Immerse Yourself In The World of These 11 Virtual Reality Companies

By: Jessica Klein

Virtual reality is slowly shifting from experimental and exciting to a potentially viable medium for consumers. To help this process gain momentum, many technology, production, and hardware companies are making significant moves in the world of immersive video.

We all know what giant tech and content company Samsung has been doing in this realm, but what have other VR-focused companies been up to The following all have some big VR plans for the coming months (and years), and they all have something unique to offer in the growing VR ecosystem.

From videos projected onto viewers’ eyeballs to spherical camera equipment, here’s how these companies are looking to bring VR into the mainstream…

Read more…

This article was originally posted on VideoInk and is reposted on [a]listdaily via a partnership with the news publication, which is the online video industry’s go-to source for breaking news, features, and industry analysis. Follow VideoInk on Twitter @VideoInkNews, or subscribe via for the latest news and stories, delivered right to your inbox.

Facebook’s Mobile-First Future

With the Mobile World Congress happening in Barcelona this week, Facebook pushed forward on its emphasis on mobile, since millions of users utilize their phones and tablets to access the popular mobile site. Following a keynote by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, there was a push for, the company’s side program that focuses on bringing new users to developing countries, thus attracting new customers to the site.

That’s not the only thing it’s pushing, though. VentureBeat has reported that the site also has a few ideas in mind when it comes to pushing for a mobile-concentrated future, with a series of trends that stand out. Jane Schachtel, the company’s global head of technology, explained these trends in a recent blog post.

“Mobile phones have existed in one form or another for more than 30 years now, and every day they’re becoming more entwined in people’s lives,” said the post. “But we are only in the early days of living in a mobile world. Today, a person’s mobile experience depends largely on where they live.”

Even though most people have access to more high-speed devices, not everyone else in the world does. “For many people in these countries mobile phones are also a first point of entry to the Internet,” the post indicated.

With that, Schachtel broke down the five focal points for mobile:

First up, the introduction of more low-cost smartphones “that offer better performance and better features for less money” would be a driving factor to increase the market. As a result, more people will get connected, sales will pick up, and more people will “become future long-term customers.”

Next, mobile commerce could see a big boost, even though there’s room for purchases and transactions to pick up. “More technology and telecom businesses need to adapt their business models to mobile, and I expect to see new solutions from operators that make it easier for people to buy and sell things through their phones,” Schachtel explained.

Differentiation is important, as not all devices have to look and act alike to attract customers. Making these devices stand out, or “focusing, for instance, on the emotional role they play in our lives rather than the latest technical specs”, would pick up their sales. “Device manufacturers are now introducing gadgets like watches and selfie-cams to pair with phones and tablets”, also known as “device families.”

Next up, better network capabilities would allow people to connect way easier than they were in the past. “I expect to see lots about 5G networks, as well as ways of delivering video to more people on slower networks. … It’s become essential to understand creative best practices for mobile experiences, and the changing ways in which people consume video,” said Schachtel.

Finally, connectivity with more devices – including “machine to machine connections,” would no doubt enable people to get online more and share what they’re up to. Apple’s new Watch could play a part in this as well. “With the Internet of Things, the big challenge remains showing people how connected devices can be meaningful additions to their lives, rather than just being cool pieces of tech.”

Schachtel concluded by explaining how mobile can really increase what both users and businesses can do online. “As more people come online and new technologies become more widely available,” she wrote, “we’ll continue to see more sophisticated solutions for connecting the world. And that’s good for people, and good for businesses.”

Can ‘House of Cards’ Help ‘Monument Valley’ Sell?

Featuring a video game in a popular TV show can actually pique interest in said game, as some viewers may wonder, “Hey, where can you play that” with just a peek at gameplay. The latest show to do this is Netflix’s House of Cards, as lead character Frank Underwood, portrayed by Kevin Spacey, dips into the popular mobile game Monument Valley briefly over the course of the season.

