Twitch Takes Two Big Steps Towards A New Identity

on Thursday, Apr. 17th

The integration of into both of the new video game consoles released this past holiday season all but anointed the service as the one, true platform for streaming games. This week the service has taken two steps towards its evolution into a game distribution platform.

First, the company is matching funds in the Kickstarter campaign for the game Choice Chamber, which uses a chat room based mechanic similar to the cultural phenomenon Twitch Plays Pokemon that allows the audience of the game to create the challenges that the player faces. In an article at The Verge designer Michael Molinari says that the game turns the audience into “torture artists” who have their fun by throwing the player into trouble at every turn. Choice Chamber is built around a concept known as “asymmetrical multiplayer,” in this case with the potential of thousands of audience members slipping into the role of sadistic game designers for a short while.

Twitch’s other big move? It is now possible to buy games on the service. Okay. A game. Indie studio Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne. The pitch for buying it through Twitch as opposed to the other supported marketplaces, i.e. Steam and the Humble Store? Access to subscriber-only chats on Twitch.

This tiptoeing into game distribution raises a question: how will the distribution platforms that have already embraced Twitch–Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Valve’s Steam–take the streaming service’s moves onto their turf? Choice Chamber and Nuclear Throne are both indie efforts, but that’s a part of the marketplace that Sony and Valve have staked out pretty heavily. Can any of these platforms they tolerate partner/competitors who have an intense relationship with their users?

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The Not-So-Overnight Success of eSports

on Wednesday, Apr. 16th

This story airs on American Public Media’s Marketplace.

Over the past two years, there has been an explosion of interest in competitive online gaming, known as eSports. Professional video game players face off in matches broadcast around the globe, sometimes for hundreds of thousands of dollars in arenas filled with tens of thousands of fans.

At the recent Call of Duty World Championship in Los Angeles, two four-man teams of gamers, their shirts covered in corporate logos, faced off for the top title.

The gamers were observed by a studio audience, which peered into a control room constructed on a gunmetal stage. On the side of that stage sat the play-by-play men, who called the action in suits and ties.

A million dollars in prizes was on the line at the tournament, which was broadcast free online by Major League Gaming, an eSports promoter that’s been around since 2002, when most of America was on dial-up. (more…)

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Indie Van Game Jam Hits The Road with First Episode

on Monday, Apr. 14th

Here’s the pitch: three game developers hop in a van in Austin, Texas and travel to another city to interview some of their heroes. On the way they make a video game inspired by their interviewee’s work.

While in the van.

That’s the premise behind Indie Van Game Jam a documentary web series about indie games that puts the spotlight on a different studio with each episode. The team behind it, Binary Solo, took a stab at raising funds for the project on Kickstarter last year, but when that didn’t work they persevered.

Now the first episode is out in the wild. The first episode, and the first game. Each episode of the series will not only feature the video documentary, but alongside it will release a game from the roving game jam.

Episode one focuses on Chicago’s Rob Lach (Sphere, Pop: Methodology Experiment One) and features the Binary Solo jam It’s Not Me, It’s You. The game is a perspective twisting play on the first-person shooter genre, and is a delightful way to spend a few minutes on a foggy headed Monday.

Here’s to more game jams and vans from the Binary Solo crew.

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Google Challenges You To Be The Very Best There Ever Was

on Monday, Mar. 31st

Just because everyone else on the Internet has noted it won’t stop me from mentioning it too:

The first of what could be many of Google’s April 1st gags–let’s not call this a prank, since no one is gullible enough to take it seriously–is a mod for the mobile version of Google Maps that turns the app into a Pokemon catching game. The video that announced the game claims that a “strong willed” competitor who can find all 150 Pokemon will earn the right to battle for the job of Google’s own Pokemon Master.

Logging into the latest version of Maps on Android or iOS and tapping the search bar will reveal an option to go to the Pokemon Lab. Said lab just so happens to be located inside the Googleplex, and there are a fair amount of Pokemon nearby.

The pocket monsters, however, are spread out all over the world. I’ve already found Pokemon in France, Ireland, and Antarctica.  In fact I’ve already caught 25 Pokemon, including Pikachu and a Bulbasaur, so you might as well give up now!

On a more serious note: I wonder if this little experiment will prove popular enough that Nintendo decides to make a *real* Pokemon mobile game?

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Backlash to Facebook Buying Virtual Reality Firm Comes Swiftly

on Wednesday, Mar. 26th

A version of this story aired on NPR’s All Things Considered.

When Facebook purchases a company, you can often hear a collective groan go around the internet — “there goes the neighborhood.” The social network’s purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp gave Facebook access to a younger and more global user base.

But the Oculus acquisition is the first time Facebook has bought a high-profile hardware company, one that comes with a pre-exisitng fanbase. Since debuting on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter 18 months ago, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset has been the most talked about device in video games.

