New Minecraft Mod Teaches Kids Coding

The education company ThoughtSTEM has created an educational add-on called LearnToMod that teaches children the basics of programming while creating tricks and tools that they can use within the Minecraft world.

While ThoughtSTEM isn’t the first company to use Minecraft for educational purposes, LearnToMod works differently than most. Instead of using Minecraft as a virtual classroom, ThoughtSTEM built its own interface that exists outside of the game. However, the coding skills kids learn through the web application actually helps them gain in-game advantages.

Using LearnToMod enables kids to quickly create things that would otherwise take a long time to build in the game, such as mountains or massive dungeons, or create custom types of blocks. Kids can also create special rules that enable them to do things like build their own games within Minecraft, such as capture the flag or Tetris.

Once youngsters draft their code in LearnToMod, the application connects to their Minecraft account to make the mods available in the game. By teaching kids to build their own Minecraft mods, ThoughSTEM is hoping to keep students motivated to learn some of the trickier parts of coding.

“Kids are already spending ridiculous amounts of hours on Minecraft,” said the co-founder of ThoughtSTEM Stephen Foster in an online piece with Wired.com. “So we thought this would be a good way to help them learn skills.”

ThoughtSTEM has also integrated a kid-friendly programming interface called Blockly (created by Google), which is based on MIT’s classic programming education system Scratch. Blockly allows students to create programs by dragging and dropping virtual blocks, instead of typing out a profusion of code. Foster hopes this will make the tutorials more feasible to younger programmers, while still offering more advanced options for older kids.

 

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PlayFab Looking To Simplify Game Service

Thinking of games as a service is actually not a bad idea, especially when it comes to tracking certain statistics or play styles from a specific player. The difficulty comes with implementing the services required, because creating, testing and deploying an array of back-end services for games is a daunting task. Worse, it takes time away from actually creating, testing, and refining the game itself, which is something smaller developers can’t afford to do. PlayFab is looking to make life both easier and better for game publishers and developers by providing a suite of back-end services for games built on different engines and platforms .

The company recently raised $2.5 million, with a focus on what CEO James Gwertzman says are “tech companies that happen to make games.” His idea allows companies easy access to dashboards for tracking players and purchases in a more general way.

With the $2.5 million in seed funding (which was raised through a group of investors), the focus on gaming is a big one for the company, as Gwertzman has confirmed that “almost two dozen” game companies have already committed to the new model, with “hundreds” more in the discussion phase of joining.

These back-end services won’t just be limited to free-to-play games, and will serve as a live component for many gaming types. Gwertzman previously demonstrated this by taking a game that’s been a popular online favorite for three years and managing to pull up the statistics for a particular player with ease. That information can easily help out someone in need via customer support, such as tracking complaints or keeping track of comments to fix an online problem. The detailed history would back up said reports, and provide a method of research to finding a resolution.

This tool could also help out in the field of game design, with the ability to schedule special live events, like a one-day sale of the game itself or a special item. It can also track new statistics as well, such as damage dealt out during a round of a first-person shooter, or even the rate of fire that a player lets off in battle.

PlayFab would charge for this service based upon numbers of daily active users, so those up-and-coming developers would be able to take part in this service without literally paying an arm or a leg. Developers can check out PlayFab’s system now on iOS, Android, Facebook and PC, and those making games for Xbox and PlayStation consoles will be able to access the services soon as well.

Source: Recode.net, TechCrunch

Giant Android Tablets Aimed At Families

When it comes to kid-oriented tablet devices, most device makers believe that smaller is better. However, that isn’t the case with Nabi, which has just introduced a line of Big Tabs Android tablets that could easily become favorites amongst both children and families alike.