The conspicuous addition of the game has the Internet wondering if it is a product placement or a plot point.

Underwood, who no doubt builds plenty of tension over the course of the season with his sinister actions (as he did in the previous two), utilizes the game as a way to decompress — something that’s made it a popular hit in the real world as well.

A company called appFigures recently broke down how an appearance of a game in a TV series like this can have an impact on the game’s sales. It explained that the series has a devoted following. Last season alone, over 670,000 people bing-watched the entire run of the show’s second season — only accounting for two percent of total Netflix subscribers. There’s a possibility that season three’s numbers could surpass that easily — and that means more eyes on Monument Valley.

appFigures, a powerful app store intelligence platform, also measured the ranks data from the show’s third season debut this weekend to get an idea of what effect the game would have when it appeared in the series, which is around episode five. According to its stats, almost exactly five hours after the third season became available on Netflix, the game showed an increase in popularity on the App Store.

The company reports that the iPad edition of Valley has become the #2 overall paid app, right behind Minecraft: Pocket Edition. The Google Play version didn’t perform too bad either, as it managed to get to the #11 spot on the paid app charts.

Monument Valley House of Cards Grossing App

appFigures broke down the findings on its blog, utilizing a number of charts to show its increase in popularity following the release of the third season of the series. It was also quick to note that many users were actually interested in paying the game’s $3.99 fee before even getting a chance to try it out, which it found to be uncommon, as some titles offer a “freemium” version to try before needing to purchase the full game.

What’s more, the company concluded that “such a prominent feature in a leading series proves to be the ultimate advertisement. At this point, the effect is even greater than that we recently looked at for apps that purchased Super Bowl ads — without the large price tag! It would appear as though this is a much more receptive audience.”

Clearly, if something’s good enough for Frank Underwood, clearly it can work for us as well . . .


Twitch Stands To Benefit From Expansion Into Poker

Usually, when people watch gaming action on Twitch, they tune in to catch players give their all in games like Pokémon, League of Legends and Call of Duty, among other titles. However, pretty soon, they’ll be able to tune in to see a different kind of game unfold – poker.

According to a report from the Wall Street JournalTwitch has already experimented with showcasing poker matches on its streaming site, with some channels testing the format as soon as last November. It’s apparently a beneficial move, as said channels have already reported audiences in the seven-figure digits.

Twitch recently streamed nearly an hour of poker during January 2015, and noted that, with this massive success, it’s only reached less than one percent of the overall video streamed for the site. Obviously, video games will continue to be the huge emphasis for its success, but it appears that there’s room for a few card players as well.

“Like videogames, poker is a game and we’ve grown that into a huge business,” said Scott Ball, the Twitch exec in charge of the project.

To keep matches fair, matches are broadcast with a four-minute delay, since cards are also shown to the audience to keep them involved in a match. (This would prevent them from reporting said cards to players who may be broadcasting the action on their own channel.)

With the help of several professional online poker players, Twitch could easily take on the likes of ESPN when it comes to poker tournaments and other events, which easily rack up millions of dollars in prizes and a fairly large viewership.

This move could easily boost Twitch’s audience numbers, which already tops more than 100 million monthly viewers. This is a tremendous increase from the 45 million it had back in the end of 2013 – thus prompting Amazon to make its move and purchase the company last year.

It’s a move that needed to be made, though, especially with Steam recently announcing that it would launch its own service, Steam Broadcasting, which is currently in beta. Well, it looks like that Twitch is certainly betting big – and has the poker team to back it up.

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Fantasy eSports Company Vulcun Offers $1 Million In Prizes Out Of The Gate

Riding the wave of popularity that traditional sports have seen over the last few years, the first venture-supported Fantasy ESports company, Vulcun, has emerged as a leading player in this brand new business. The company has raised over $1.3 million from top-tier Silicon Valley investors including eVentures, Battery Ventures and 500Startups. Like AlphaDraft, Vulcun is focused solely on the League of Legends Championship Series. Where things differ is that Vulcun has been offering paid play, along with free play, out of the gate. The company has over $1 million in prizes up for grab for this year and weekly cash prizes are increasing on a regular basis. Internet startup veteran Ali Moiz, CEO of Vulcun, explains why this sector is poised for accelerated growth in this exclusive interview.

