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How the pandemic has transformed work in the game industry

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The pandemic has impacted all of us, including the game industry. Sure, many publishers are reporting record engagement and increased revenues as players flock to games for entertainment and distraction. But what about the people who make these games?

Over the past couple of months, I’ve talked to some of the studios, creators, and software makers about how COVID-19 has changed they way they work. Of course, this has meant adjusting to a new normal of people working remotely. Companies used to offices and immediate access to colleagues are now getting used to video conferences and turning personal spaces into working ones.

This changes the way games are made, and it can make the process more difficult.

Development never ends

Chris Wilson is the studio head for Grinding Gear Games, the developer behind the hit free-to-play action role-playing game Path of Exile. It’s a long-lived title that has become popular thanks to a steady stream of constant updates. It keeps offering new content, so its players are rarely bored.

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“One of the big attributes of Path of Exile that’s been successful is that there’s a reliable release schedule,” Wilson told GamesBeat. “We release every 13 weeks. One of the reasons why we get a lot of players at those releases is because the community just knows when — there’s a cadence to it. They know when to come back. They’re excited about it. It’s easy to drop back in. We want to keep that cadence. We don’t want to say, no, we’re delaying stuff for months.”

But not only is Grinding Gear always working on new stuff for Path of Exile, but the studio is also developing Path of Exile 2. It’s plate isn’t just full, it’s spilling over. And now it has to work on these projects with a new reality: people working from home.

“The concept of people working from home was something we really didn’t want to have to accept, but for health reasons of course, we have to put our staff’s health first, so we started to get things set up so that people could,” Wilson told GamesBeat. “And that setup time was important, because rather rapidly, as soon as New Zealand got its first case of community transmission in March, the government announced, you have two days to be working from home and everyone is in total lockdown.”

Path of Exile 2.

Above: Path of Exile 2 is Grinding Gear’s next game.

Image Credit: Grinding Gear Games

This is a tough situation for a studio used to close collaboration and outputting new content on a regular basis. Working from home can be good or bad, but it always different. And that uncertainty can be stressful.

“An artist working on Path of Exile 2 assets is going to work at his desk making assets all day just like he was before, which is great,” Wilson continued. “But all of the upper management is scrambling to keep people working efficiently from home, with our existing release schedule of updates. We have a management deficit for the sequel at the moment, which won’t affect its quality of course, because we’ll make sure to do the management as we can. It’s just going to affect its release time. We’re going to be in a situation where assets are ready earlier than we need them, because we’re behind on getting them integrated into the game and functioning correctly and so on. I do expect that the pandemic will probably have a bit of an impact on our release schedule for the sequel, but honestly it was up in the air anyway. It’s an ambitious project. We’ve said we’ll release it when it’s ready.”

Warframe developer Digital Extremes is in a similar situation. Warframe is another free-to-play game that receives constant updates. Rebecca Ford is its live ops director and one of the most visible members of the staff to the game’s community. She’s also the voice of the Lotus, who serves as an in-game guide for players. She does a ton of work for Warframe, and the pandemic has now changed the way she does that work, both in big and small ways.

“I miss having coffee on the go,” Ford told GamesBeat. “I miss having instant access to food I don’t have to buy. I miss our catered lunches. I miss just walking in and being fed. Woe is me! I said, unironically. I have to make my own lunch. This is insane. I have not had to make my own lunch in nine years, just for the record.”

Now that Warframe’s staff is working from home, employees are more dependent on communication tools like Slack to be efficient.

“We’ve been integrated in Slack so heavily for the past five years, I’d say, that it’s not too big of a change in communicating on Slack with my team,” Ford continued. “It’s just I don’t have any other option. I kind of regret how much I relied on Slack before when I could have just talked to people side by side, but now it’s like, you have no choice, it’s only Slack.”

Different platforms, different problems

And depending on what platform you’re developing for, you can discover some unique problems. Patrick O’Luanaigh is the CEO of nDreams, the studio behind the upcoming Oculus exclusive Phantom: Covert Ops, a stealth-based game that has you piloting a kayak.

