Monthly Archives: March 2018

HQ Trivia had a weird night

HQ Trivia was removed from the App Store following a controversial ending to a $25K game on Sunday night, according to Business Insider.

HQ has introduced a new high-stakes version of the game where one winner takes home a larger prize. However, on Sunday night, no one won the $25K.

The company posted on its Twitter account that moderators kick players who break the company’s TOS.

HQ would not be specific about what rules were broken, but BI reports that Twitter users had suggested it was due to jailbroken iPhones, which could be running software that gives users a leg up in the trivia competition.

For those who missed the game last night, two players remained for the final question. One was removed due to breaking the TOS, and the remaining player missed the last question, resulting in no winner.

Cheating seems to be a growing problem with HQ Trivia. There are countless guides online about how to cheat, including obvious methods like using voice dictation and a second device to Google search each question. The time limit makes that more difficult, but not impossible.

But as HQ grows its prize pot — the original prize was $1000 — cheating on the platform, and the methods by which people cheat, is only bound to intensify.

Even more bizarre, the app was seemingly removed from the App Store following the game. It has since re-appeared on the App Store.

HQ says that last night’s game and HQ’s removal from the App Store are unrelated events. A spokesperson from the company confirmed Mashable’s report that the app was removed because of a clerical error. Long story short, someone at HQ forgot to update the expired credit card info in the developer portal of the App Store.

App analytics firm Apptopia confirmed that HQ Trivia was removed from the App Store briefly, and that it has been falling in ranking for the past 30 to 60 days.

We reached out to Apple and haven’t heard back. We will report back as soon as we know more.

Google Play Instant lets you try games without having to install them

Last year, Google launched Instant Apps, a way for developers to give users a native app experience that didn’t involve having to install anything. Users would simply click on a link on the search results page and the instant app would load. Today, the company is extending this program to games. Thanks to this, you can now see what playing a level or two of Clash Royale, Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire or Panda Pop is like without having to go through the usual install procedure. Instead, you simply head for the Google Play store, find a game that supports this feature, and hit the “Try now” button.

Google Play product managers Jonathan Karmel and Benjamin Frenkel told me that the team learned a lot from the experience with building Instant Apps. For games, though, the team decided to increase the maximum file size from 2 MB to 10 MB, which isn’t really a surprise, given that a game needs a few more graphical assets than your regular to-do list app. In my experience testing this feature, this still allows the games to load quickly enough, though it doesn’t feel quite as instant as most of the regular instant apps do.

The main idea behind this project, Karmel and Frenkel said, is to drive discovery. To do this, the team is adding a new ‘arcade’ tab in the newly redesigned Google Play Games app to highlight the current crop of Instant games and launching an Instant Gameplay collection in the Google Play Store. The main advantage of these Instant games, though, is that users can try the game without having to install anything. As the team noted, every extra step in the install process offers potential players yet another chance to drop off and move on. Indeed, many users actually install a game and then never open it.

Some casual games already take up less than 10 MB and those developers will be able to opt to make their complete game available as a Play Instant app, too.

For now, this project is still a closed beta, though Google plans to open it up to more developers later this year. Some games that currently support Play Instant include Clash Royale, Words with Friends 2, Bubble Witch 3 Saga and Panda Pop, as well as a few other titles from Playtika, Jam City, MZ, and Hothead.

As Karmel and Frenkel told me, their teams are still working on providing developers with better tooling for building these apps and Google is also working with the likes of Unity and the Cocos2D-x teams to make building instant apps easier. For the most part, though, building an Instant Play game means bringing the file size to under 10 MB and adding a few lines to the app’s manifest. That’s probably easier said than done, though, given that you still want players to have an interesting experience.

Unsurprisingly, some developers currently make better use of that limited file size than others. When you try Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire, all you can do is regularly tap on some kind of blue monster and get some gold until the game informs you how much gold you received. That’s it. Over time, though, I’m sure developers will figure out how to best use this feature.

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Facebook lets all PC games live stream and reward viewers

Facebook is challenging Twitch and YouTube for video game live streaming supremacy with the release of its new Games SDK for PC. After testing Live streaming from games like Overwatch from developers like Blizzard since 2016, today Live broadcasting from PC games to the News Feed opens to all developers. And Facebook will let them reward fans who watch by providing in-game items or bonuses. For example, beneath the comments reel, users might see a promotion like “Watch Paladins streams for a chance to earn random loot to use in-game.”

The potential for viral growth and sales could convince tons of game developers to bake in Facebook’s new SDK, while players could use the simple broadcasting feature to reach a big audience — though one not as dedicated to gaming as on other platforms. Viewers might choose to watch on Facebook because they get rewarded there. Facebook meanwhile benefits because game streams create compelling niche content that can drive long viewing sessions, helping Facebook monetize viewers in the moment with ads while locking them deeper into the platform long-term.