Produced by Fuhu, the devices will be available in two different models. The 20-inch version, which comes with a 1600×900 HD+ display, will go for $449, while the 24-inch model, with a 1920×1080 Full HD panel, will go for $549.  These tablets are capable, with a 15-point capacitive touch screen, quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 4 processors, and 16 GB of memory. The tablets run Android 4.4.4, but have Fuhu’s Blue Morpho user interface layer over it. The horsepower isn’t cutting edge, but it’s certainly powerful enough to run all of the current Android games. However, the extremely high resolution of the tablets means that many apps won’t have modes designed for that resolution, so you’ll see plenty of pixels.

The devices, which will release this fall, will focus on educating and entertaining kids with a number of apps, thanks to a Blue Morpho user interface that parents can easily take control of, so they can keep tabs on what their kids play. There are plenty of shows from places like Disney and Cartoon Network, and curated kid’s apps.

The tablets will come with an adjustable and removable frame, which will make it easy to stand up any time kids want to play games with others, as well as take on the go. It’ll really open up with a number of experiences, whether it’s casual games like Angry Birds or even classic board games along the lines of Monopoly and others.

The device won’t have your kids lugging it around like a brick either. It clocks in at just 13 pounds and its model base sits at just about a full inch thick (0.9 inches). Its Blue Morpho mode will also serve as kind of like an easy or kids’ mode on other devices, with access to a number of all-ages apps, including a selection for DreamWorks movies, as well as Disney, Nickelodeon and other apps of that nature.

Nabi will also launch a special App Zone where kids can surf around with their parents and see what applications suit them best, then play games together if they prefer. It’s also very focused on education, with a special currency system called Nabi coins that rewards them when they finish certain tasks, such as their homework or tasks around the house.

This could be a nice change of pace for all activities involved, especially gaming, with the units’ large displays and easy-to-use interface. Parents will definitely want to take a look at these.

Source: Engadget, Techcrunch

Tiltify CEO: Use eSports For Charity Fundraising

Tiltify CEO Michael Wasserman has been involved in charitable fundraising for the past decade. Four years ago at a Stiks Celebrity Video Game Challenge charity event in Hollywood that featured a THQ UFC Undisputed video game tournament with the likes of Zac Efron, Rampage Jackson, Cobi Jones, Snoop Dogg and Michael Strahan, Wasserman saw the power of video games raise $50,000 and draw over 800 guests. The growth of livestreaming the last few years has allowed Stiks Gaming to transition into Tiltify, a new platform that connects celebrities, athletes, eSports stars and YouTubers with gamers to raise money for charities.

Michael Wasserman

The first gaming campaign, “Race Against Cancer,” hopes to raise $50,000 for Teen Cancer America. As an incentive for gamers to donate money to the cause, they can win the chance to play Microsoft’s Forza 5 against Indy Car drivers Josef Newgarden and Justin Wilson on August 28 with the event livestreamed on Twitch.

[a]list daily: How powerful are video games when it comes to fundraising for a good cause?

Michael Wasserman: The event we did in 2011 was not meant to be nearly as big an event as it was. We had 800 people come by. But what was interesting is that a lot of the celebrities were the last to leave. As someone who has thrown a lot of galas and traditional charity events, that doesn’t normally happen. Celebrities appreciated doing something fun and unique and they play games in their own time anyway.

[a]list daily: When did you launch Tiltify.com?

Michael Wasserman: We did a soft launch on August 2 for our Beta version. We’re looking for feedback from the gaming community. It’s a new site, so we want help from the community on what features to continue to build out.

[a]list daily:What opportunities does Tiltify open up for the burgeoning eSports community?

Michael Wasserman: This has a huge opportunity for eSports. One of our focuses has been speaking to a lot of the eSports tournament organizers and asking them to get involved in the charitable side. You can create a campaign and fundraise, but Tiltify also creates a widget that can be put on your Twitch or YouTube page so you can campaign for whatever charity you love. If you’re having a big League of Legends or Pokemon World Championship, there’s an opportunity to add additional user interaction and put the charity button on the livestream page. Twitch has a lot of space below the stream to add simple buttons and we’re talking to them about increasing the functionality of those buttons for charity.

