MOBILE GAMES on the rise

Written by Fred Bailey

10/13/2017

According to Newzoo, one of the leading internet info providers, the global smartphone gaming market is bigger than console gaming.

The overall game market is currently close to $110B annually.  By 2020, mobile gaming will take in about $65B on its own.

TechCrunch says mobile gaming is inherently casual, and its success as a serious medium for serious games depends on developing more power for smartphones.  Hardware issues like small screens and low processing power hold the smartphone back, and yet the trend continues to boom.

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Mobile gaming also boasts equal popularity between men and women.

Nix Hydra is a VC-backed game company with an interesting angle—it was specifically created to attract young women, hence expanding an entire demographic.

That’s the epitome of the prevailing consensus—that mobile game designers need to develop their products not just technologically but also in ambition.  The industry needs to diversify to grab hold of its projected audience.

Games don’t have to be simple puzzles.  Pokemon Go, for example, asks for a greater level of commitment from the player, and it was enormously successful.

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In the future, facial and voice recognition and 3D Scanning will boost mobile gaming by creating characters that look like the players, even going so far as using your facial expressions, by scanning 78 different points on your face to assess emotions.

And advancements in micro-controllers are now able to recognize your voice more easily.

AMD graphic cards coupled with 4K display could render gaming worlds with higher image quality, with AR providing data overlay in real time.

And finally, cloud computing will allow more storage space than ever before, and it’s faster and more reliable.

 

The 2017 Hollywood Entertainment Technology Festival, Nov. 9-11, will feature a Mobile Games panel session, with Speakers from Nix Hydra, Firefly Games, & Scopely.  For more information, visit:www.HETFest.com

 

eSPORTS EXPLODES

Written by Fred Bailey

09/26/2017

In 2016, eSports revenues were almost $500M—some sources put it at close to $900M!  And they will no doubt reach a billion and a half by 2020.

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League of Legends is an undeniable presence in eSports, with more than a hundred million players around the globe.  Tournaments regularly sell out entire stadiums.  The average annual salary of a North American League of Legends championship series player?  Over $100K!

Digital sports is here to stay.  Teenagers loudly cheer their favorite eAthletes, and those same players will soon organize to bargain collectively.

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What’s at work here?  Why is this thing catching on so quickly?

Here’s why:  The audience plays the game.  So they’re more involved than ordinary sports fans.

Peter Guber, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, says they’re not just passengers, they’re full-on participants.  Guber told CNBC he thinks eSports “has all the tools to really go the distance and become something powerful.”  Guber is also co-owner of the L.A. Dodgers and the Golden State Warriors.

Chris Rossbach, Chief Investment Officer at J. Stern & Company in London, says eSports is the future for investors, surpassing pro sports.  And Newzoo, an expert in video game data, predicts the audience for eSports will grow to nearly 400 million Earthlings in 2017.

Investors, take notice:  eSports viewership is doubling year-over-year.  Plus new and better gaming equipment is on the way, making the games faster and more compelling.

  • Fact 1:  the International Federation of eSports has applied to the International Olympic Committee.  They want to be part of the Olympics!
  • Fact 2:  Universities are starting to offer eSports scholarships.
  • Fact 3:  Professional sports teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Manchester United are buying out prominent eSports teams.

What’s the downside, with regard to the mainstream?  The games can be hard to follow.  Some say they’re too complicated or too violent or both.

eSports is front & center at the 2nd annual Hollywood Entertainment Technology Festival, Nov. 9-11.  To find out more, visit us at:

www.HETFest.com

 

 

 

 

AI TAKES OVER

Written by Fred Bailey

09/20/2017

Artificial Intelligence could be the most significant technology to hit Hollywood.  Ever.

According to a recent report in the Hollywood Reporter, AI can substitute for editors, CG artists, costume designers, continuity supervisors, and even actors.

For example, let’s say an actor in a franchise series dies on a big budget production before shooting is wrapped.

AI takes over to fill in the gaps by ingesting all of the actor’s previous screen roles, then building a digital performance for the missing scenes.