How did Vulcun come about as a company and what background do the founders have in eSports?

The founders used to own Team Vulcun, a professional League of Legends LCS team that finished #2 in North America and went to the World Championships in 2013. They’ve been passionate and involved in eSports for several years. The new fantasy site is called Vulcun in honor of the team that did so well a few seasons ago. The founders have a combined 30 years of startup and tech entrepreneurial experience, having built several successful companies before like Peanut Labs, now acquired by eRewards.

What type of understanding does the venture funding community have of eSports today?

Vulcun has raised $1.3 million in capital from Battery Ventures, eVentures, 500 startups and several notable investors in the gaming industry including Kevin Chou of Kabam, Craig Sherman of Gaia, Roger Dickey and Siqi Chen of Zynga and others. ESports is still relatively new to the venture community and we are one of the first companies to receive institutional capital in this industry.

How do your fantasy leagues work?

Our focus is on providing the largest prize pools in fantasy eSports, currently $250,000. We were the first company to launch in this space in early January with real-money, paid games and a six-figure prize pool. The mechanics are the same as other daily fantasy sites such as Fanduel, Draftkings or Victiv. Players draft a fantasy roster based on daily games in a salary-cap format, and compete for prizes. We feature both paid and free games.

How are you working with leagues like ESL and MLG and game companies like Riot Games in adding real-money fantasy to eSports?

We’re currently exploring a number of partnerships with game companies and leagues in bringing real-money fantasy games to a wider audience.

What differentiates Vulcun from startup

It’s great for the community to have multiple options to play. There are several other free drafting sites like AlphaDraft. Our focus is on providing the largest prize pools in Fantasy eSports. We’re the only company that offers paid, real-money games right now for fantasy eSports.

How popular is your free gameplay?

We have about 20,000 people who play for free each week on Vulcun.

How are you age gating this given the younger demographic that follows eSports?

We ask for the user’s ID if they deposit and withdraw real money, in addition to using other third-party verification services.

What types of prizes will be available at first and how do you see winnings increasing over time?

We announced a $250,000 prize for League of Legends LCS this year before the season started. For our first week we had planned on starting slowly and giving out around $2,000. But the community’s response has been so tremendous that we ended up giving out $12,000. This week we’re paying out $20,000.  Given the fantastic response, these numbers will only go up from here.

How much do you plan on giving away this year?

We started at $250,000, but I believe we’ll end the year in seven figures.

Why do you think now is the right time to add Fantasy eSports?

Daily fantasy games have already proved to be hugely popular in traditional sports. ESports has exploded in popularity the past few years, and people are simply demanding the same things for eSports.

How big is Fantasy in real sports today and what potential do you see for eSports?

Fantasy is a new, fast-growing part of eSports. We believe it can be one of the largest commercial activities inside of eSports by the end of this year.

How will you be marketing this endeavor?

Word-of-mouth has been a critical part of our growth thus far. Paid fantasy games require a high element of trust since users deposit and play with real money. The most trustworthy marketing a user can get is to hear about it from a friend who already played and won.

What role will Twitch and livestreaming play in this business?

We’re testing partnering with some streamers and running Twitch ads, but it’s still too early to tell whether this approach will work.

What has the feedback been from teams and pros?

We’ve received several endorsements from pro players including Voyboy, mandatoryCloud, Westrice and Imaqtpie. Some of these videos are up on our homepage. Dozens of other ex-pro players have made accounts on our site, including former members of CLG, TSM and Dignitas.

What opportunities are there for publishers and developers for expansion beyond League of Legends?