Facebook is also hooking up developers with deeper analytics through custom “app events” that are now available on PC as well as web and mobile. Game developers can also integrate Facebook’s enhanced Friend Finder feature that lets them play with friends and now see “Key Player Stats” about other people they want to join up with to keep playing together. Developers who want access to the SDK can sign up here.

Facebook got a late start in the game streaming world but has been rapidly developing features and signing deals to grow its viewer base and content catalogue. It inked a deal with esports league leader ESL last year, and just added streaming from tournaments of top games like Counter-Strike and DOTA. It’s brought Live streaming to Messenger games. Facebook also recently started testing a way for viewers to tip cash to their favorite streaming stars, and has even hired some of them for its games team.

The question will be if a catch-all mainstream social network can succeed in such a niche content space. 800 million people play Facebook-connected games each month. But not everyone’s real-world friends care about video games or want to watch their buddies play, so broadcasts could fall flat if they don’t find the particular subset who love gaming. On networks like Twitch or corners of YouTube, people are there specifically to watch game stream. So Facebook will have to use rapid feature development, and it’s size and potential for audience growth to attracts streamers, viewers, and developers. Otherwise gamers might stay where they never feel embarrassed about their passion.

Players Lounge lets gamers make money off their eSports skills

Online gamers love to talk a big game, but how willing are they to put their money with their mouth is? Players Lounge is a home for gamers looking to make friendly wagers with strangers and friends in head-to-head matches.

When we first covered the startup back in 2015, the team was getting people together at bars in New York for one-off FIFA tournaments on slow nights. Since then, Players Lounge has moved towards greater scalability, though their niche has still centered heavily on sports titles like FIFA and Madden. The company is launching out of Y Combinator’s latest class with some new funding and some new plans to capture gamers’ attention.

The company is already expanding beyond its console sports roots, and has added support for titles like Fortnite and Call of Duty, though there’s still a lot of room for the company to flex on PC which hosts some of the most devoted gamers.

After connecting their gaming accounts, users load cash onto the platform via credit card, PayPal or Bitcoin and can use the funds to enter into head-to-head wagers. The company takes 10 percent of wagers. Bets can range from $2.50 to $500. When it comes to legality, because eSports are considered a game of skill in most states, Players Lounge can operate without a hitch. A few states still don’t allow it though, so if players are in Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana or North Dakota, they won’t be able to make wagers on the site.

One of the biggest issues with online gameplay is matching users of similar skillsets to each other. No one wants to get thrown into a match with a professional eSports player when they barely know what they’re doing. Players Lounge has its own rating system to independently determine someone’s skills as a gamer on a 100-point scale so that users can match themselves up for head-to-head battles accordingly before they pony up a wager.

When money comes into play, gaming can understandably turn ugly. Add in the largely anonymous quality that comes from just knowing someone by their user name and you’re left with a platform ripe for abuse. Players Lounge hasn’t been shy about bringing down the ban hammer on users trying to game the system. In the future, it’s looking to mandate the use of anti-cheating software for anyone on the platform.

The company is looking to add support for larger groups to go at it against each other rather than the current 1v1 wagers. As the company has added support to new titles, its revenues have grown 100 percent month-over-month for the past four months on an annualized run rate of $2 million, the company says. Users are also sticking around, the company says that 30 percent of users play another match within 12 weeks of playing their first game on the service.

Volley’s voice games for smart speakers have amassed over half a million monthly users

The rapid consumer adoption of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home has opened opportunities for developers creating voice apps, too. At least that’s true in the case of Volley, a young company building voice-controlled entertainment experiences for Amazon Alexa and Google Home. In less than a year, Volley has amassed an audience north of 500,000 monthly active users across its suite of voice apps, and has been growing that active base of users at 50 to 70 percent month-over-month.

The company was co-founded by former Harvard roommates and longtime friends, Max Child and James Wilsterman, and had originally operated as an iOS consultancy. But around a year and a half ago, Volley shifted its focus to voice instead.

“When we were running the iOS business, we were always sort of hacking around on games and some stuff on the side for fun,” explains Child. “We made a trivia game for iOS. And we made a Facebook Messenger chatbot virtual pet,” he says. The trivia game they built let users play just by swiping on push notifications — a very lightweight form of gameplay they thought was intriguing. “Voice was sort of the obvious next step,” says Child.

Not all their voice games have been successful, however. The first to launch was a game called Spelling Bee that users struggled with because of Alexa’s difficulties in identifying single letters — it would confuse a “B,” “C,” “D” and “E,” for example. But later titles have taken off.