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AI could construct a new actor from thin air.  An actor who “doesn’t know he’s not real.”  It’s already being done in Japan, where some of the most widely admired pop singers are non-human inventions.

AI could do a lot more on the set of just about any movie.  It could put together the first rough cut of a feature film, before the human editor lays hands on it.  Production accountants wouldn’t be necessary, since that’s the kind of work AI could handle easily, with no threat of fraud or error.  Storyboard artists, sound designers, color timers—all could find their jobs in jeopardy.

AI will have the most profound impact in animation and animated features.

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All told, such technology will have an enormous effect on what production executives worry about the most:  budgets and schedules.  Production timelines would be abbreviated, and costs would be lowered.

The simple fact is that AI is going to eliminate jobs usually performed by humans.

Says one respected AI expert:  “It’s all over by 2045—we are no longer running the show.”

 

Artificial Intelligence is on the menu at the 2nd annual Hollywood Entertainment Technology Festival, Nov. 9-11.  To find out more, visit us at:  www.HETFest.com

VR SPINE-TINGLER

Written by Fred Bailey

9/5/2017

A family theme park in Japan near Nagasaki has unveiled a new VR roller coaster that’s knocked the living socks off its riders with 150 seconds of pure kinetic excitement.

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Taking its world premiere bow on August 1, the VR-King will give you an eye-popping thrill like no other, plummeting 900 feet at something like 160 miles an hour, with all the appropriate hair-raising, bone-crunching sound effects.

You get into a standard-looking roller-coaster gondola with about twenty other riders and put on a headset.  Next thing you know you’re zooming through the sky, swooping down at unimaginable speeds around buildings, through forests and even into a cave.

The seats in the gondola swerve and bump, moving in perfect conjunction with what’s happening in the six-degrees-of-freedom images you’re watching.

The proprietor, Huis Ten Bosch Park in Sasebo—it’s a miniature Europe modeled after Holland in the middle ages—says its VR ride is the most powerful roller coaster in the world:  “The Highest, The Fastest, The Longest.”

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The park offers a variety of other VR experiences, including a disco, a bungee jump, other video combat and horror games, and even a VR love simulation!  Which isn’t what it sounds like.  Recommended for females, you get a once-in-a-lifetime proposal from your favorite handsome man.

As for the roller coaster, there’s no mention of people getting motion sickness, which sometimes can be a potent factor in VR experiences.

But then again, visitors to amusement parks have to deal with the possibility of motion sickness in real-life, non-VR roller coasters.  So, in the final analysis, what’s the difference?

To do the VR-King, you buy a day pass to the park, which entitles you to one ride on the King.  Additional rides cost an extra US$5 or so.

 

 

VR and theme parks are both in the mix of panel discussions at the 2nd annual Hollywood Entertainment Technology Festival, Nov. 9-11.  To find out more, visit us at:  

www.HETFest.com

NEW AI CHAMPION

Written by Fred Bailey

08/28/2017

On Friday night, August 11, before a packed house of 17,000 at the Key Arena in Seattle—as well as a world-wide live streaming audience of maybe 20 million—an Artificial Intelligence (AI) bot defeated one of the best professional gamers on earth in a surprise match at The International 2017 Dota 2 tournament, the biggest, most significant competitive eSports event of its kind, with a $24 million purse this year.

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The bot was created by OpenAI, Elon Musk’s non-profit artificial-intelligence research startup, based in San Francisco.

The CTO of OpenAI, Greg Brockman, said his bot was self-taught—they duplicated it for training purposes, and then it played thousands of games against itself over a period of two weeks, with only a little coaching from his staff.

Computers have already beaten human beings at board games like chess. In fact, most recently, Google’s AlphaGo AI software defeated Chinese Go champ Ke Jie in May, after drubbing a South Korean master last year, four games out of five.

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Dota 2 is a bit different. It’s a multi-player online battle-arena (MOBA) game, widely recognized for having a steep learning curve. And yet the winning AI bot beat pro Danylo Ishutin in the first bout in less than ten minutes. Ishutin resigned from the second bout—pleading with the bot to “please stop bullying me”—and then refused to join in on the third bout.