[a]list daily: What does the fact that many eSports stars already livestream practices regularly open up for charities?

Michael Wasserman: When you look at the number of people pro gamers reach, they could generate millions of extra dollars for charities. And it doesn’t impact what they’re doing. If anything, it could enhance their fan base because it brings new people to the stream as people watch because they want to support their charity. Over 80 million people in U.S. watch eSports. Having a button where you could touch the screen and donate — and potentially have cool rewards as a gamer like the Forza 5 digital game and DLC giveaways for the “Race for Cancer” — we have that game changer.

[a]list daily: What have leaders in eSports like Riot Games said about this new platform?

Michael Wasserman: We’ve spoken with Riot and have received great support from them since February when we first started talking about what our platform could do. They offered to connect us with tournament directors and they love to help out with charity. We’re talking to them about things like integration for the viewing parties you can organize through Riot site and potentially linking to our site through that. We’re talking to everyone from Riot to Blizzard to MLG to see if we can help everyone enhance their streaming experience.

[a]list daily:What opportunities do you see for Tiltify beyond the core eSports games?

Michael Wasserman: The Forza 5 campaign is a great example. We’d been speaking with Teen Cancer America for awhile. They saw the value of what we were doing. They had two Indy Car drivers who support their cause and we reached out to Xbox and they were very supportive. Once we had Josef and Justin wanting to battle each other Microsoft came in and gave us downloadable versions of the game and the Forza 5 car pass and also got Indy Car involved. That’s not your typical eSports community like League of Legends or DOTA 2. It’s a great opportunity for fans to interact with their favorite athletes or musicians or Youtube stars or gamers. Livestreaming has opened up the ability for fans to connect with their favorite celebrities in a way TV can’t do. Indy Car fans probably have no idea what League of Legends or Twitch is, but they can go and watch these cool experiences and help a good cause. Ultimately, it could bring more people into the eSports fold.

[a]list daily: How have charities come on board?

Michael Wasserman: We have over 10 as of this interview and I expect to have about 50 by the end of the month. It only takes 15 minutes to sign up. Charities have responded to this platform because in the past gamers had to contact a charity and figure out who to talk to, which could be difficult. Our platform makes it easy with a one-click contact. Also, before Tiltify charities were wondering how their branding and logo was being used. Now when they sign up on our platform, a charity like the Able Gamers Foundation know that the logo they’ve approved gets transported into their campaign.

[a]list daily: What opportunities does this platform open up for Hollywood celebrities

Michael Wasserman: Tiltify offers an opportunity for celebrities to get involved in a low time commitment threshold. Instead of flying to a golf tournament or going to a gala, they can play from home or anywhere they’re at and raise money any time they want. Seth Rogan has his Hilarity for Charity foundation and if he wanted to raise money he could do that and play games from home, which is better than asking him to commit to being at a gala and potentially having to do something more time-consuming. We’ve had great response, especially on the athlete side. There are a number of cool campaigns coming out within the next 30 to 60 days where we’re working with athletes and musicians and celebrities that are starting to put some campaigns together.

[a]list daily: EA Sports hosts the Madden Bowl every year during the Super Bowl. How easy would it be to add a charity element to a video game tournament like that

Michael Wasserman: You can take something like the Madden Bowl and athletes can take their favorite charities and we can build out a campaign in minutes. If EA is going to stream that event, they can turn it into an instant fundraiser and get the athletes more excited about the competition. Because they’re playing for their favorite charity, it means more to them.

Mobile Games Growing Fast In Germany

Germany has been a hotbed of board gaming and computer gaming for decades, and the latest survey figures show that gaming continues to grow in Germany — with mobile game sgrowing much faster than other categories. The IHS data cited in a July 2014 BITKOM report shows that martphone and tablet game revenues came to €465 million ($620 million) in 2014, which was about 33 percent greater than the revenues for 2013, and more than double the revenues from two years ago for mobile games.

