YouTube Gaming adds mobile capture, ‘Fan Funding’ option

Game streaming platform YouTube Gaming is getting a boost with new features that may strike fresh fear into the heart of its major competitor, Twitch.

YouTube announced today that creators on it’s gaming platform will now be able to stream mobile play and accept “Fan Funding” and sponsorships, meaning that users can back their favorite creators financially and unlock access to premium perks like exclusive live chats. Along with new financial and mobile streaming capabilities in the YouTube Gaming platform, the new update improves search capabilities, adds simpler Watch Later bookmarking, and allows users to import existing YouTube subscriptions into the YouTube gaming app.

Mobile streaming is already live and ready to go in the YouTube mobile app–creators will simply hit the “Go Live” toggle that’ll begin the stream, and their phones will tap into the camera and microphone for the picture-in-picture display of their faces as they provide commentary.

Fan Funding and sponsorships, however, are only open to select group of beta creators for now. Theoretically, Fan Funding will look similar to the feature YouTube announced for its creators last year under the same name. Creators who have the Fan Funding feature enabled were able to accept payments via a “Support” button on their channel pages. Sponsorships behave a little bit differently, with recurring monthly payments that give backers access to the aforementioned premium features.

Earlier this year, Twitch teamed up with ChangeTip to allow users to exchange money within the platform, so Fan Funding on YouTube Gaming is something like catching up. But it’s important to understand where the Twitch/YouTube Gaming is likely to be won, and that’s creators. Viewers will probably follow their favorite creators from one platform to another despite interface differences, but creators will likely end up making platform decisions based flexibility, performance, ease-of-use and payment methods.

While the new financial components of YouTube Gaming are brand new and it’s a little early to tell how, exactly, they stack up against Twitch’s in-line ChangeTip commands, YouTube’s effort to keep improving the gaming platform is a pretty clear indication that they intend to keep up the attempt to wrestle viewership away from Twitch. And if YouTube’s release accompanying the update announcement is anything to go by, it’s working pretty well so far. According to the release, YouTube is the most-watched platform for games, with users streaming over 144 billion minutes of gaming content every month. Of course, this includes gaming videos and live streams combined, but the message is clear: YouTube Gaming is serious about winning the game streaming wars.

Gaming isn’t Apple TV’s priority, and that’s okay

We’ve been told a hundred ways to Sunday that Apple TV is coming for consoles.

Plenty thought that yesterday would be the day that Apple would make the big gaming announcement that would strike fear into the hearts of Microsoft and Sony’s console teams. But that’s not exactly what happened.

Sure, games are coming to Apple TV. In fact, the way in which games are coming to Apple TV is pretty cool. But Apple TV is not a gaming-first platform, and it’s not a console killer.

Apple TV is a set-top entertainment platform with apps and gaming capabilities, not a gaming-first app-enabled console. And that’s an important distinction. It’s not about to threaten consoles or gaming PCs, and probably not even gaming on iPhones. If Apple TV is going to capture any portion of the gaming market, it will be casual gamers and even then, inspiring those  who game to put down their phones and pick up the Apple TV remote to play may be a tall order. Apple TV may very well upset the likes of Fire TV and micro consoles, but it’s difficult to see it posing much of a threat to robust gaming systems when it itself is very much…not.

To put it bluntly, customers won’t turn up in droves to purchase Apple TV for the games; they’ll come for the interface and for the video content. For the foreseeable future, Apple TV will remain what it has always been in the eyes of the market: a set-top box for primarily Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc. Now, it’s just better. More powerful, more versatile, more searchable and stuffed with more content and apps, some of which happen to be games.

In all likelihood, people will indeed play games on Apple TV, but the gaming experience seems to be one designed around brief and social gaming, not prolonged and immersed console-style gaming. Games like Crossy Road, with its multiplayer functionality and the intentional brevity of its experiences, are well-suited for incidental social and casual gaming, and for exactly that reason, a perfect fit for a set-top box that lives in your living room. Apple TV feels very much like a platform that’s built for casual and social gaming experiences, from the simplified game mechanics to the intuitive and very uncontroller-like controller.

Apple TV’s default controller is its remote–the same remote you use to turn the volume up and down and flick through your Netflix queue. Equipped with an accelerometer, gyroscope and touch surface that acts as a directional pad, the new remote is powerful and kind of makes you wonder why every other remote you own is so big when it does so little. The Apple TV remote works much like the Wii remote of yore, interpreting speed, direction, and motion as you move it around in space to do things like swing bats and steer cars.

Third party controller and Apple TV remote

Third party controller and Apple TV remote

In addition to the remote, Apple is also opening up the platform to third-party controllers in what feels like something of an un-Apple move. Whether or not third party controllers become a popular part of the Apple TV gaming experience remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely that Apple would welcome third parties into a revenue stream that it thought would be significant.