Dota is shorthand for Defense of the Ancients, an online game developed and issued by Valve Corporation of Seattle. Usually the stand-alone sequel, Dota 2, is played by two teams of five players each, while the exhibition battle in Seattle with Ishutin was one-on-one. There were a lot of other caveats as well, such as the bot possibly having access to game data hidden from human players. So maybe it’s not quite as momentous an accomplishment as winning at chess or Go, where nothing is hidden from any combatant.

Nevertheless, it’s undeniably another step forward for Artificial Intelligence.

 

AI, eSports, and gaming are all in the mix of panel discussions

at the 2nd annual Hollywood Entertainment Technology Festival,

Nov. 9-11.  To find out more, visit us at:

www.HETFest.com

 

ENTANGLEMENT THEORY

Written by Fred Bailey

07/26/2017

The Chinese Academy of Sciences has announced the successful distribution, via satellite, of entangled photons between three different earth-based stations, separated by as much as 1200 km, opening up a new avenue in the feasibility of quantum communications.

 

Internet messaging is vulnerable to interception by nefarious individuals or groups. Which is a cause of pain to many of us, pain ranging from irritation to international peril. 

You want to get a piece of information from Point A to Point B. It travels by a specific tangible pathway. It’s in that pathway from A to B wherein lies the vulnerability.

But what if you skip the pathway? What if you simply jump that information from A to B?

These recent Chinese experiments in the field of quantum physics may have demonstrated the possibility of a practical application of that idea, unlocking the door to firmly and effectively block interception—and therefore interruption, disruption and even the insertion of viruses.

It involves a thing called entanglement theory, which proclaims that it’s possible for two particles to interact in such a way that they’re inseparably connected, so deeply joined that even if they’re located light-years apart, something that happens to one of them will immediately be reflected, in a mirror image, in the other one.

Quantum physicists at the University of Science and Technology of China recently revealed they’d split pairs of photons and sent one of each pair to a satellite in orbit several hundred miles away. But they were able to prove that each photon remained inexorably linked to its double, replicating any behavioral changes.

Why would this be important or useful?

Because, as Time magazine put it, this entanglement “could lead to an instantaneous, ultra-secure Internet,” no longer vulnerable to hackers and worms.

How? Because data could be encrypted in one arrangement of particles that would then show up in its partner without being tangibly “sent.” The data would simply appear there.

“China has taken the leadership in quantum communication,” says Nicolas Gisin of the University of Geneva. “This demonstrates that global quantum communication is possible and will be achieved in the near future.”

Interestingly enough, even though this phenomenon has been previously demonstrated to be physically factual, it has never been adequately explained. Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.”

E3: VR EXPANSIONS

Written by Fred Bailey

07/06/2017

Since the unexpected closing of Oculus Story Studio earlier this year, some are questioning the future of VR. What kind of legs does it have? It seems to be stumbling at the moment.

But anyone attending the Electronic Entertainment Expo (a.k.a. E3) in Los Angeles in mid-June—the video game industry’s annual preview of things to come—would probably have had a different outlook: Virtual Reality is booming.

The Hollywood Reporter recently showed charts demonstrating that current VR revenue is primarily from gaming, pegging it at $281M in 2016, against $124M from video and a mere $16M from apps.

At E3, high profile game issuers like Sony and independent developers showcased dozens of VR titles, and many are expected to thrive. The reason is not difficult to perceive. Gamers love their games.  And doing them in VR gives them a feeling of total immersion.

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The next phase for developers is to move past the simple presence of VR and to try new tricks. Throw in some artificial intelligence, voice commands and eye-tracking technology, aiming for greater multi-player experiences.

In short, the game industry is on the crest of the VR wave and is the leader, with other entertainment business sectors following.

Nevertheless, the Hollywood Reporter’s projections go on to say that by 2021, VR video revenues will outstrip VR gaming, $3B against $2B.

No matter which way you cut it, that’s a huge market.  Looks like VR does have legs.

