plans “to get into gaming.”

Well, that’s no longer true.

While many of the integrations and games themselves are built by partnered developers, Netflix is clearly involved. And unlike the throwaways apps from years prior, these are more series efforts on Netflix’s part — not just promotional vehicles for its shows.

The marketing doesn’t stop at digital games either.

Netflix’s Stranger Things is more than just a show, its a whole business unto itself. It’s Baskin Robbins ice cream flavors, and Target exclusives like a Stranger Things bike, toys and apparel. It’s posters, games, and all kinds of other merch, too. And that’s just one show. An analyst previously said Netflix’s merch biz could be a billion-dollar addition to the company’s revenue.

Beyond gaming and other stuff to buy, the Stranger Things empire extends to brand deals with Coke, Levi’s, H&M, Nike, Eggo, Schwinn, Trivial Pursuit, Burger Kind, and more. 

The Roblox and Fornite integrations are live now. The Season 3-themed game arrives July 4.

 

Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony pen letter highlighting ‘harm’ from Trump’s tariffs

It’s not every day the three biggest competitors in a space join forces to denounced political action. Of course, this isn’t the first time the Trump administration has had this impact on a category.

Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony (collectively known as gaming’s “big three) penned a joint letter noting the harm the industry stands to face in the age of Trump administration tariffs on China. Addressed to Office of the United States Trade Representative General Counsel Joseph Barloon, the note asks for a modification the existing tariff list.

“While we appreciate the Administration’s efforts to protect U.S. intellectual property and preserve U.S. high-tech leadership,” the letter reads, diplomatically, “the disproportionate harm caused by these tariffs to U.S. consumers and businesses will undermine—not advance—these goals.”

The three companies highlight a broad range of cascading impacts the laws could ultimately have the vast industry, including,

  • Injure consumers, video game developers, retailers and console manufacturers
  • Put thousands of high-value, rewarding U.S. jobs at risk
  • Stifle innovation in our industry and beyond.

The impacts of tariffs have already begun to take their toll on various technology sectors, with several leaders — including, notably, Apple’s Tim Cook — personally petitioning Trump for exceptions.

Razer goes big on payments with Visa prepaid card

The latest pairing between a tech upstart and a financial titan is a digital prepaid card targeted at Southeast Asia’s 430 million-plus unbanked and underserved population.

On Monday, Razer, the Singapore-based company best known for its gaming laptops and peripherals, announced a partnership with Visa to develop a Visa prepaid solution. The service, which allows unbanked users to top up and cash out easily, will be available as a mini program embedded in Razer Pay, the gaming company’s mobile payments app. That means Razer’s 60 million registered users will be able to pay at any of the 54 million merchant locations around the world that take Visa.

Going virtual is the natural step given the region’s fast-growing digital population, but the pair does not rule out the possibility to introduce a physical prepaid card down the road, Razer’s chief strategy officer Li Meng Lee told TechCrunch over a phone interview.

Both parties have something to gain from this marriage. Hong Kong-listed Razer has in recent years been doubling down on fintech to prove it’s more than a hardware company. Payment services seem like an inevitable development for Razer whose users in the region are accustomed to buying in-game credits at convenience stores.

“For many years, the people who have been making digital payments before it became a sexy word in the last couple of years… [many of them] are the gamers who go to a 7-Eleven, pay in cash, and get a pin code to buy virtual skins for the games,” noted Lee. “Because of that, we’ve been able to build up more than a million service points across Southeast Asia.”

The key differentiator of Razer’s prepaid service, Lee said, is that customers paying at Visa merchants don’t have to already own a bank account, whereas that prerequisite is common for many other e-wallet services.

The Razer Pay app is handling transactions for a slew of internet services like Lazada and Grab and has made a big offline push, boasting a network of more than one million touchpoints through retailers including 7-Eleven and Starbucks where it’s accepted.

All in all, Razer Pay claimed it processed over $1.4 billion in payment value last year. It first launched in Malaysia in mid-2018 and recently branched into Singapore as its second market. Lee said the service plans to roll out in the rest of Southeast Asia soon, upon which the Visa prepaid mini app will also be available in those markets.

For Visa, the tie-up with an internet firm could be a potential boost to its reach in the mobile-first Southeast Asia where some 213 million millennials and youths live.