“We’re a VR developer, so everyone had to take all of our equipment home,” O’Luanaigh told GamesBeat. “You can’t log into a VR headset remotely at the office, because you can’t put it on. You have to have your powerful PC to do your development and test on a VR headset at home. We had to get everyone’s headsets and hardware and PCs and monitors home with them, which isn’t quite the same in terms of more traditional development. But things like dev kits have had to go back to people’s houses. We had to get permission from the hardware manufacturers to take headsets home and all sorts of stuff. That was a bit of a pain initially.”

Phantom: Covert Ops releases on June 25. O’Luanaigh notes that it can be easier working on the post-production part of game when everyone is at home.

“We’ve found that for a game in the later stages, everyone knows what you need to do. You have your bugs to fix. Everyone’s got their task.”

Phantom Covert Ops

Above: Phantom: Covert Ops is launching during a pandemic.

Image Credit: nDreams/Oculus

Pre-production, however, can be more fluid. People are creating concepts and building the foundations of a game. That can take more iteration and collaboration, which can be difficult when your staff is all working apart from each other.

Joel Burgess is the studio director at Capy, the developer behind the mobile hit Grindstone, a puzzle game that debuted alongside the Apple Arcade subscription service. Capy is based in Ontario, Canada, and Burgess has been helping the government there support gaming studios during the pandemic.

“I got thrown in very quickly when the pandemic started, into this committee for the minister of tourism, heritage, and culture for Ontario,” Burgess told GamesBeat. “We’re doing a whole bunch of meetings and subcommittees and all this stuff every week to make recommendations on how the government can support companies through COVID. I would say 90 percent of these meetings and subcommittee stuff is making sure that there’s financial health for studios.

The committee is especially important for indie developers.

“A lot of those smaller studios, having somebody who started the game pull out and now they’re not going to get a milestone payment, that can bankrupt them,” said Burgess . “The damage to the Toronto indie scene could be catastrophic, if suddenly a bunch of people who had been able to make it because of government assistance, if they can’t because those programs are bogged down in red tape or something.”

As for Capy itself, Burgess is glad that Grindstone became a known quantity before the pandemic hit.

“I wouldn’t say that the pandemic has been good for us. I think it’s more a matter of, from a damage mitigation perspective, I’m happy that we have a product on a platform like Apple Arcade that’s doing well,” Burgess notes. “Grindstone is out. We know what it is. We know what we like about it. We read what critics and fans say about the game and can respond to that. Which means the team has something to work on that’s really clear.”

But as O’Luanaigh from nDreams talked about earlier, stay-at-home work becomes more difficult for games early in the development process.

“We had other stuff going on in the studio that I can’t talk about, because it’s newer and earlier and still secret,” said Burgess. ” That stuff has been much more of a challenge, because those early stage projects have uncertainty in them already, and when we’re in this situation where people have anxiety about their lives and the world, and then you mix that with project anxiety, because everyone has a different version of this game in their head, that compounds.”

Capy is a small studio with just 25 people. This presents Burgess with an additional challenge: protecting his employees’ mental health.

“If I were still at Ubisoft, for example, there’s an apparatus there with HR and management relationships and all of that, to check in on people. When you’re in a small indie studio, you rely a lot more on organic personal connections to check on people, because you’re friends,” Burgess explained. “I’m concerned about it. People on the team with whom I’m close, I can get a sense that, say, this is a rough week for them. But we’re just small enough that we don’t have more formal systems for checking in on people, and we’re just big enough that you can’t rely on it being five people who know each other super well.”

Staying connected while stuck at home

Apps like Slack and Zoom have become a regular part of many gaming companies’ lives. Some are even using programs designed for less practical reasons to help make work more efficient. Benjy Boxer is the co-founder of Parsec, software that makes it possible for people to use cloud gaming to play and stream with each other. But Parsec also has tools for screen-sharing and accessing other computers remotely.

“You can use it as an indie game developer to log into your workstation at the office,” Boxer told GamesBeat. “But there are larger companies that are saying, hey, we really need this so that our game developers can connect to their workstations from outside the office.”

But people are still using Parsec for its main intention, which helps people play games together.