 

2017 E3 Brings Gaming Excitement to Los Angeles

Written by Rob Yen

07/06/2017

The 2017 Electronics Entertainment Expo, or better known as E3, took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center from June 13-15, 2017. With an attendance of over 68,000 people, and about 15,000 tickets offered and sold to fans, E3 has become one of the most popular gaming conventions in the world.

This year, the annual convention did not disappoint as it showcased and announced some of the hottest and most-exciting offerings from hardware and software developers and publishers from the video game industry.

Industry giants like Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft showcased their current and upcoming games for the Playstation, Switch, and Xbox consoles, respectively. It’s no wonder these major players had the biggest displays at E3, as the competition for fans and anticipation has become a yearly tradition on the convention floor.

Most of the announcements this year focused on new game titles, with a lack of hardware announcements overall. Areas that seemed to generate a growing trend is the increase in VR-based games, new intellectual property (IP), and franchise expansions. With Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Sony Playstation VR, HTC Vive, and Google Daydream playing roles at E3, developers are well aware of the capabilities that virtual reality will play in the future of gaming.

However, that didn’t create the most buzz at E3. Walking up to a large stage area that was set up in the middle of the convention floor, you couldn’t help but notice the noise from fans cheering in the audience while massive screens showed players competing against each other on the first-person shooter game, Quake Champions by Bethesda Games. As cameras rolled, players were treated like celebrity athletes as game announcers play-called their avatars’ moves in the game. It’s no wonder a gaming media representative we spoke with said that eSports is the next big influencer in the industry.

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This surreal mix of reality, excitement, and electronic entertainment is what E3 looks to achieve. Mission completed.

HENRY ORPHANED

Written by Fred Bailey

5/30/2017

That cute little porcupine Henry doesn’t have a home anymore.

Henry was the groundbreaking star of an eponymous animated Virtual Reality short that won an Emmy for best Original Interactive program in 2016.

Henry was born at Oculus Story Studio, the Facebook-owned content generator of VR headset manufacturer Oculus.

And now Facebook has announced that Oculus Story Studio has been permanently shut down.

Since the studio was focused on narrative-driven VR content, this is seen as a fairly serious blow to the burgeoning VR field, something that Hanhai Studio has been keeping a close eye on.

Oculus Story Studio, barely two years old, was responsible for the creation of other high-profile, award-winning VR content, such as Dear Angelica and Lost.

Those last two titles were helmed by a former Pixar director, Saschka Unseld, Creative Director at the studio.  He’s now out of a job.

Oculus VP Jason Rubin said the company isn’t deserting VR creative content, it’s just shifting its focus “away from internal content creation to support more external production,” meaning outside producers.

Rubin promised that Oculus is going to continue to “fund non-gaming, experiential VR content,” to the tune of at least $50M, with the money being funneled “directly to artists to help jumpstart the most innovative” VR concepts.

In the meantime, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says that VR “won’t be a big part of our business for a while.” 

This feels like a bit of a setback, as Virtual Reality practitioners grope for ways to apply storytelling skills to the piping-hot new medium.

INVESTING IN A.R.

Written by Fred Bailey

4/6/2017

With Microsoft, Google and Apple diving in, by 2020 the combined annual market for AR and VR could be well over $100B.  At present, business-wide surveys show there’s a higher percentage of investment in AR than in VR, and the gap is likely to increase in the coming few years.

Bearing that in mind, here are three possible arenas for investment in the technology involved in developing Augmented Reality.

Dramatic shift from 2D to 3D computing
The vision is there.  We’ve seen it imagined in sci-fi content as diverse as Terminator 2, Minority Report and Black Mirror, where information and animation is overlaid on reality, either through an HUD (Heads Up Display) like a visor or helmet—or through some kind of miniature device actually implanted in the human eye.

The latter is still science fiction, but the HUD isn’t.  It’s like projecting pocket monsters onto a view of the street in Pokemon Go. Or Google Map directions being seen on your windshield instead of your cellphone.