There may be games that will feel faster and more fluid on controllers. There may even be games designed around the idea of the controller experience on Apple TV. But for the most part, the controller experience will likely appeal to a relatively narrow crossover audience of “gamers who are familiar and comfortable with traditional console controllers” and “gamers who will buy Apple TV with the intention of gaming on it.” And really, that gets right to the heart of why Apple TV isn’t going to be console killer or the be-all, end-all of casual gaming or much of anything at all, really, in the traditional gaming space: because so-called “hardcore gamers” aren’t going to get excited about it.

Apple TV doesn’t have the titles to draw gamers to Apple TV and away from their consoles and PCs. While bringing previously console-only titles to Apple TV is a pretty big power move, console games are still a very different animal, and it likely goes without saying that Apple TV’s specs don’t hold a candle to the consoles when it comes to graphics and performance. Apple TV’s games are casual at their core, and limited space and third party app restrictions will likely mean that they’re perpetually on the “lite” side of the spectrum.

You aren’t likely to see too many existing iOS games ported over to Apple TV in a hurry, though. As 9to5Mac points out, the restrictions Apple’s placed on developers for Apple TV with regards to the use of local storage mean that many will have to completely restructure the way in which their games load content. Here’s the clause in question from Apple’s App Programming Guide for tvOS:

There is no persistent local storage for apps on Apple TV. This means that every app developed for the new Apple TV must be able to store data in iCloud and retrieve it in a way that provides a great customer experience.

Along with the lack of local storage, the maximum size of an Apple TV app is limited to 200MB. Anything beyond this size needs to be packaged and loaded using on-demand resources. Knowing how and when to load new assets while keeping your users engaged is critical to creating a successful app. For information on on-demand resources, see On-Demand Resources Guide“. 

That stipulation, paired with the restriction on app size, means that developers are going to have to do some serious adjusting in order to get their games on Apple TV. For the sake of context, the exceedingly popular iOS game Monument Valley packs a 261.9MB punch, and heavyweights République and Infinity Blade both weigh in at a hefty 1GB. Putting these games on Apple TV isn’t some kind of impossible feat, but restructuring asset loading will require developers to refactor massive amounts of code in order to make their games Apple TV-compliant.

In many ways, Apple TV’s gaming functionality seems like the antithesis to console systems. It’s all about shorter, social gaming, not the prolonged and immersive experiences often found in console games. And that’s okay. Consoles and Apple TV intentionally inhabit very different spaces within the gaming world. There are many ways to be a “gamer”, and many, many gamers prefer casual gaming experiences. The big question mark is whether or not casual gamers have any real desire to take their games from their phones and tablets to their televisions.

Maybe they will. Maybe Apple will find a way to make some money on that portion of the causal gaming market. Maybe we’ll see more games cropping up around the idea of social gaming with iPhones and the “remote controller.” Maybe it’s enough to be a set-top box with games that seem more like just another feature than a selling point. But any way you swipe, tap, or spin it, Apple TV is only a casual threat in the gaming space. For now.

Nvidia reveals Shield, a $199 console for 4K TV and gaming

Nvidia has revealed an Android-based smart TV console and gaming system that pairs high-resolution video with an accessible interface for $199, plus a game streaming service that will offer games playable within a minute.

“All of us have been working toward this day for many years,” Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said.

Huang characterized the modern living room as a “smorgasbord” of dedicated devices that he believes will consolidate in smart TVs, much like they did in smartphones. Many of the possible applications have not yet been dreamt up, and won’t be until “a lot of clever people in the world” have access to new platforms, he said.

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang  holds up the new Shield console at an event in San Francisco March 3.

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang holds up the new Shield console at an event in San Francisco March 3.

Shield TV

The Shield console is about the size of a large book and faceted, giving it the appearance of chiseled stone. It’s a funky look for a home console, which Huang said is meant to make it look good from any angle. It’s thin, and capable of being placed on its side for a small profile. Its side has ports for USB, HDMI and more.

The TV console runs on Android, which means it relies on a Google movie viewing experience. Huang demonstrated pausing a movie and the software pulling out the faces of the actors and offering up information on them (in this case, Scarlett Johansson). The viewer can quickly pull up other movies featuring the actor, information about them and more.

The Shield remote and video browser.

The Shield remote and video browser.

“I believe that someday everybody is going to want a smart television experience,” Huang said. “This is likely a multibillion unit market. I believe we can make a unique contribution here.”

The console is controlled with a popsicle-shaped remote that can quickly bring the viewer into voice control or allow them to plug in headphones.