“This is a great opportunity for us to be working with Razer in addressing how we work to bring the unbanked and underserved population into the financial system,” Chris Clark, Visa’s regional president for the Asia Pacific, told TechCrunch. “We will be doing some work with Razer on financial literacy and financial planning to bring that education to the population across the region.”

Razer’s fintech ambition has been evident since it announced to gobble up MOL, a company that offers online and offline payments in Southeast Asia, in April 2018. Besides payments, Lee said other microfinance services such as lending and insurance are also on the cards as part of an effort to ramp up user stickiness for Razer’s fintech arm.

‘Harry Potter: Wizards Unite’ reaches 400K downloads, $300K in consumer spend in U.K. and U.S.

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the highly anticipated new mobile game from Pokémon Go makers Niantic and Warner Brothers’ games division, is off to a good start but it’s not breaking Pokémon Go records. According to preliminary estimates from Sensor Tower, the new game has been installed some 400,000 times in its first 24 hours in its launch markets of the U.S. and U.K. — where the game arrived ahead of schedule on Thursday. Gross player spending in these markets hit around $300,000 across both iOS and Android during this time.

This is not the full picture, however.

The game was also available in Australia and New Zealand during a pre-launch beta trial of sorts, and is only now rolling out to worldwide users on a country-by-country basis. During its beta test period, Sensor Tower estimates the game grossed around $80,000.

But in the same number of days, Pokémon Go had grossed $1.6 million in those two markets.

Following its U.S. launch, it took Harry Potter: Wizards Unite around 15 hours to reach the No.1 position on the iOS App Store. This ascension is also going a bit slower than Pokémon Go did when it arrived. That game was an immediate hit, debuting at No. 1 on its launch day of July 6, 2016. It was then installed 7.5 million times in the U.S. during its first 24 hours. And it didn’t reach the U.K. until seven days later.

In its first 24 hours, Pokémon Go had become the No. 1 app by revenue in the U.S., as well. The new Harry Potter title is ranked No. 102 overall for iPhone revenue, Sensor Tower says. It’s also No. 48 for U.K. revenue, and not yet ranked on Google Play. However, these figures differ from App Annie’s, which says the game has broken into the top 100.

App Annie hasn’t yet put out numbers related to Harry Potter: Wizards Unite’s revenue, but the company tells us it hit No. 1 in the U.S. for downloads as of 12 AM on June 21, 2019. And for consumer spending, App Annie says game broke into the top 100 grossing games by hitting No. 63 as of 7:00 AM June 21 on iPhone in the U.S.

The new game’s lesser demand compared with Pokémon Go could be attributed to a number of factors. Pokémon Go was hugely anticipated, had a massive fan base ready to download, and was one of the first compelling use cases of AR in gaming.

Harry Potter’s fan base is active as well, but they’ve also had other games to play before now.

For example, Jam City has a Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery game that’s been getting a huge boost since yesterday’s news of the new Niantic title. That points to a case of mistaken identity or perhaps clever App Store SEO…or both.

 

 

It’s also worth noting the App Store itself has changed in the years since Pokémon Go’s launch.

In September 2017, Apple introduced its brand-new App Store that took the emphasis off its Top Charts as a means of discovery, and instead features apps in editorial “stories” on its Today tab. Within the dedicated apps and games section, the revamped App Store points users to editorial collections, with Top Charts only found upon scrolling down the page quite a bit.

We’ve heard from some developers that these changes reduced their downloads, as getting into the Top Charts doesn’t drive numbers like it used to. They said getting into the Today tab’s feature editorial doesn’t send as many installs, either. But this is all anecdotal — and of course, Apple doesn’t talk about numbers like this. Further investigation is needed.

In any event, the two app store intelligence firms — App Annie and Sensor Tower — both predict big numbers for the new Harry Potter title over time.

Sensor Tower estimates the game will pull in $400 million to $500 million in revenue in its first year. However, the firm notes that Harry Potter isn’t as popular in Asia — a market that delivers Pokémon Go over 40% of its revenue.

App Annie, meanwhile, predicts the game will hit $100 million in consumer spend in its first 30 days. (Pokémon Go hit this milestone in 2 weeks.)