The market beyond League of Legends is interesting, but not as developed. You don’t have large, long-term leagues, which makes it harder for fantasy games. One-off tournaments are harder to do than leagues. We’re keeping an eye on it, but for the time being, we’re staying focused on keeping and growing our #1 position in Paid Fantasy games for League of Legends.

What opportunities do you see for sponsors and brands?

Alienware, Coca Cola, G2A, Cyberpower, NOS and other major brands have been involved with eSports for years. We believe brands will play an increasingly larger role in the eSports space this year.

Fantasy Sports has become a crowded market with real sports. How much room do you see for eSports given that there are now two League of Legends Fantasy start-ups?

It takes more than one to make a market. It’s great for the community to have multiple options for free games.

All Eyes Are On Pinterest’s User Growth

Pinterest has been getting a lot of well-earned attention lately for the care with which they are creating their marketing opportunities. Right under our noses, they’ve been creating new ways to discover apps, experimenting with new ad units and really driving user growth, especially among male users.

The social network is doing a lot to overcome its perceived marketing hurdles, the biggest of which is the number of users and penetration. Have users Marketers definitely take note there.

“[Pinterest’s] growth may be more limited than other services, simply because what you do on Pinterest — find and pin things that you like — isn’t necessarily something that large numbers of people may want to do,” Debra Aho Williamson, principal social media analyst at eMarketer, wrote in the report. “[But] in a year when marketers are starting to worry about ‘dark social’ platforms where most conversations are private, there’s a polar opposite—Pinterest.”

New data from eMarketer shows that Pinterest will see 47.1 million users this year, which is a hefty 11.4 percent increase year over year, which isn’t surprising as the Pew Internet Research Project ranked Pinterest as the 2nd fastest growing social platform just behind Instagram. This means that more than a quarter of total social network users in the US will be on Pinterest, with almost as many using it on a monthly basis. When put in that perspective, it is understandable that there’s a flurry of interest.

It may surprise you that while Pinterest has the reputation of being a mostly female platform that the network sees equal gender splits in India, South Korea, Japan and Brazil. The company is on track to see that 20 percent of its users is male by 2019.

“Pinterest has a lot of work to do to become a major player in digital advertising. Early results from its advertising tests have been generally positive, and its user interface has been a defining and differentiating characteristic for the platform since it exploded onto the scene in late 2011,” says eMarketer.

GDC Announcements Shape the Future

The first day of the week-long Game Developers Conference began with a number of announcements that give a glimpse of where the industry is headed, giving attendees and onlookers plenty to talk about. Meanwhile, attendees had a variety of sessions held on topics such as community, design, programming, education, and more. The week will be jam-packed with massive amounts of information and discussions, which means getting a high-level view of what’s happening isn’t easy — but it’s critical for setting strategies in the year ahead.

World of Warcraft Goes F2P… Sort Of

One of the more interesting announcements comes from Blizzard’s World of Warcraft: The game is going free-to-play, in a way. How’s that It’s similar to the way EVE Online’s Plex system works: Players can use in-game currency to buy tokens that give you subscription time. The economy is strictly controlled — the tokens are ‘soulbound’ to the players, meaning they can’t be resold. Each token allows 30 days of subscription, with the in-game currency value determined dynamically via supply and demand.

“We’ve heard feedback from players that they’d be interested in a secure, legitimate way to acquire gold that doesn’t involve the use of unauthorized third-party gold-selling services-one of the primary sources of account compromises,” the official Blizzard blog post reads. “We also know players who’ve amassed large amounts of gold through regular play would be interested in the ability to trade some to other players in exchange for game time, helping cover their subscription costs. The WoW Token feature gives players on both sides of the equation a secure and straightforward way to make that exchange. It opens up a new kind of payment option for World of Warcraft players, and we hope that it will also help lead to fewer account compromises and a better game experience overall.”