“That hasn’t really changed,” Boxer continued. We’re seeing a very significant increase in that usage, to be frank, but the way that people use Parsec is to play games with their friends. They invite their friends to join their PC and they play together. I believe what is happening is — from the consumer side of things, if you’re interested in that, people need a social connection. They’re using Parsec and games for that social connection, because we’re all isolated and feeling lonely. At least I am. Parsec is a great product to continue to connect to those who you want to be connected to. That’s what’s driving a lot of the consumer usage right now. People need that social connection, and then they want an escape through games.”

Xbox Series X.

Above: Xbox Series X could be coming out during a pandemic.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Matias Rodriguez if the vice president of Technology Gaming Studio at Globant, an IT and software development company. I asked him about a logistical problem facing developers. Many of them have dev kits for the next-gen systems, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. You need those to do a lot of work on games for those upcoming systems, but you can’t exactly move them around to different people’s homes. Is this going to have a big impact on the creation of PlayStation 5 and Series X titles?

“No, there is actually a workaround,” Rodriguez told GamesBeat. “We’re working remotely with them, so there is a workaround. The problem is that for some of the work, like optimization work, even with the best remote solution, it’s not possible. At some point — it doesn’t affect some things, because you can buffer them, but at some point it will require having those devices. I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft and Sony are having discussions about that. Now, next-gen, as you can imagine, you also have the complexity of manufacturing. There’s not a lot of stock. Logistics are more complicated. That makes things more sticky. It’s not necessarily a full hold on production, but it’s definitely something — it doesn’t have the velocity or productivity of Steam, something like that.”

Future impact

So far, Microsoft and Sony are still committed to releasing their new consoles later this year. But we don’t know exactly what impact the pandemic will have on the games coming to these systems. Considering the long development period for many games, we could be seeing the fallout of this situation for years to come.

But it isn’t all bad news.

“A positive is that a lot of companies are now seeing that they can have more time to develop,” Rodriguez continued. “That could translate into teams having less crunch time and other things that, toward the end of the game, could be more problematic. Now, if because of the pandemic, you earn four or five months of delays because it doesn’t make sense to release a huge title under these conditions, then you end up with more buffer, more time. Again, that’s on the production side. On the consumption side, for a lot of people, they’re discovering games. There’s something very interesting we saw the other day.”

And once the pandemic is over, can we expect companies adopt more lenient work-from-home policies?

“The honest answer is we have to talk to all the employees,” nDream’s O’Luanaigh told GamesBeat. “We have to see how they feel. People don’t really feel safe yet coming back to the office, and we certainly wouldn’t force anybody back until they felt comfortable. We’re going to wait and see how it pans out. But I’ll be very surprised if we don’t have more flexibility than we did before. I suspect that there will be more working from home.”

Right now, many parts of America are attempting to reopen. This could result in another wave of COVID-19 cases. And even if it doesn’t, the pandemic will have a lasting impact on how the gaming industry operates. Working from home may become more common for companies that once depended on the office environment.

Like most of the country, gaming wasn’t ready for the pandemic. But developers have done what they can to adapt, working hard to offer entertainment to millions of people looking for fun during a dark time.

Source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/venturebeat/SZYF/~3/Oe_DiRARO3s/

Blockchain

Nearly $900 million in VC went to crypto companies in the third quarter of 2020

During the third quarter of 2020, $897.7 million in venture funds were allocated across 212 crypto and blockchain startups, according to data compiled The Block Research. Early-stage and seed deals were the most common deal types, according to The Block Research’s John Dantoni. Such deals represented half of the quarter’s total, with 59 deals for […]

The post Nearly $900 million in VC went to crypto companies in the third quarter of 2020 appeared first on The Block.

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Nearly $900 million in VC went to crypto companies in the third quarter of 2020














Source: https://www.theblockcrypto.com/linked/81492/nearly-900-million-in-vc-went-to-crypto-companies-in-the-third-quarter-of-2020?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss

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Startups

Pear hosted its invite-only demo day online this year; here’s what you might have missed

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Pear, the eight-year-old, Palo Alto, Calif.-based seed-stage venture firm that has, from its outset, attracted the attention of VCs who think the firm has an eye for nascent talent, staged its seventh annual demo day earlier this week, and while it was virtual, one of the startups has already signed a term sheet from a top-tier venture firm.

