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Manticore Games raises $100M for user-generated games in the ‘multiverse’

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Core enables user-generated games.

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Manticore Games has raised $100 million for user-generated games in the “multiverse,” which is the company’s preferred term for what a lot o of other people call the metaverse.

The metaverse is the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One. But to Manticore Games CEO Frederic Descamps, the multiverse is more like a collection of universes of high-quality user-built games that is like an endless arcade. And he hopes that one chunk of the multiverse will be housed under one roof, through the Core platform, at Manticore Games.

The creators use Core, a platform with tools that make it easier for players to create their own games. It’s not unlike Roblox’s user-generated content, which enabled Roblox to go public at a $41.9 billion valuation. But Core games use Epic’s Unreal Engine, with graphics that have both greater variety and higher quality than many blocky Roblox titles, which are often for kids. Core is more like Roblox for adults. Because Roblox has become so valuable, it’s clear that investors believe that Manticore Games could have a similar value.

The amount of the funding is big, but it’s almost becoming normal for successful game companies to be able to raise such amounts. Last week, Rec Room announced it had raised $100 million at a $1.25 billion valuation, and on Tuesday, Dapper Labs (the maker of CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shot) raised $305 million.

“UGC, gaming, online virtual events and communities, the creator economy these all have strong fundamentals,” Descamps said in an interview with GamesBeat. “We knew at some point we would have to raise more money because what we’re doing is extremely ambitious. The surface area of what we’re building is vast. The demand side, the supply side, the engine, the servers, the tech, the community. This is lots of work.”

Helping creators

But Manticore itself doesn’t make games. It just helps its creators do so.

“We provide the infrastructure and economic system and the tools for collaboration,” Descamps said.

With Core, players are creating their own worlds, and the virtual environment is seamless. You can go into a hub and see all of the popular games that you can go into. And when you are in a game, it is amazingly easy to open a portal and move to another game. Players can even connect their games through these portals, which take seconds for players to traverse. The players can keep their avatars and use them in any number of the game worlds.

XN led the funding round, with participation from other strategic and institutional investors such as SoftBank Vision Fund 2, London Venture Partners (LVP), as well as returning investors Benchmark, Bitkraft’s new Opportunity Fund, Correlation Ventures, and Epic Games.

The Redwood City, California-based company will use the investment to accelerate Core’s growth by bolstering its creator programs and further developing the most advanced game creation and publishing tools of any major user-generated content (UGC) platform.

Getting traction

Above: Core enables user-generated games.

Image Credit: Manticore Games

The investment comes as the company approaches a major milestone as Core will be available for early access exclusively on the Epic Games Store on April 15. After just a few months in alpha testing, Core already offers more than 20,000 free games, has had roughly half a million projects started on the platform, and has amassed over one million player and creator accounts globally.

Cofounder Jordan Maynard said in an interview that one of the biggest improvements was the addition of a home world with a centralized hub where players can gather and then go off into the connected worlds. This 3D space feels like a kind of plaza in the multiverse. The games range from simple Sudoku sessions that you can play at tables to first-person shooters.

“It feels much more like a massively multiplayer online world than it used to,” Maynard said.

Descamps said that Manticore shares 50% of the revenue generated by games with the creators, with the hope that Core creators can make a living making games. Still, the company couldn’t share more with users in part because it has expenses like marketing, customer service, and community management. It operated a game creation contest, for instance, and gave $150,000 in prizes to the top 50 creators.

The company is using the money to expand its teams, broaden the product, and invest in creators and the ecosystem.  The team is close to 100 people.

“One of the reasons we’re raising money is to go to new platforms like Xbox, mobile, and maybe even VR,” Descamps said. “I think VR is actually a killer app. At some point, it’s going to take off for both creators and players.”

Raising money

core 3

Above: Core enables games that are more like Roblox for adults.

Image Credit: Manticore Games

XN founder Gaurav Kapadia said in a statement that Manticore has the best creator-led gaming platform with great technology for multiplayer games. The funding was possible because the company started to see growth and a very positive reception to the platform.

“We knew we needed to fuel the engine, but it came a little earlier than expected,” Descamps said. “People have been paying attention and partly because of Roblox. Even pre-COVID, people realized something special was happening. And during COVID, they saw the economic model taking off. We were able to channel this interest into this round of funding.”

As for XN, Descamps said, “We were extremely impressed by their level of understanding of our business, their level of understanding of our industry, the research they had done. They came in and they said they wanted to lead the round.”

Manticore believes that the future of games is in open user-generated platforms. Core is bringing a level of disruption to game creation and play that’s similar to how YouTube revolutionized video. Over the past year, Manticore built the infrastructure of the multiverse from the ground up, launched a creator-friendly economy, and introduced accessible tools for game creation and publishing, with an interface that requires little to no coding experience to develop and publish a game in as little as an hour, Descamps said.

“Where the networks allow it, crossplay will work,” Maynard said in an interview. “Technically, there is no reason that we can’t do crossplay. If I’m playing Core on a PC, and one of our engineers is playing on iOS, we can be in the same world.”

Serial entrepreneurs

Core

Above: Manticore Games shares 50% of revenue with its creators.

Image Credit: Manticore Games

Descamps and Maynard are serial entrepreneurs who have worked together at game companies such as Electronic Arts, Zynga, Xfire, Trion Worlds, and A Bit Lucky.

The mission was able enabling self-expression and lowering the barrier to creativity in gaming, as well as creating the best economic opportunities for creators.

“We wanted to drastically lower the barriers to creativity and game making, world building, publishing, and operating the servers,” Descamp said.”