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Facebook Buys Oculus VR…There Goes The Metaverse?

on Tuesday, Mar. 25th

Here’s one that none of us saw coming.

Facebook just bought Oculus VR, creators of the much buzzed about Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. From the Oculus blog:

A few months ago, Mark, Chris, and Cory from the Facebook team came down to visit our office, see the latest demos, and discuss how we could work together to bring our vision to millions of people. As we talked more, we discovered the two teams shared an even deeper vision of creating a new platform for interaction that allows billions of people to connect in a way never before possible.

Today, we’re pleased to announce that we’ve joined forces with Facebook to create the best virtual reality platform in the world.

At first glance, it might not seem obvious why Oculus is partnering with Facebook, a company focused on connecting people, investing in internet access for the world and pushing an open computing platform. But when you consider it more carefully, we’re culturally aligned with a focus on innovating and hiring the best and brightest; we believe communication drives new platforms; we want to contribute to a more open, connected world; and we both see virtual reality as the next step.

My instant reaction: April 1st is a week away, what gives?


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Erik Moore, Venture Capitalist, ‘Unapologetically Black’

on Monday, Mar. 17th

Erik Moore’s career in venture capital began with a hot tub.

It sounds like the ultimate Bay Area cliché, perhaps even more vividly so when you hear that the hot tub in question was destined for the downtown building once sought after by flashy former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown.

It was 1999, and Tony Hsieh, one of the building’s well-to-do tenants, had just sold his first company to Microsoft. Hsieh wanted to install a Jacuzzi in his penthouse apartment – but it was against policy in the building, where Moore lived, too. After the fellow tenants ran into each other one night, Hsieh drafted Moore onto the homeowner’s association. They got the sought-after hot tub installed, and became friends.

Good enough friends that Moore invested in Hsieh’s company, one called Zappos.

At the time, he told Hsieh, “I’m not sure I have ever heard of a more stupid idea than selling shoes online.” But, deciding that Hsieh’s obvious talents as an entrepreneur outweighed the apparent dead-end nature of the internet service that became Zappos (which was later acquired by Amazon for $1.2 billion) Moore made the investment that eventually provided the seed money for his venture capital fund, Base Ventures. (more…)

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Tickets For MLG Championship’s Return To Anaheim Go On Sale

on Friday, Mar. 14th

Over the past few years video games have been growing in popularity as a spectator sport. Millions of gamers watch each other online and thousands show up for live events.

Major League Gaming, which has been in the eSports business for over a decade now, brings its championship tournament back to Anaheim, CA in June and the promoter expects to break last years attendance record of 21,000 fans.

At the moment three game tournaments have been announced: Call of Duty: Ghosts, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, and a returning favorite Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Melee. $135,000 in prizes have been announced for these three championships combined.

Details on the games after the jump.


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McAfee: Target Data Heist Made Possible By Cybercrime Service Industry

on Monday, Mar. 10th

The latest quarterly report by computer security firm McAfee Labs says that the massive Target data breach occurred with the help of a cybercrime service industry:

That industry allowed the thieves to not only buy custom-made malware for the theft, but also to quickly sell credit card numbers from 40 million shoppers affected by the breach. The thieves sold the numbers through online back-channels that security experts call the “dark web,” the company said.

Every night is service industry night on the Internet, and it’s always nighttime somewhere!


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Reflections on Innovation Past and Present, From SF Designer Yves Behar

on Wednesday, Feb. 26th

When San Francisco designer Yves Behar was 14 years old and living in his native Switzerland, he had a design epiphany, thanks to the Sony Walkman.

An aunt had sent the device to Behar, who’s now the Chief Creative officer of Jawbone, as a gift. He told the crowd at this week’s Launch Festival that for a teenager, being able to carry his music around was revelatory enough, but there was more — the ability to plug in a second headset, allowing him and a girlfriend to create an intimate world, free from adult intervention.

This seeded his philosophy that if you’re treating customers well — emotionally, ergonomically then you’re probably practicing good design. (more…)

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Gumroad Rentals H

Rent Video Straight From Social Media Via Gumroad

The people who brought the “Buy Now” button to Twitter are going all-in on film distribution.


Siegel's NOME meditation machine.

Hacking Consciousness: Silicon Valley’s Next Frontier

Is there something that lies beyond the quantified self movement?

Detail from the cover of Snow Crash.'

Bright, Bold Future: Magic Leap Has Hired The Godfather of The Metaverse

There’s a rapturous term thrown around by VR enthusiasts: “The Metaverse.” It is a term that comes from the seminal Neal Stephenson science fiction novel Snow Crash, where it described a kind of embodied virtual reality.


In the looming battle of AR and VR the prize is your mind.

Let’s talk about augmented reality versus virtual reality shall we?

Corey McCall with the video game controller that measures the level of excitement in the player. Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

These Game Controllers Will (One Day) Read Your Mind

A version of this story airs on NPR/WBUR’s Here & Now.