To give the rest of you a sneak peak, here’s a bit about all of the startups that presented, in broad strokes:


  1. ) AccessBell

What it does: Video conferencing platform for enterprise workflows

Website: accessbell.com

Founders: Martin Aguinis (CEO), Josh Payne (COO), Kamil Ali (CTO)

The pitch: Video has emerged as one of the prominent ways for enterprises to communicate internally and externally with their customers and partners. Current video conferencing tools like Zoom and WebEx are great for standalone video, but they have their own ecosystems and don’t integrate into thousands of enterprise workflows. That means that API tools that do integrate, like Agora and Twilio, still require manual work from developer teams to customize and maintain. AccessBell is aiming to provide the scalability and reliability of Zoom, as well as the customizability and integrations of Twilio, in a low code integration and no code extensible customization platform.

It’s a big market the team is chasing, one that’s expected to grow to $8.6 billion by 2027. The cost right now for users who want to test out AccessBell is $27 per host per month.


2.) FarmRaise

What it does: Unlock financial opportunities for farmers to create sustainable farms and improve their livelihoods

Website: farmraise.com

Founders: Jayce Hafner (CEO), Sami Tellatin (COO), Albert Abedi (Product)

The pitch: Over half of American farms don’t have the tools or bandwidth they need to identify ways to improve their farms and become profitable. The startup’s API links to farmers’ bank accounts, where its algorithm assesses financials to provide a “farm read,” scoring the farms’ financial health. It then regularly monitors farm data to continuously provide clean financials and recommendations on how to improve its customers’ farms, as well as to connect farmers with capital in order to improve their score. (It might suggest that a farm invest in certain sustainability practices, for example.)

Eventually, the idea is to also use the granular insights it’s garnering and sell these to hedge funds, state governments, and other outfits that want a better handle on what’s coming — be it around food security or climate changes.


3.) Sequel

What it does: Re-engineering life’s essential products – starting with tampons

Website: thesequelisbetter.com

Founders: Greta Meyer (CEO),  Amanda Calabrese (COO)

The pitch: Founded by student athletes from Stanford, Sequel argues that seven out of 10 women don’t trust tampons, which were first designed in 1931 (by a man). New brands like Lola have catchy brands, but the primary difference is in the material and not the design and performance of the product. Sequel has focused instead on fluid mechanics and specifically on slowing flow rates so a tampon won’t leak before it’s full, instilling more confidence in its customers, whether they’re in the “boardroom or the stadium.”

The company says it has already filed patents and secured manufacturing partners and that it expects that the product will be available to buy directly from its website, as well as in other stores, next year.


4.) Interface Bio

What it does: Unlocking the therapeutic potential of the microbiome with a high-throughput pipeline for characterizing microbes, metabolites, and therapeutic response, based on years of research at Stanford

Founders: Will Van Treuren, Hannah Wastyk

The pitch: The microbiome plays a major role in a wide range of human diseases, including heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and cancer. In fact, Interface’s founders — both of whom are PhDs —  say that microbiome-influenced diseases are responsible for four of the top 10 causes of death in the United States. So how do they better seize on the opportunity to identify therapeutics by harnessing the microbiome? Well, they say they’ll do it via a “high-speed pipeline for characterizing metabolites and their immune phenotypes,” which they’ll create by developing the world’s largest database of microbiome-mediated chemistry . . . which the startup will then screen for potential metabolites that can lead to new therapies. (We spilled our coffee during this pitch so missed some details, but presumably you can learn more from the startup’s founders and site.)


5.) Gryps

What it does: Gryps is tackling construction information silos to create a common information layer that gives building and facility owners both rich and permanent access to document-centric information

Website: gryps.io

Founders: Dareen Salama, Amir Tasbihi

The pitch: The vast size and complexity of the construction industry has resulted in all kinds of software and services that address various aspects of the construction processes. Ye that has led to data and documents being spread across many siloed tools. Gryps says it picks up where all the construction-centered tools leave off: Taking delivery of the projects at the end of a construction job and providing all the information that facility owners need to operate, renovate, or build future projects through a platform that ingests data from various construction tools, mines the embedded information, then provides operational access through owner-centered workflows. 


