There’s something about gaming laptops that make manufacturers do weird things. It’s kind of wonderful, in a way. Companies tend to give their teams a much wider berth for strange and novel designs, and HP’s Omen line is certainly no stranger. Designs that tend to be relegated to the concept shelf of history actually hit the market, and indeed, the Omen X 2S is currently on target for a May/June release. The defining characteristic of the $2,700 notebook is almost certainly the inclusion of a second screen that lives just above the keyboard. HP’s not the first to attempt such a thing — in fact, we might actually be approaching a trend here. The six-inch secondary display is considerably smaller than the 15-inch mean dealie. It’s designed to provide supplementary information at a glance. While the idea of a secondary screen has been around for some time, I do think HP’s at least being fairly realistic about how it will primarily be used. Rather than assuming that game developers are going to create content specifically for the 1080p touchscreen, HP suggests that gamers will almost certainly use it for other apps entirely. It suggests chatting in WeChat and WhatsApp, using Spotify and watching Twitch and YouTube videos. In other words, it will essentially serve the same function as just sticking your phone on your laptop — but this one is built in. Oh, and HP sells now, so you can coordinate with your new dual-screen laptop.
has been leaning into accessibility in gaming lately, most visibly with its amazing , and a new patent suggests another way the company may be accommodating disabled gamers: an Xbox controller with a built-in Braille display. As you might expect, it’s already quite hard for a visually-impaired gamer to play some games, and although that difficulty can’t be entirely alleviated, there are definitely things worth doing. For instance: the text on screen that sighted people take for granted, documenting player status, items, onscreen dialogue or directions — how could these be read by a low-vision gamer who might be able to otherwise navigate the game world? In many circumstances a screen reader is what a visually-impaired person would use to interact with this kind of data, but often that text is relayed to them in audio form, which is far less appealing an option when you’re in-game. Who wants to have a computer voice reading off your armor levels and inventory burden while you’re trying to take in the ambient environment? There are already some Braille display accessories for this kind of thing, but there’s nothing like having support direct from your console’s designer, and that’s what Microsoft has demonstrated with its patent for a Braille-enabled controller. The patent was filed last year and just recently became public, and was soon ; there have been no official announcements, though the timing is favorable for an E3 reveal. That said patents don’t necessarily represent real products in development, though in this case I think it’s worth highlighting regardless. The Braille Controller, as it’s referred to in the patent, is very much like an ordinary Xbox One gamepad, except on the back there appears to be a sort of robotic insect sticking out of it. This is the Braille display, consisting of both a dot matrix that mechanically reproduces the bumps which players can run their fingers over, and a set of swappable paddles allowing for both input and output. The six paddles correspond to the six dot positions on a Braille-coded character, and a user may use them to chord or input text that way, or to receive text communications without moving their fingers off the paddles. Of course the mechanisms could also be used to send haptic feedback of other types, like directional indicators or environmental effects like screen shake. I wouldn’t mind having something like this on my controller, in fact. Naturally this means games will need (and increasingly are including) a metadata layer for this kind of conversion of visual cue to auditory one, and vice versa, among many other considerations for gamers with disabilities. It’s on everyone’s minds but Microsoft and Xbox seem to be taking more concrete steps than the rest, so kudos to them for that. Hopefully their leadership in this space will help convince other developers and manufacturers to join up. We’ll be sure to ask the Xbox team about their plans for this controller design and other accessibility improvements when we talk with them at E3 in June.
Most of the strategy discussions and news coverage in the media & entertainment industry is concerned with the unfolding corporate mega-mergers and the political implications of social media platforms. These are important conversations, but they’re largely a story of twentieth-century media (and broader society) finally responding to the dominance Web 2.0 companies have achieved. To entrepreneurs and VCs, the more pressing focus is on what the next generation of companies to transform entertainment will look like. Like other sectors, the underlying force is advances in artificial intelligence and computer power. In this context, that results in a merging of gaming and linear storytelling into new interactive media. To highlight the opportunities here, I asked nine top VCs to share where they are putting their money. Here are the media investment theses of: (Founders Fund), (Lightspeed), (betaworks), (Sequoia), (Sinai), (Sweet Capital), (Precursor), (GV), and (Lerer Hippeau). Cyan Banister, Partner at Founders Fund “In 2018 I was obsessed with the idea of how you can bring AI and entertainment together. Having made early investments in Brud, A.I. Foundation, Artie and Fable, it became clear that the missing piece behind most AR experiences was a lack of memory.