But scanning, tracking and distinguishing the real world is not an easy task, especially when it’s on such a gigantic scale.  This involves mapping everything everywhere so that the hardware can track your location in order to overlay how you’re looking at it with AR content.  That's going to take some prodigious technological growth, but the promise is there.

Dynamic shaping of what we see

Accomplishing the above provides the groundwork for content creators to customize, enhance and even intensify your world view with a virtual coating, and that’s going to require a new set of tools for capture and conversion.  It’s the next step in gearing up.

Decisive removal of long distance as an obstacle

Collaboration with co-workers on opposite sides of the planet…massive public events like 360o participation in a concert held somewhere across the continent…trouble-shooting in an industrial emergency hundreds of miles away…  Those are just some of the possibilities for specialization as AR technology morphs and evolves in response to demand.

All this is achievable through the transparent processing of data and having it right there in front of you, in your own field of vision.  You don’t have to look down at a laptop.

The prospects for constructive and rewarding investment are exciting.

HH&E Venture is taking a long-view look at this kind of expansion.  It’s a joint project of Hanhai Studio and Eagles Fund, based in California, and we’re focused on investing in the most influential tech and business innovations in the U.S.  We’re working hard to put the resources from both China and America to good use, delivering high profits through strategic development opportunities.

 

V.R. UNTETHERED

Written by Fred Bailey

3/21/2017

At last December’s HET Festival, NVIDIA general manager Zvi Greenstein, discussing the future of Virtual Reality in his keynote, told us, “We need a wire-free system.”

Now, just a couple of months later, Chinese startup Pico Interactive, with a base in San Francisco, is in the process of introducing an all-in-one system without a wire.

The Pico Neo CV headset is untethered.

There are a lot of headsets out there, but they’re either fixed-position, in which your point-of-view remains the same, or they’ve got a wire that you might stumble over when you’re feeling your way around the environment you’re exploring.

No wire is just about the seventh degree of freedom.

The VP of Business Development at Pico, Paul Viglienzone, notes the drawbacks and challenges facing users tied to a wire and then goes in for the kill:  The Neo CV is grab-n-go.

“There’s no challenge to enter.  You just put it on and you’re in VR.”

He says that’s the way VR ought to be.

“It’s no hassle.  You’re in there.”

The Pico headset, built on a Snapdragon processor with highly accurate inside-out position tracking, won’t be commercially available until later this year.

In the meantime, the company is working diligently with content creators to develop what we all hope will be some exciting VR experiences.

Greenstein at HETFest said it’s a long-term voyage.  We’ll be following VR for years.

Yet Pico started talking about building this headset less than 12 months ago.  It may be a long journey, but it sometimes seems like the technology is advancing with unimaginable speed.

What’s next?  A VR scene on a beach where you can feel the sand between your toes with the smell of salt in the air?

VR: HOW DID THEY SHOOT THAT?

Written by Fred Bailey

3/13/2017

If you were at the Hollywood Entertainment Technology Festival last December, then you know Virtual Reality was at center stage.

VR is often 3D computer-generated.  Nevertheless, there’s such a thing as live-action VR, and it’s pretty much a mind-blower.  You get fully engrossed in it, and whichever way you turn your head, you’re still in it.

How the heck do they shoot that?

You recall the immemorial image of the guy with his camera on a tripod and his cap turned backwards as he leans in to look through the viewfinder.  That goes all the way back to the birth of the movies.

But where does the cameraman stand if the camera can see 360o?  And that includes up/down, left/right, backwards and forwards.

There are only a handful of VR cameras out there for professional use.  Some production companies are still using home-made constructions.

On the other hand, Nokia, the decades-old phone company, has re-imagined itself by offering a VR camera called OZO, a high-end piece of gear with a price tag of $45,000.  It’s a spherical contraption that captures a 360-degree field of view with eight lenses.

And the question of where the cinematographer stands is answered by including live monitoring.

On professional film sets, the director and crew can see what they’re shooting on a live video monitor, even if they’re shooting on film.

However, the computational muscle required in VR is prodigious.  It takes time to digitally stitch all that imagery together coming from several different cameras so it’s got a smooth and natural feel.  That used to mean you’d have to wait a good while after you’re done shooting to see what you shot.