6.) Expedock

What it does: Automation infrastructure for supply chain businesses, starting with AI-powered freight forwarder solutions

Website: expedock.com

Founders: King Alandy Dy (CEO), Jeff Tan (COO), Rui Aguiar (CTO)

The pitch: Freight forwarders take care of all the logistics of shipping containers including financials, approvals and paper work for all the local entities on both sides of the sender and receiver geographies, but communications with these local entities are often done through unstructured data, including forms, documents, and emails and can subsequently eat up to 60% of operational expenses. Expedock is looking to transform the freight forwarding industry by digitizing and automating the processing and inputting of unstructured data into various local partner and governmental systems, including via a “human in the loop” AI software service.


7.) Illume

What it does: A new way to share praise

Website: illumenotes.com

Founders: Sohale Sizar (CEO), Phil Armour (Engineering), Maxine Stern (Design)

The pitch: The process of thanking people is full of friction. Paper cards have to be purchased, signed, passed around; greetings on Facebook only mean so much. Using Illume, teams and individuals can download its app or come together on Slack and create a customized, private, and also shareable note. The nascent startup says one card typically has 10 contributors; it’s charging enterprises $3 per user per month, ostensibly so sales teams, among others, can use them.


8.) Quansa

What it does: Quansa improves Latin American workers’ financial lives via employer-based financial care

Website: quansa.io

Founders: Gonzalo Blanco, Mafalda Barros

The pitch: Fully 40% of employees across Latin America have missed work in the past 12 months due to financial problems. Quansa wants to help them get on the right track financially with the help of employers that use its software to link their employees’ payroll data with banks, fintechs and other financial institutions.

There is strength in numbers, says the firm. By funneling more customers to lenders through employers, for example, these staffers should ultimately be able to access to cheaper car loans, among other things.


9.) SpotlightAI

What it does: Spotlight turns sensitive customer information from a burden to an asset by using NLP techniques to identify, anonymize, and manage access to PII and other sensitive business data

Website: hellospotlight.com

Founder: Austin Osborne (CEO)

The pitch: Data privacy legislation like GDPR and CCPA is creating an era where companies can no longer use their customer data to run their business due to the risks of fines, lawsuits, and negative media coverage. Spotlight’s software plugs into existing data storage engines via APIs and operates as a middleware within a company’s network. Using advanced NLP and OCR techniques, it says it’s able to detect sensitive information in unstructured data, perform multiple types of anonymization, and provide a deep access control layer.


10.) Bennu

What it does: Bennu closes the loop on management communication

Website: bennu.io

Founder: Brenda Jin (CEO)

The pitch: Today’s work communication is done through forms, email, Slack, and docs; the timelines are unnatural.  Bennu is trying to solve the problem with communication loops that use integrations and smart topic suggestions to help employees prepare for substantive management conversations in seconds, not hours. 


11.) Playbook

What it does: Playbook automates the people coordination in your repeatable workflows with a simple system to create, execute and track any process with a team, customers, and more

Website: startplaybook.com

Founders: Alkarim Lalani (CEO), Blaise Bradley (CTO)

The pitch: Whether you’re collecting time cards from 20 hourly workers every week, or managing 30 customer on-boardings – you’re coordinating repetitive workflows across people over email and tracking it over spreadsheets. Playbook says it coordinates workflows between people at scale by taking programming concepts such as variables and conditional logic that let its customers model any workflow — and all packaged in an interface that enables anyone to build out their workflows in minutes.


12.) June Motherhood

What it does: Community-based care for life’s most important transitions

Website: junemotherhood.com

Founders: Tina Beilinson (CEO), Julia Cole (COO), Sophia Richter (CPO)

The pitch: June is a digital health company focused on maternal health, with community at the core. Like a Livongo for diabetes management, June combines the latest research around shared appointments, peer-to-peer support and cognitive behavioral therapy to improve outcomes and lower costs, including through weekly programs.


13.) Wagr

What it does: Challenge anyone to a friendly bet

Website: wagr.us

Founders: Mario Malavé (CEO), Eliana Eskinazi (CPO)

The pitch: Wagr will allow sports fans to bet with peers in a social, fair, and simple way. Sending a bet requires just three steps, too: pick a team, set an amount, and send away. Wagr sets the right odds and handles the money.