Lots of news has surfaced from China’s gaming industry in recent weeks as the government hastens to approve a massive backlog of titles in the world’s . Last Friday, the country’s State Administration of Press and Publication, the freshly minted gaming authority born from a last year that led to an approval blackout, enshrined a new set of guidelines for publication that are set to move some to joy and others to sorrow. On April 22, China finally resumed the to license new games for monetization. Licensing got back on track in December but Reuters in February that the government stopped accepting new submissions due to a mounting pile of applications. The bad news: The number of games allowed onto the market annually will be capped, and some genres of games will no longer be eligible. Mahjong and poker games are taken off the approval list following a wave of earlier over concerns that such titles may channel illegal gambling. These digital forms of traditional leisure activities are immensely popular for studios for they are relatively cheap to make and bear lucrative fruit. video game researcher Niko Partners, 37 percent of the 8,561 games approved in 2017 were poker and mahjong titles. While the new rule is set to wipe out hundreds of small developers focused on the genre, it may only have a limited impact on the entrenched players as the restriction applies only to new applicants. “It won’t affect us much because we are early to the market and have accumulated a big collection of licenses,” a marketing manager at one of China’s biggest online poker and mahjong games publishers told TechCrunch. China will also stop approving certain games inspired by its imperial past, including “gongdou”, which directly translates to harem scheming, as well as “guandou”, the word for palace official competition. The life inside palaces has inspired blockbuster TV series such as the Story of Yanxi Palace, an in-house production from China’s equivalent . But these plots also touch a nerve with Chinese officials who worry about “obscene contents and the risk of political metaphors,” Daniel Ahmad, senior analyst at Nikos Partners, suggested to TechCrunch. Screenshots of Xi Fei Zhuan, a mobile game that lets users play the role of harems to win love from the emperor. Image source: Games that contain images of corpses and blood will also be rejected. Developers previously modified blood color to green to circumvent restrictions, but the renewed guidelines have effectively ruled out any color variations of blood. “Chinese games developers are used to arbitrary regulations. They are quick at devising methods to circumvent requirements,” a Guangzhou-based indie games developer told TechCrunch. That may only work out for companies armed with sufficient developing capabilities and resources to counter new policies. For instance, Tencent was quick to implement an anti-addiction system for underage users before the practice became an industry-wide norm as of late. “Many smaller publishers will have a harder time under this new set of regulations, which will require them to spend extra time and money to ensure games are up to code,” suggested Ahmad. “We’ve already seen that many smaller publishers were unable to survive the temporary game license approval freeze last year and we expect to see further consolidation of the market this year.” China has over the past year taken aim at the gaming industry over concerns related to gaming addiction among minors and illegal content, such as those that promote violence or deviate from the government’s ideologies. To enforce the growing list of requirements, an Online Game Ethics Committee launched in December under the guidance of the Publicity Department of the Chinese Communist Party to help the new gaming regulator in vetting title submissions. More than 1,000 games have been approved since China ended the gaming freeze in December, though Tencent, the dominant player in the market, has yet to receive the coveted license required for monetizing its hugely popular mobile title PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Uncertain waters in the gaming industry have wiped billions of dollars off the giant’s market cap and prompted it to initiate a bigger push in such as cloud computing and financial technologies. NetEase, the runner-up in China’s gaming market, reacted by
new gaming subscription service Apple Arcade may have been a bit of a footnote at its Services event earlier this month compared to the stage time given to more prime time-ready efforts like Apple TV+ and Apple News+, but the company is throwing some major funding behind its effort to get people paying a monthly fee for exclusive titles. The company has already set aside a budget of more than $500 million for its Arcade service, according to a report in the . The service, arriving in the fall, will let users play exclusive gaming titles across their Apple devices ad-free and offline. The titles will be free of micro-transactions, unlike many of the popular gaming titles on the App Store. While the company has already reportedly spent more than $1 billion on its TV+ content service, the gaming subscription world marks another uncharted territory for Apple as it will put the tech giant in the position of curating with its cash by directly funding titles for exclusive launches on Apple Arcade. At its event, the company detailed that it will have more than 100 new and exclusive gaming titles launching as part of its service. The report states that in order to receive funding from Apple, developers will have to eschew releases on the Google Play Store and refrain from taking part in other gaming subscription services. After a “few months” of exclusivity, developers will be able to release their games on non-mobile platforms such as PCs and gaming consoles. The company is focusing its efforts on funding indie titles as opposed to bankrolling AAA studios to create an exclusive epic. As with Apple TV+, we’re still waiting on exact details regarding price and availability.