Yes, this helps the battle against gold farmers, but it also opens the game up to more players, especially in China. Will this stop or slow the expected erosion of subscribers, possibly. It’s a major step towards full free-to-play status, though, and a sign that the last holdout for the full subscription is gradually falling to the free-to-play juggernaut. Hopefully this will keep World of Warcraft going strong as it heads into its second decade.

Unity 5 and Unreal Engine 4 Go Free… Sort Of

The battle for the hearts and minds of developers is also taking place over their wallets, as Epic Games takes Unreal Engine 4 free . . .  in a way, and Unity 5 is announced — and it’s basically free, as well. The idea in both cases is to create broader acceptance of the development tools, and with that greater usage of the money-making stores that both development tools offer.

Unreal Engine 4 has been making the journey from AAA console development tool to widespread usage for some time. Last year Epic began the $19 a month subscription fee for Unreal Engine 4, and saw its market skyrocket. Now the $19 a month subscription fee has been completely dropped, although Epic is still asking developers for the previous five per cent royalty share on gross revenue over and above $3000 for each quarter. “It’s a simple arrangement in which we succeed only when you succeed,” said Epic’s Tim Sweeney. “This is the complete technology we use at Epic when building our own games. It scales from indie projects to high-end blockbusters; it supports all the major platforms; and it includes 100 per cent of the C++ source code. Our goal is to give you absolutely everything, so that you can do anything and be in control of your schedule and your destiny. Whatever you require to build and ship your game, you can find it in UE4, source it in the Marketplace, or build it yourself – and then share it with others.”

Meanwhile, Unity 5 was announced. Like its predecessors, Unity 5 will be available as a Personal version for free, or in a Professional version available for a $75 monthly subscription plan or as a $1,500 perpetual license. The big difference is in the nature of the features locked behind a paywall. In Unity 4, developers had to pay for 3D texture support or optimized visual effects like depth of field or motion blur. In Unity 5, all the features of the engine and editor will be available to Personal and Professional users alike. However, those who spring for the Professional version will get access to a number of other features, like cloud-powered features from Unity Cloud Build, a team license tool for managing dozens of people working on the same project, Unity’s own analytics utility (currently in beta), and game performance crash reporting (currently in preview).

In broader terms, Unreal Engine has been striving to bring its high-end rendering to a broad audience, while Unity has been trying to bring higher-end rending to its broad audience. In terms of scope, Unity is far ahead, especially on mobile platforms. What’s great about this battle for developers and for gamers is that it’s making it easier to bring games to more platforms than ever before.

VR and AR Continue to Gain Mindshare

We’ve already had a major VR hardware announcement, and another one is likely coming tonight. Meanwhile, vendors are announcing tools to make VR/AR development better. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are still in the realm of the demo, though, without firm release dates, prices and tech specs — or a clear idea of the experiences that you’ll be able to get.

Valve and HTC broke the story of their new HTC Vive immersive VR headset, which is heading to developers soon and consumers later this year. Tonight Nvidia is rumored to be showing off their VR solution, and hopefully some idea of when we might be able to buy it in a store. Sony will be giving game developers more time with Project Morpheus this week, and Oculus will have plenty of face time available for GDC attendees as well. Microsoft may well talk a bit more about its HoloLens, and Magic Leap looms in the background. AMD announced its LiquidVR technologies along with Oculus to help improve VR development.

Still, while money pours into VR and AR ($2 billion for Oculus, about $600 million for Magic Leap, and unknown amounts from Samsung, Razer, Nvidia, Valve/HTC, and others), it’s still very much in the “what a cool demo” stage. Predicting the eventual consumer or business acceptance of these technologies is a complete guess at this point, when we have yet to know any of the key substantive information about any of these devices: Price, specs, ship date, and content.

Ultimately, it’s going to be content that drives VR and AR hardware sales. Even if the hardware is clunky and expensive to start with, and perhaps doesn’t work as well as its creators might wish, those things will all improve with time. What matters is whether any of these companies or other developers succeed in delivering compelling experiences — compelling enough to overcome any drawbacks like price or discomfort. Keep your eye on the content, because that’s what will ultimately define the size of the market for VR and AR.