Users can challenge friends, start groups, track leaderboards, and see what others are betting on, so they feel connected even if they aren’t together. Customers pay a commission when they use the platform to find them a match, but bets against friends are free. The plan is to go live in Tennessee first and expand outward from there.


14.) Federato

What it does: Intelligence for a new era of risk

Website: federato.ai

Founders: Will Ross (CEO), William Steenbergen (CTO)

The pitch: Insurance companies are struggling to manage risk as natural catastrophes continue to grow in volume and severity. Reinsurance is no longer a reliable backstop, with some of the largest insurers taking $600 million-plus single-quarter losses net of reinsurance. 

Federato is building an underwriter workflow that uses dynamic optimization across the portfolio to steer underwriters to a better portfolio balance. The software ostensibly lets actuaries and portfolio analysts drive high-level risk analysis into the hands of underwriters on the front lines to help them understand the “next best action” at a given point in time.


15.) rePurpose Global

What it does: A plastic credit platform to help consumer brands of any size go plastic neutral

Website: business.repurpose.global

Founders: Svanika Balasubramanian (CEO), Aditya Siroya (CIO), Peter Wang Hjemdahl (CMO

The pitch: Consumers worldwide are demanding businesses to take action on eliminating plastic waste, 3.8 million pounds of which are leaked into the environment every few minutes. Yet even as brands try, alternatives are often too expensive or worse for the environment.

Through this startup, a brand can commit to the removal of a certain amount of plastic, which will then be removed by the startup’s local waste management partners and recycled on the brand’s behalf (with rePurpose verifying that the process adheres to certain standards). The startup says it can maintain a healthy margin while  running this plastic credit market, and that its ultimate vision is to become a “one-stop shop for companies to create social, economic, and environmental impact.”


16.) Ladder

What it does: A professional community platform for the next generation

Website: ladder.io

Founders: Akshaya Dinesh (CEO), Andrew Tan

The pitch: LinkedIn sucks, everyone hates it. Ladder (which may have a trademark infringement battle ahead of it) is building a platform around community instead of networks. The idea is that users will opt in to join communities with like-minded individuals in their respective industries and roles of interest. Once engaged, they can participate in AMAs with industry experts, share opportunities, and have 1:1 conversations.

The longer term ‘moat’ is the data it collects from users, from which it thinks it can generate more revenue per user than LinkedIn. (By the way, this is the startup that has already signed a term sheet.)


Exporta

How it works: Exporta is building a B2B wholesale marketplace connecting suppliers in Latin America with buyers in North America.

Website: exporta.io

Founders: Pierre Thys (CEO), Robert Monaco (President)

The pitch: The U.S. now imports more each year from Latin America than from China, but LatAm sourcing remains fragmented and manual. Exporta builds on-the-ground relationships to bring LatAm suppliers onto a tech-enabled platform that matches them to U.S. buyers looking for faster turnaround times and more transparent manufacturing relationships.


Via

What it does: Via helps companies build their own teams in new countries as simply as if they were in their HQ.

Website: via.work

Founders:  Maite Diez-Canedo, Itziar Diez-Canedo

The pitch: Setting up a team in a new country is very complex. Companies need local entities, contracts, payroll, benefits, accounting, tax, compliance, and more. Via enables companies to build their own teams in new countries quickly and compliantly by leveraging  local entities to legally employ teams on their behalf, then integrating local contracts, payroll, and benefits in one platform. By plugging into the local hiring ecosystem, Via does all the heavy lifting for its customers, even promising to stand up a team in 48 hours and at less expense than traditional alternatives. (It’s charging $600 per employee per month in Canada and Mexico, where it says it has already launched.)

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/10/16/pear-hosted-its-invite-only-demo-day-online-year-heres-what-you-might-have-missed/

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Private Equity

Billionaire Vista Equity founder Smith to pay $139m after admitting 15-year tax fraud, avoids prosecution

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The billionaire founder of private equity major Vista Equity Partners, Robert Smith, has avoided indictment for tax fra

Source: https://www.altassets.net/private-equity-news/by-news-type/people-news/billionaire-vista-equity-founder-smith-to-pay-139m-after-admitting-15-year-tax-fraud-avoids-prosecution.html

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