In 1995, had his moment. The character’s Super Mario World debut was so strong, handed the dinosaur sidekick his own sequel. A surprise divergence from the Mario franchise found the character escorting a baby version of the plumber in search of his kidnapped twin. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island was regarded as an instant classic for the Super Nintendo. The positive reaction was due, in part, to some bold aesthetic choices. The game featured a shaky line style, both in keeping with the playful infant motif and to further highlight that the title wasn’t just another Mario game. Yoshi’s island has received a number of its own sequels and spinoffs over the years. This is, after all, Nintendo we’re talking about here. The company has turned riding out IP into a kind of art form. But while many of those followups were generally well-received, but none managed to capture the pure joy of the original. 2015’s Yoshi’s Wooly World came close, but ultimately failed to meet the high standards of many Mario fans. And the fact that the Wii U was ultimately a doomed console didn’t help matters much. From a design perspective, Yoshi’s Crafted World clearly shares a lot of common DNA with that predecessor and, for that matter, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, with developer Good-Feel being a common denominator in all three. But the Switch title is a far more fully realized and cohesive package than the Wii U title. And like Yoshi’s Island before it, it’s a joy to play. The first time I saw gameplay footage, I’d assume the game was a bit more of an open-world adventure — the Yoshi’s Island to Super Mario Galaxy’s Super Mario World. But while the new title gives you some choices, it never lets you stray too far from the standard platformer path. To this day, side scrollers continue to be Nintendo’s bread and butter, even as it pushes the boundaries of gaming with other titles. At its worst, that means redundancy. At its best, however, Nintendo manages to put a fresh spin on the age old genre, as is the case here. Clever mechanics like 3D world flipping and paths that point Yoshi down roads in a third dimension keep gameplay interesting. The addition of seemingly infinite Mario 3-style cardboard costumes, coupled with the DIY crafted design language, meanwhile, make it downright joy to play. Yoshi’s Crafted World is an all-ages title, through and through. In fact, on first playing, the game asks whether you want to play “Mellow Mode” or “Classic Mode,” reassuring you that you can switch things up at any time. Even in Classic Mode, the game does a fair bit of handholding. But the game’s simple and slow pace is more comfort than annoyance for even older players. The title plays like a casual game, writ large with a fun through line that finds Yoshi hunting down scattered “Dream Gems,” like so many Dragon Balls. It’s never as immersive or addicting as a title like Mario Galaxy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s the kind of game you can happily play in spurts and come back to, after you’re done living your life. It’s a reminder that games can be an escape from, rather than cause of, frustration and stress. And it’s definitely the best Yoshi star vehicle in nearly 25 years.
wants to tilt the balance from ad-laden freemium gaming titles towards all-access ad-free gaming experiences that can be downloaded across platforms on iOS, macOS and tvOS. At the company’s services event this morning, they announced Apple Arcade, their new premium subscription service for gaming across their hardware products. “We want to make gaming even better,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said onstage. The subscription will boast 100+ new and exclusive games while Apple will be adding new content “all the time.” It looks like the company will have a hand in building out the titles by working directly with developer partners to product titles. Early partners include names like Disney, Konami and Lego. Another important note, all games will be playable offline. This is a content play rather than a tech product like Google’s recently-announced Stadia game-streaming platform. The subscription will provide access to all of the content in the games without ads. Apple has the benefit of building this directly into the App Store, you’ll be able to access Apple Arcade from a new bottom tab in the App Store app. This may be the company’s best chance at leveraging its strength on iOS to finally build a better home for games on Mac. The service is coming this fall. Apple oddly didn’t detail pricing though they did share it would be launching in 150 regions.
is about to some new services on Monday. While everybody expects a video streaming service as well as a news subscription, a new report from Bloomberg says that the company might also mention its gaming subscription. Cheddar first back in January that Apple has been working on a gaming subscription. Users could pay a monthly subscription fee to access a library of games. We’re most likely talking about iOS games for the iPhone and iPad here. Games are the most popular category on the App Store, so it makes sense to turn this category into a subscription business. And yet, most of them are free-to-play, ad-supported games. Apple doesn’t necessarily want to target those games in particular. According to Bloomberg, the service will focus on paid games from third-party developers, such as Minecraft, NBA 2K games and the GTA franchise. Users would essentially pay to access this bundle of games. Apple would redistribute revenue to game developers based on how much time users spend within a game in particular. It’s still unclear whether Apple will announce the service or launch it on Monday. The gaming industry is more fragmented than the movie and TV industry, so it makes sense to talk about the service publicly even if it’s not ready just yet.