Volley’s name-that-tune trivia game “Song Quiz” was its first breakout hit, and has grown to become the No. 1 game by reviews. The game today has a five-star rating across 8,842 reviews.

Another big hit is Volley’s “Yes Sire,” a choose-your-own-adventure style storytelling game that’s also at the top of Alexa’s charts. It also has a five-star rating, across 1,031 reviews.

The company says it has more than a dozen live titles, with the majority on the Alexa Skill Store and a few for Google Assistant/Google Home. But it only has seven or eight in what you would consider “active development.”

Unlike some indie developers who are struggling to generate revenue from their voice applications, Volley has been moderately successful thanks to Amazon’s developer rewards program — the program that doles out cash payments to top performing skills. While the startup didn’t want to disclose exact numbers, it says it’s earning in the five-figure range monthly from Amazon’s program.

In addition, Volley is preparing to roll out its own monetization features, including subscriptions and in-app purchases of add-on packs that will extend gameplay.

The company’s games have been well-received for a variety of reasons, but one is that they allow people to play together at the same time — like a modern-day replacement for family game night, perhaps.

“I think a live multiplayer experience with your family or people you’re good friends with, where you can have a fun time together in a room is fairly unusual. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t crowd around my iPhone and play games with my friends. And even with consoles there are significant barriers in understanding how to play,” says Child.

“I think that voice enables the live social experience in a way that anyone from five years old to 85 years old can pick up immediately. I think that’s really special. And I think we’re just at the beginning. I’m not going to say we’ve got it all figured out — but I think that’s powerful and unique to these platforms,” he adds.

Volley raised more than a million in seed funding ahead of joining Y Combinator’s Winter 2018 class, in a round led by Advancit Capital. Other investors include Amplify.LA, Rainfall, Y Combinator, MTGx, NFX and angels Hany Nada, Mika Salmi and Richard Wolpert.

The startup is currently a team of six in San Francisco.


PUBG soft-launches on mobile in Canada with Android release

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, the ‘battle royale’ style game where everyone tries to be the last player standing while scrounging for supplies to keep them alive, has launched on Android in Canada MobileSyrup reports, which could presage a future release in the U.S.

The arrival of the mobile version of the game more generally known as PUBG coincides with it reaching the 5 million player milestone on Xbox, where it’s been available since late last year after debuting on the PC in early access earlier in 2017. It’s not cross-play compatible, unlike Fortnite, however, so if you’re playing the Android version you’ll be matched up against others with the app, which is published by Chinese Internet giant Tencent.

This Android port wasn’t developed by original PUBG studio Bluehole, but they say they oversaw the creation of this mobile version. Based on early testing with a Pixel 2 XL, it looks and feels a lot like the original.

PUBG doesn’t have quite the hype of Fortnite right now, since that’s begun a cross-platform play mobile beta and also Drake just played a session with one of the most popular professional esports players in the world. But a mobile version close at hand (and available now, if you’re Canadian) is reason to get excited.

Facebook opens Instant Games to all developers

Facebook’s Instant Games are now open to all developers, Facebook announced this week in advance of the Game Developers Conference. First launched in 2016, the platform lets developers build mobile-friendly games using HTML5 that work on both Facebook and Messenger, instead of requiring users to download native apps from Apple or Google’s app stores.

The Instant Games platform kicked off its launch a couple of years ago with 17 games from developers like Bandai Namco, Konami, Taito, Zynga and King, who offered popular titles like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Words with Friends. The following year, the platform had grown to 50 titles and became globally available. But it wasn’t open to all – only select partners.

In addition to getting users to spend more time on Facebook’s platform, Instant Games provides Facebook with the potential for new revenue streams now that Facebook is moving into game monetization.

In October, Facebook said it would begin to test interstitial and rewarded video ads, as well as in-app purchases. The tools were only available to select developers on what was then an otherwise closed platform for Facebook’s gaming partners.

Now, says Facebook, all developers can build Instant Games as the platform exits its beta testing period.

Alongside this week’s public launch, Facebook introduced a handful of new features to help developers grow, measure and monetize their games.

This includes the launch of the ads API, which was also previously in beta.

In-app purchases, however, are continuing to be tested.

Developers will also have access to Facebook’s Monetization Manager, where they can track manage ads and track how well ad placements are performing; as well as a Game Switch API for cross-promoting games across the platform, or creating deep links that work outside Facebook and Messenger.

Facebook says it also updated how its ranking algorithm surfaces games based on users’ recent play and interests, and updated its in-game leaderboards, among other things.

Soon, Instant Game developers will be able to build ad campaigns in order to acquire new players from Facebook. These new ad units, when clicked, will take players directly into the game where they can begin playing. 