Pokémon Go shattered mobile gaming records, clearing $100 million in its first two weeks and becoming the fastest game to reach $1 billion in consumer spend,” noted App Annie. “While we don’t expect it to surpass Pokémon Go’s launch, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is set to clear $100 million in its first 30 days — which is no small feat.”

A chat with Niantic CEO John Hanke on the launch of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

Just shy of three years ago, Pokémon GO took over the world. Players filled the sidewalks, and crowds of trainers flooded parks and landmarks. Anywhere you looked, people were throwing Pokéballs and chasing Snorlax.

As the game grew, so did the company behind it. Niantic had started its life as an experimental “lab” within Google — an effort on Google’s part to keep the team’s founder, John Hanke, from parting ways to start his own thing. In the months surrounding GO’s launch, Niantic’s team shrank dramatically, spun out of Google, and then rapidly expanded… all while trying to keep GO’s servers from buckling under demand and to keep this massive influx of players happy. Want to know more about the company’s story so far? Check out the Niantic EC-1 on ExtraCrunch here.

Now Niantic is back with its next title, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Built in collaboration with WB Games, it’s a reimagining of Pokémon GO’s real-world, location-based gaming concept through the lens of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter universe.

I got a chance to catch up with John Hanke for a few minutes earlier this week — just ahead of the game’s US/UK launch this morning. We talked about how they prepared for this game’s launch, how it’s built upon a platform they’ve been developing across their other titles for years, and how Niantic’s partnership with WB Games works creatively and financially. Here’s the transcript:

Greg Kumparak: Can you tell me a bit about how all this came to be?

John Hanke: Yeah, you know.. we did Ingress first, and we were thinking about other projects we could build. Pokémon was one that came up early, so we jumped on that — but the other one that was always there from the beginning, of the projects we wanted to do, was Harry Potter. I mean, it’s universally beloved. My kids love the books and movies, so it’s something I always wanted to do.

Like Pokémon, it was an IP we felt was a great fit for [augmented reality]. That line between the “muggle” world and the “magic” world was paper thin in the fiction, so imagining breaking through that fourth wall and experiencing that magic through AR seemed like a great way to use the technology to fulfill an awesome fan fantasy.

Dr. Mario is in (on iOS and Android) July 10

After years of heel dragging, Nintendo finally opened itself up to the smartphone world in late-2016. The gaming giant hasn’t exactly opened the floodgates in the intervening years, but Fire Emblem Heroes, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and Dragalia Lost have filled the void in some form or other.

There’s something to be said for the company’s thoughtful approach to the category. Nintendo clearly values its IP and is only interesting in releasing games that make sense on the platform. Dr. Mario is pretty high on that list. After all, similar puzzle-style games have come to dominate the mobile platform, and Nintendo had a perfectly good title gathering dust.

Dr. Mario World was unveiled back in February — or the title was, at least — with a broad Summer release for iOS and Android. Last night, Nintendo offered a deeper glimpse in the form of a YouTube video. The basics of the game are similar to the original NES title, with falling capsules that disappear when colors are matched up. Kind of like Tetris, but with more drugs.

The graphics have been improved, of course, along with a social element that lets user connect around the world in social does through networks like Facebook. Mario is joined by “friends,” as well, including familiar characters like Princess Peach, Luigi and Bowser, all of whom apparently studied medicine in whatever sort of universities they have in the mushroom kingdom.

The game will be available on July 10, beating the previously announced Mario Kart Tour, which is also said to be due out this summer.

Carmen Sandiego returns to Google Earth with a new caper

Google Earth first made use of its rich global 3D visualization as a backdrop for a Carmen Sandiego tie-in back in March, but today there’s a new adventure to explore. After solving The Crown Jewels Caper, amateur home gumshoes are now tasked with finding out the secrets of The Keys to the Kremlin Caper, which kicks off in Russia, as you might’ve guessed from the name.

Google makes use of the Netflix re-imagining of the classic globetrotting Carmen Sandiego character, which debuted in a 1985 computer game released by Broderbund Software. The Google Earth version includes pixelated graphics and gameplay inspired by the original series, with the modern look that’s used in the Netflix show by educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The game can be played on Android, iOS or desktop (via Chrome) and has a lot of the same charm and appeal of the original series, with similar educational value in terms of highlighting some key cultural and geographic details along the way as you investigate the case.