But Ozo’s got dynamic rendering.  Which means filmmakers can put on VR goggles and see what’s being shot in real time right now.

And it means the camera operator doesn’t have to stand behind (or under) the camera.

How’s it look?  UploadVR editor-in-chief Will Mason calls Ozo’s output “some of the best VR live action content you’ve ever seen.”

Mason served as a panelist at the HETFest in December and was also a judge in the start-up competition.

THE THRILL OF VR - WILL IT BE THE DOMINANT ART FORM OF THE 21ST CENTURY?

Written by Fred Bailey

2/22/17

You know what Virtual Reality is. A fully-engrossing simulation technology that replicates an environment—real or imaginary.  It creates an immersive artificial sensory experience that stimulates the user as she interacts with it.

Is VR a genuine breakthrough, something with staying power—or is it a flash in the pan, something with a short shelf life, like the comings and goings of 3D over the years?

Some people find 3D movies irritating because of the glasses you have to wear.  Likewise, with VR, some people are not going to enjoy wearing the required HMD (Head-Mounted Display), once the novelty of the experience wears off.

The concept of VR has been around for decades.

Remember the Power Glove?  Originally released in 1989, it was a game controller accessory, an early stab at VR.  The slogan went, “Now you’re playing with power!” 

The public was told the glove was going to change everything.  It didn’t.  It was inexact and hard to manipulate.

But that was then.  This is now.  The technology has advanced in huge leaps and bounds.

At the Hollywood Entertainment Technology Festival, sponsored by Hanhai Studio last December, we got a glimpse of the future.

Zvi Greenstein, general manager of NVIDIA, where he leads VR business development, told us in his keynote, “We need a wire-free system.”  And it’s on the way.

Max Epstein, VP at DMG Entertainment, in his keynote said VR’s promise is “an extraordinary experience with interactive mechanics that further the narrative.”

And that’s where it’s at:  Using VR to enrich the Story…and vice versa.

David Attenborough was host of LIFE on BBC.  His First Life VR and Great Barrier Reef Dive are short VR adventure/documentaries, currently showing at the Natural History Museum in London.

Attenborough says, “We’re on the brink of a simply enormous change in visual communication.”

A growing number of VR production companies are sprouting up in California, among them: Oculus Story Studio, Vrse.works, Jaunt, VR Films, and The Virtual Reality Company. 

Because of the newness of VR as a medium, nobody has all the answers.

Which makes this a supremely exciting time to explore, experiment and discover. 

“This is going to change everything…  

The potential of virtual reality is truly limitless.”

—Rob Stromberg, director, Maleficent 

now Chief Creative Officer, The Virtual Reality Co.

     The Kaleidoscope VR Film Festival held at LA River Studios in Los Angeles in September of last year.

     The Kaleidoscope VR Film Festival held at LA River Studios in Los Angeles in September of last year.

POKÉMON TAKES OVER

Written by Fred Bailey

July 13, 2016

They’re all over the place. Take a hike down the boulevard and you’ll see countless people playing the new Augmented Reality game, Pokémon Go.

 

It’s only been a few days since the new app took its first bow, but after almost 8 million downloads, Nintendo’s stock value has shot up significantly.  Nintendo owns a sizable share of the Pokémon Company.

What’s behind the outsized popularity of this fad?

It’s partly because it’s a free download—although if you play long enough (and be assured everyone is) then you’re very likely to buy a few extras.

Pokémon’s big draw is that it had such widespread exposure back in the ‘90s.  It was an essential part of the millennials’ growing-up years.

Game developer Niantic has built upon the success of earlier AR games like Ingress.  But not all problems have been solved.  Players are burning up battery power way too fast, and some have been trying to figure out how to get around that.

There have also been myriad privacy complaints about the amount of data being harvested from player Google accounts.  Niantic says it’s working on a fix so that the game collects only basic profile information.

The future evolution of AR games and other tech issues will be explored in detail in Hanhai Studio’s Hollywood Entertainment Technology Festival later this year.