Shield gaming

Doom 3, as played on Shield.

Doom 3, as played on Shield.

Shield also runs games with Nvidia’s Tegra X1 processor. Its 512 gflops GPU and 3 GB of memory put it in the middle of the XBOX 360 and One. Nvidia demoed Doom 3, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and The Talos Principle running on the console. Even on the massive screen, all of them looked awesome. At launch, there will be more than 50 games available on Android.

“We can expand the reach of gaming, 10 times, 100 times, if we can simply make it more accessible,” Huang said. “We can do for gaming what Nexflix did for videos, what Spotify did for music.”

A gaming controller will come bundled with the Shield console. The TV remote will be sold separately.

Grid game streaming

The new Nvidia game streaming store.

The new Nvidia game streaming store.

Nvidia will also debut a game streaming service that will allow games to be delivered from the cloud at 1080p and 60 frames per second for what Huang characterized as “click and play in a minute.” If your internet is good enough, that is.

The Grid service will have at least 50 games at launch and more titles are planned for release each week. The library showed games ranging in price from $20 to $60. Free games will also be available; some to anyone and some to those who buy a subscription. Huang said studios can upload games very quickly, and gamers can begin playing in less than a minute. Nvidia streamed Resident Evil 2: Revelations and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes on stage.

“There’s binge watching on TV because of Netflix,” Huang said. “Now there might be binge playing.”

I think people already do that, Mr. Huang.

Dailymotion launches Twitch competitor for video game streaming

Paris-based online video platform Dailymotion wants a piece of the video game streaming pie: the company launched a new live streaming service called Dailymotion Games Wednesday. The service basically tries to do what Twitch has been doing so successfully: Offer video gamers a way to live stream their game play so they can attract a big audience for tournaments, review games in front of a live audience or simply show off their skills.

Dailymotion Games is available on the web, as well as via dedicated apps for iOS, Android and for Sony’s PS4.

Dailymotion already sees more than 180 million video views per month for video game content, the company revealed Wednesday, adding that more than 11 million unique visitors tune into video game content every month.

But it’s likely that not just the own metrics prompted Dailymotion to go down this route: Industry leader Twitch not only managed to attract a monthly audience of 60 million video game fans, the site was also acquired for $970 million in cash last summer. Dailymotion on the other hand has had troubles to find an exit: The company was talking about selling to Yahoo two years ago, but French regulators put an end to the sale, balking at the idea that am American company would own more than 50 percent of Dailymotion.

Samsung’s Gear VR virtual reality headset is now on sale

The virtual reality craze begins today. Samsung is now selling its Gear VR headset in the U.S. at the expected $199 price tag, though it is only compatible with the Galaxy Note 4.

[company]Samsung[/company] developed Gear VR in collaboration with [company]Oculus[/company], which is currently only selling developer kits for its upcoming Rift headset. The Gear VR uses the Note 4 as its screen, while the Rift will integrate a next-generation Samsung OLED screen.

Why are the two so willing to buddy up? Aside from Samsung getting Oculus’ expertise and Oculus getting Samsung’s new screen first, the two headsets will initially have very different focuses. Samsung is pitching the Gear VR as a media experience. Last month it announced Project Beyond, a 360 degree camera that will allow Gear VR wearers to experience live events. Oculus will be much more gamer focused (though there will be plenty of other content from which to choose).

Initial videos available for Gear VR include a Cirque du Soleil performance and a Paul McCartney concert recorded by 360 degree video startup Jaunt.

If you own a Galaxy Note 4 and aren’t sure if you should wait it out for Oculus Rift’s release, consider these points:

  • Their prices won’t be very different; Rift will sell for $200 to $400.
  • While a Rift release date in 2015 is fairly likely, it’s not a sure thing.
  • Oculus Rift needs to be plugged in at all times. Gear VR is wireless.

It’s a tough choice that will probably come down to use. Are you more interested in a power-intensive gaming experience or a portable source of entertainment? I personally am holding out for Oculus because I don’t have a Note 4, though there are plenty of other inexpensive phone-based headsets on the way.

New research suggests deep learning could improve AI in video games

North Carolina State researchers built a deep learning system that was able to predict players’ goals in an open-ended video game nearly 63 percent of time. It’s not perfect and it’s not proof of a gaming revolution, but it’s a big improvement and a good start.

Kabam joins the $1 billion club after Alibaba investment. Can it avoid the fate of Zynga?

Gaming company Kabam, creator of such little known hits as “Kingdoms of Camelot” and “The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth,” has joined the elite-ish $1 billion valuation club following a sizable Series E from Alibaba. With a “diversify and prosper” strategy, Kabam hopes to avoid the rocky roads paved by Zynga and Candy Crush’s King.com.