Meanwhile, digital and online sales of console and computer games continued to grow, but at a much slower rate. Revenues from physical game sales continued to decline from the high point reached in 2008, which mirrors the decline of physical game sales in North America.

Looking at the platforms that Germans used for gaming shows clearly why the revenues are growing for mobile and shrinking for physical games. Smartphones showed a massive increase in gaming usage, leaping from 44 percent of German gamers to 78 percent of German gamers in 2014. At the same time, desktop PC usage declines to 69 percent from 74 percent, so smartphones leaped past desktops in a single year to become the most popular gaming platform among Germans.

Tablets are still far down the list, with only 36 percent of Germans listing them as a gaming platform, but that represents an incredible growth rate, up from only 10 percent in 2013. While this tremendous growth was occurring in mobile devices, traditional consoles shrank from 43 percent to 39 percent, while handheld consoles rose from 24 percent to 32 percent. Laptops also rose in popularity, climbing to 53 percent from 40 percent in 2013.

It will be interesting to see if the strong sales of next-gen consoles can slow down the loss in consoles gaming in Germany, but it doesn’t look like anything will get in the way of mobile gaming’s growth. Expect next year’s numbers to show even more growth in tablets, and probably a continuing loss among PC gaming.

Source: eMarketer

In The Niche SnapChat Leaves, Sobrr Gains Userbase Quickly

Ephemeral apps are having quite the hayday. With Snapchat continuing to gain prominence with users and marketers, there was a niche that Sobrr creator Bruce Yang felt was yet to be filled: the kind that seems uniquely suited to sharing and then deleting raucous party photos. Sobrr was created with the same ethos as the city of Las Vegas.

“Life in the moment,” Sobrr’s catchphrase is perfectly apt and demonstrates the appeal of these share and forget ‘em apps that are so catching these days. No worries about that the questionable keg stand photo in the following morning daze.

Since the app dropped in July, it’s already gained an impressive 10,000 users and is currently finalizing a $1 million dollar seed round from IDG Ventures. Yang already has in mind that bars and restaurants will be using its location-based features in the future, luring partiers with temporary discounts, although a broad appeal for marketers is obvious.

Yang is foreseeing a sharp increase in users come fall, when social-savvy college students return to campus, ostensibly wanting to curb any possibility of ruining job prospects with less than professional photos.

“We want to help people stay sober online, while they have all kinds of craziness offline,” said Yang.

 

PlayStation Series ‘Powers’ Casts Stars

Sony’s foray into original video programing for the PlayStation Network took a big leap forward, as Powers will star Sharlto Copley as the lead. The 10 episode series is based on the popular Image Comics series by Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming.

Copley will play the role of Christian Walker, who once possessed superpowers but lost them in a battle with a supervillain. Now he’s a detective, using his knowledge of the superpowered community to help law enforcement. Michelle Forbes will play Retro Girl, the undisputed superstar of the Powers community. Others in the cast include Eddie Izzard, Noah Taylor, Susan Heyward, Olesya Rulin, Max Fowler and Adam Godley.

Sony is utilizing its knowledge and experience with Sony Pictures to create original programming for the PlayStation Network as a way to broaden the role of the PlayStation 4 from a game console into an entertainment hub. So far the console has been sold as a game-playing device, with its media capabilities barely mentioned. With ten million consoles sold so far, Sony should be feeling pretty confident of the console’s acceptance among gamers. The Powers series will allow Sony to explore how much interesting video programing might influence console sales.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has dialed back its efforts to create original video programing for the Xbox with the closure of Xbox Entertainment Studios. Still, company is continuing with some of its more high-profile development efforts, notably the Halo: Nightfall series produced by veteran director Ridley Scott. The series will be part of the Xbox content offerings as well as being included in the new Halo Channel, Microsoft’s just-announced way to help fans live a complete Halo lifestyle – or at least experience Halo content in every way, shape and form Microsoft can deliver it.