Game Development On The Rise Worldwide

The game industry continues to be strong worldwide, thanks to smart game development and effective marketing that panders to certain markets, particularly in the United States and China. Today, a new report from Ninja Metrics indicates that other countries are picking up in game development as well, slowly but surely getting their own piece of the pie.

The report, analyzing over 300 million users, implies that developing countries like Laos and Algeria are helping drive the global spending when it comes to games.

First up, social value is weighed in an Android vs. iOS format. iOS players are worth one and a half to two times more in revenue and ARPU than Android players. That said, Android players are 15 percent more likely to become influential in the long run.

Getting into game genre influence, 60 percent of it comes from massive multiplayer online (MMO) games, while PC Hardcore/Multiplayer is close behind, with 30 percent. Mobile social rounds out the top three with 28 percent, while mobile single player lags behind at six percent.

The most important part of the report, however, breaks down influence by world regions — and you’d be surprised who’s number one. Africa actually takes the lead when it comes to being the most influential country, followed by Asia, Europe and North America. Oceania and South America play their parts as well in the fifth and sixth positions.

Geographical influence by income breaks down with 48 percent coming from middle income countries, 33 percent from low income (developing) communities and 19 percent from high income (developed) countries. That says a lot when it comes to the creation of games, especially from studios just getting started in the industry.

Another aspect of the report that we found fascinating was a breakdown of influence by country. Surprisingly enough, the top five consist of Laos, Algeria, Palestine, Ukraine and Cambodia. Coming up as the least influential countries were Kenya, Australia, Iceland, the United States and Norway.

These numbers say quite a bit, and point out just what kind of effect smaller countries can have on the overall market. Regardless, game development will keep going strong.

Core Gamers Drive PC Game Sales

With mobile gaming on the rise, some might think that it’s the “hot market” when it comes to the game industry. And it is – but you shouldn’t count out PC, as it’s likely to see an increase thanks to a core market.

The Open Gaming Alliance, a non-profit organization that keeps tabs on everything happening with the games industry business, is set to unveil its seventh annual research report at the end of this month. With it, using research from market research firm DFC Intelligence, it intends to explain how the PC gaming industry will grow even larger over the next few years. Estimates indicate that the market will rise from $26 billion in 2014 to $35 billion by 2018.

“Much of the growth is driven by pure demographics. We continue to identify a core group of consumers for whom playing on the PC is a major pastime,” said DFC analyst David Cole. “This is, in fact, a fairly new demographic that skews highly male and is only increasing in buying power.”

The report will break down specifics, such as the impact of hardware spending (like who goes all out for buying devoted gaming PC’s and such), as well as the overall growth of eSports, and how competitive gaming has become such a hot spectator sport, driven by such games as Wargaming’s World of Tanks and Riot’s League of Legends.

“In past years much of the growth in PC games has been due to adoption of the platform in Asia. Now we are estimating a potential 86 million PC gamers outside Asia that we have targeted as market growth drivers,” continued Cole.  “These are the consumers that are driving spending not just on software, but also on PC hardware, as they buy expensive equipment to play, view and record games.”

OGA board member and Research Subcommittee chairman Matt Ployhar also had some input on this growth. “The recipe that keeps PC gaming on top is simple:  the platform is accessible to all markets, and especially so with the free-to-play and freemium content; the hardware continues to evolve with gamers’ lifestyles, offering more choice and freedom; and, due to the ubiquity of PC’s globally, it’s easier to share, communicate and be more sociable with friends and family,” he explained. “These same factors, in part, also help explain the meteoric rise of eSports.”

Once more details emerge from this report, they’ll certainly paint a larger picture of what we can expect from this market. But good news is definitely ahead for both devoted and casual game players in this field.