Since last year, Facebook Instant Games have grown to nearly 200 titles, but the company isn’t talking in-depth about their performance from a revenue perspective.

It did offer one example of a well-performing title, Basketball FRVR, which is on track to make over 7-digits in ad revenue annually, and has been played over 4.2 billion times.

With the public launch, Facebook is offering Instant Games developer documentation page and a list of recommended HTML5 game engines to help developers get started. Developers can then build and submit games via Facebook’s App page.

My Tamagotchi Forever brings the 90s to your smartphone

We had all but forgotten about Tamagotchis. But those attention-starved little creatures are coming back.

Today, My Tamagotchi Forever launches on Google Play and the App Store. For those of you who didn’t ride the wave of handheld digital pets in the late 90s and early aughts, or those of you who are too young to have participated, here’s the gist:

Tamagotchis were little digital pets that lived inside a small handheld device. What made Tamagotchis interesting is that they were on a real schedule, needing food and attention on a daily basis. If you ignored your Tamagotchi for a few days, it would die. It was a high stakes game.

Eventually, the fad died as did many a Tamagotchi.

But today, Bandai Namco has tried to revive the trend with the launch of My Tamagotchi Forever.

Within the game, each Tamagotchi has a sleep meter, a hunger meter, an entertainment meter, and a bathroom meter. Users must fulfill the needs of the Tamagotchi in order to keep it happy and earn virtual currency to buy equipment for entertainment and food. Users can earn coins by playing mini-games in the entertainment section of the app.

Where My Tamagotchi Forever strays from its ancestors is in-app purchases. The game lets you skip past certain necessities, like waiting for your Tamagotchi to sleep, by purchasing Diamonds.

Given that this game is geared towards children, you could see how users could quickly rack up a bill, as some of the in-app purchases are as expensive as $99.

You can check out the trailer below or head straight to the app here.

Drake and Ninja are playing Fortnite live on Twitch

What do Drake, Ninja the professional esports player, Kim Dotcom, Travis Scott and NFL player JuJu Smith-Schuster have in common?

They’re all playing Fortnite together right now and live-streaming it on Twitch . Yes, seriously.

You can tune in to Ninja’s channel here to check out the action.

Right now the amount of live viewers is hovering around 600,000 which smashes Twitch’s previous record of 388,000 live concurrent viewers.

Drake and Ninja started playing together a few hours ago on Ninja’s channel, and were soon joined by the other members as word spread of the livestream. Ninja is playing on a PC while Drake is on a PS4, but the two can play together thanks to Fortnite’s cross-platform support for those two systems.

The group had their fair share of technical difficulties – especially when it came to adding new players to their party, mainly because everyone’s friend requests were maxed out. That’s definitely something Epic will to work on if Fortnite continues to be the preferred game of celebrities and athletes.

In all seriousness, it’s a big moment for esports and livestreaming in general. The fact that mainstream celebrities are not only spending their time playing (and talking about) massively popular video games, but doing it live so hundreds of thousands of others can watch is a huge validator for the future of the two industries and companies like Twitch and Epic Games .

As you can imagine, Twitter is going insane and we’re already getting some amazing memes.

Oh, and one more thing. Epic Games (the company that created Fortnite) is supposed to take down the game’s servers at 2am PT / 5am ET. Anyone want to bet that they’re going to reschedule?

Google is using Maps to turn every video game into an earth-sized epic

Video games are about to look a lot more like the real world. If you’ve enjoyed the thrill of driving through GTA V and spying out Los Angeles landmarks, then that’s a sentiment you’re probably going to start feeling a lot more often while you play video games.

Google is making its Maps API play nice with video game designers, giving them access to the real world’s geography and geometry, throwing 100 million 3D buildings, landmarks and more into developer’s design repertoires. Game studios will be able to use these maps to serve as the basis of their digital environments with all of the models turned into GameObjects in the Unity game engine that are ready to be tweaked and have new textures applied to them.

In practice, that means developers could easily turn New York City into a medieval metropolis, or switch up some textures and change up everything again into some vast alien world. The gaming flavor of Maps API takes a lot of work away from developers that are building vast empires.

“Building on top of Google Maps’ global infrastructure means faster response times, the ability to scale on demand, and peace of mind knowing that your game will just work,” a company blog post on the topic read.

The update also means quite a lot to game developers stylizing augmented reality games that generally call on local maps to orient users in the game world. With this update, developers using ARCore will be able to take the worlds they’re building and slap them onto local maps, giving users a uniquely customized experience wherever they are.

The company is already working with several game developers to build this into new titles (including Walking Dead: Your World and Jurassic World Alive). They will be showing off more on how this works at GDC in San Francisco next week.