It remains to be seen if original video programs distributed through consoles can find a significant audience, or have an impact on console sales. Will one of these series have the same kind of effect for Sony or Microsoft that House of Cards had for Netflix

Source: Variety

EA CEO Andrew Wilson on Value

GamesIndustry International sat down with Electronic Arts CEO at the Gamescom show, and garnered some insights into how the company is aiming to provide greater value to customers. Asked about the early problems with Battlefield 4, Wilson noted: If I promised you that nothing would ever go wrong [on future projects], that would be very disingenuous of me. The reality is that we come to work every day and challenge ourselves and our teams to do creative and innovative things. What I can say, however, is that living up to that commitment to engagement and action I mentioned before means that we will make tough decisions in service of the player.”

Titanfall for Xbox 360 was coming in hot, it needed a few more weeks, and we moved it out of the fiscal year to get a great game. I don’t think we would have done that before. Need for Speed is a franchise we’ve released every year for 17 years – it’s as sure a thing as FIFA. But the team said that they couldn’t do what we challenged them to do in a year. It wasn’t possible, so for the first time in 17 years we decided not to launch a Need For Speed,” Wilson continued. “More recently, Battlefield: Hardline, moving out of the holiday quarter would traditionally be seen as catastrophic in this industry.”

GamesIndustry International asked: “Are you concerned that Access will alter your customer’s perception of value FIFA 14 is still a game that can be played all year whether the new one is out or not? That $60 has got to feel like a better decision than before, surely?”

Andrew Wilson responded: “It doesn’t matter whether you spend a $1, $10 or $100,000, as long as you’re getting value from what you’ve spent then you’ll feel good about that. EA Access feels like tremendous value, and whether you continue to feel good about paying whatever it is for a frontline product comes down to our ability to to deliver value.”

“The commitment that we’re making to those frontline products is that they will be bigger, more engaging, service oriented, with new and dynamic content every time you log in. People are now playing FIFA and Battlefield all year round. When I started a game would get played for four weeks, and then it was on to the next one. The value that we deliver today, we have games that can be the only thing you play for an entire year.”

See the entire interview at GamesIndustry International.

Source: GamesIndustry International

Canadian Clothing Retailer Gives Instagram Influencers Free Reign

In an effort to prove that, when it comes to fall fashion, it’s not all about the product, but rather the people who are wearing them, Canadian clothing retailer Aritzia has created a new fall collection is called #FallForUs.

#FallForUs is a big step for marketers and advertisers alike. Aritzia is giving star Instagrammers the creative reign to show off their own style with their products, proving yet again that marketers should take note to trust influencers with their own audience.

The collection is designed to inspire falling in love with a particular piece of clothing as opposed to what is going to fit or look best. The catch The campaign is utilizing Instagram as the platform for revealing these new styles. Each model participating in the collection gets to choose their own outfits based on what they like the most out of the new featured items. Some notable women taking part in #FallForUs include Samira Wiley from Orange is the New Black, Once Upon A Time regular Jamie Chung, DJ Alix Brown, comedian Chelsea Peretti and more, each showing off their own distinct style. Aritzia is also pushing to get the faces of women from all walks of life looking happy and carefree, promising wearers the same thing if they pick up these products.

“I think you can really see each woman’s individual personality come through. They let me go for this whole fuzzy Eskimo vibe that I was really feeling for some reason on an unbelievably humid day in New York,” said actress Greta Lee who, according to PSFK, told Style.com that the brand was more than willing to let her choose her own look, even if it was a tad bizarre.

Additionally, Aritzia is encouraging people to pick up these brand new items either in store or online and then post pictures of them wearing it on Instagram using the hashtag #FallForUs. Aritzia hopes this will usher in a collection that is more than just a catalogue of pretty pictures, but rather a growing lookbook of people who don’t just look good, but feel good, too.

Source: PSFK