is summoning a big gun as it bids to develop its mobile gaming strategy. The Hong Kong-listed company — which sells laptops, smartphones and gaming peripherals — said today it is working with Tencent on a raft of initiatives related to smartphone-based games. The collaboration will cover hardware, software and services. Some of the objectives include optimizing Tencent games — which include megahit PUBG and Fortnite — for smartphones, mobile controllers and its Cortex launcher app. The duo also said they may “explore additional monetization opportunities for mobile gaming” which could see Tencent integrate Razer’s services, which include a rewards/loyalty program, in some areas. The news comes on the same day , which saw annual revenue grow 38 percent to reach $712.4 million. Razer recorded a net loss of $97 million for the year, up from $164 million in 2017. The big name partnership announcement comes at an opportune time for Razer, which has struggled to convince investors of its business. The company was among a wave of much-championed tech companies to go public in Hong Kong — — but its share price has struggled. Razer currently trades at HK$1.44, which is some way down from a HK$3.88 list price and HK$4.58 at the end of its trading day debut. Razer CEO despite a flurry of IPOs, which have included names like local services giant Meituan. Nabbing Tencent, which is one of (if not the) biggest games companies in the world, is a PR coup, but it remains to be seen just what impact the relationship will have at this stage. Subsequent tie-ins, and potentially an investor, would be notable developments and perhaps positive signals that the market is seeking. Still, Razer CEO Min Liang Tan is bullish about the company’s prospects on mobile. The company’s Razer smartphones were never designed to be ‘iPhone-killers’ that sold on volume, but there’s still uncertainty around the unit with the third-generation phone may have been canceled following some layoffs. (Tan declined to comment on that.) Mobile is tough — just ask past giants like and about that… — and Razer’s phone and gaming-focus was quickly copied by others, including , to make sales particularly challenging. But Liang maintains that, in doing so, Razer created a mobile gaming phone market that didn’t exist before, and ultimately that is more important than shifting its own smartphones. “Nobody was talking about gaming smartphones [before the Razer phone], without us doing that, the genre would still be perceived as casual gaming,” Tan told TechCrunch in an interview. “Even from day one, it was about creating this new category… we don’t see others as competition.” With that in mind, he said that this year is about focusing on the software side of Razer’s mobile gaming business. Tan said Razer “will never” publish games as Tencent and others do, instead, he said that the focus on helping discovery, creating a more immersive experience and tying in other services, which include its Razer Gold loyalty points. Outside of gaming, Razer is also making a push into payments through a service that operates in Southeast Asia. , Razer has moved from allowing people to buy credit over-the-counter to launch an e-wallet in two countries, Malaysia and Singapore, as it goes after a slice Southeast Asia’s fintech boom which has attracted non-traditional players that include AirAsia, Grab and Go-Jek among others.
isn’t launching a gaming console. The company is launching a service instead, . You’ll be able to run a game on a server and stream the video feed to your device. You won’t need to buy new hardware to access Stadia, but Stadia won’t be available on all devices from day one. “With Google, your games will be immediately discoverable by 2 billion people on a Chrome browser, Chromebook, Chromecast, Pixel device. And we have plans to support more browsers and platforms over time,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said shortly after opening the conference. As you can see, the Chrome browser will be the main interface to access the service on a laptop or desktop computer. The company says that you’ll be able to play with your existing controller. So if you have a PlayStation 4, Xbox One or Nintendo Switch controller, that should work just fine. Google is also . As expected, if you’re using a Chromecast with your TV, you’ll be able to turn it into a Stadia machine. Only the supports Bluetooth, so let’s see if you’ll need a recent model to play with your existing controller. Google’s controller uses Wi-Fi so that should theoretically work with older Chromecast models. On mobile, it sounds like Google isn’t going to roll out its service to all Android devices from day one. Stadia could be limited to Pixel phones and tablets at first. But there’s no reason Google would not ship Stadia to all Android devices later. Interestingly, Google didn’t mention Apple devices at all. So if you have an iPhone or an iPad, don’t hold your breath. Apple doesn’t let third-party developers sell digital content in their apps without going through the App Store. This will create a challenge for Google. Stadia isn’t available just yet. It’ll launch later this year. As you can see, there are many outstanding questions after the conference. Google is entering a new industry and it’s going to take some time to figure out the business model and the distribution model.