As a side note, I remembered first meeting Descamps when he interviewed me about my Opening the Xbox book about the making of Microsoft’s first Xbox game console. He did it for his studies at Stanford University. How time flies! It’s amazing to see how his career and friendship with Maynard has led to this moment. Descamps recently talked about the multiverse at our metaverse conference.

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US government strikes back at Kremlin for SolarWinds hack campaign

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US government strikes back at Kremlin for SolarWinds hack campaign

Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images

US officials on Thursday formally blamed Russia for backing one of the worst espionage hacks in recent US history and imposed sanctions designed to mete out punishments for that and other recent actions.

In a joint advisory, the National Security Agency, FBI, and Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency said that Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, abbreviated as the SVR, carried out the supply-chain attack on customers of the network management software from Austin, Texas-based SolarWinds.

The operation infected SolarWinds’ software build and distribution system and used it to push backdoored updates to about 18,000 customers. The hackers then sent follow-up payloads to about 10 US federal agencies and about 100 private organizations. Besides the SolarWinds supply-chain attack, the hackers also used password guessing and other techniques to breach networks.

After the massive operation came to light, Microsoft President Brad Smith called it an “act of recklessness.” In a call with reporters on Thursday, NSA Director of Cybersecurity Rob Joyce echoed the assessment that the operation went beyond established norms for government spying.

“We observed absolutely espionage,” Joyce said. “But what is concerning is from that platform, from the broad scale of availability of the access they achieved, there’s the opportunity to do other things, and that’s something we can’t tolerate and that’s why the US government is imposing costs and pushing back on these activities.”

Thursday’s joint advisory said that the SVR-backed hackers are behind other recent campaigns targeting COVID-19 research facilities, both by infecting them with malware known as both WellMess and WellMail and by exploiting a critical vulnerability in VMware software.

The advisory went on to say that the Russian intelligence service is continuing its campaign, in part by targeting networks that have yet to patch one of the five following critical vulnerabilities. Including the VMware flaw, they are:

  • CVE-2018-13379 Fortinet FortiGate VPN
  • CVE-2019-9670 Synacor Zimbra Collaboration Suite
  • CVE-2019-11510 Pulse Secure Pulse Connect Secure VPN
  • CVE-2019-19781 Citrix Application Delivery Controller and Gateway
  • CVE-2020-4006 VMware Workspace ONE Access

“Mitigation against these vulnerabilities is critically important as US and allied networks are constantly scanned, targeted, and exploited by Russian state-sponsored cyber actors,” the advisory stated. It went on to say that the “NSA, CISA, and FBI strongly encourage all cybersecurity stakeholders to check their networks for indicators of compromise related to all five vulnerabilities and the techniques detailed in the advisory and to urgently implement associated mitigations.”

A representative of VPN provider Pulse noted that patches for CVE-2019-11510 were released in April 2019. “Customers who followed the instructions in a Pulse Secure security advisory issued at that time have properly protected their systems and mitigated the threat.” FortiNet in recent weeks has also pointed out it patched CVE-2018-13379 in May 2019. The makers of the other affected hardware and software have also issued fixes.

cves targeted by russia

CISA

The US Treasury Department, meanwhile, imposed sanctions to retaliate for what it said were “aggressive and harmful activities by the Government of the Russian Federation.” The measures include new prohibitions on Russian sovereign debt and sanctions on six Russia-based firms that the Treasury Department said “supported the Russian Intelligence Services’ efforts to carry out malicious cyber activities against the United States.”

The firms are:

  • ERA Technopolis, a research center operated by the Russian Ministry of Defense for transferring the personnel and expertise of the Russian technology sector to the development of technologies used by the country’s military. ERA Technopolis supports Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), a body responsible for offensive cyber and information operations.
  • Pasit, a Russia-based information technology company that has conducted research and development supporting malicious cyber operations by the SVR.
  • SVA, a Russian state-owned research institute specializing in advanced systems for information security located in that country. SVA has done research and development in support of the SVR’s malicious cyber operations.
  • Neobit, a Saint Petersburg, Russia-based IT security firm whose clients include the Russian Ministry of Defense, SVR, and Russia’s Federal Security Service. Neobit conducted research and development in support of the cyber operations conducted by the FSB, GRU, and SVR.
  • AST, a Russian IT security firm whose clients include the Russian Ministry of Defense, SVR, and FSB. AST provided technical support to cyber operations conducted by the FSB, GRU, and SVR.
  • Positive Technologies, a Russian IT security firm that supports Russian Government clients, including the FSB. Positive Technologies provides computer network security solutions to Russian businesses, foreign governments, and international companies and hosts recruiting events for the FSB and GRU.

“The reason they were called out is because they’re an integral part and participant in the operation that the SVR executes,” Joyce said of the six companies. “Our hope is that by denying the SVR the support of those companies, we’re impacting their ability to project some of this malicious activity around the world and especially into the US.”

Russian government officials have steadfastly denied any involvement in the SolarWinds campaign.

Besides attributing the SolarWinds campaign to the Russian government, Thursday’s release from the Treasury Department also said that the SVR was behind the August 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny with a chemical weapon, the targeting of Russian journalists and others who openly criticize the Kremlin, and the theft of “red team tools,” which use exploits and other attack tools to mimic cyber attacks.

The “red team tools” reference was likely related to the offensive tools taken from FireEye, the security firm that first identified the Solar Winds campaign after discovering its network had been breached.
The Treasury department went on to say that the Russian government “cultivates and co-opts criminal hackers” to target US organizations. One group, known as Evil Corp., was sanctioned in 2019. That same year, federal prosecutors indicted the Evil Corp kingpin Maksim V. Yakubets and posted a $5 million bounty for information that leads to his arrest or conviction.

Although overshadowed by the sanctions and the formal attribution to Russia, the most important takeaway from Thursday’s announcements is that the SVR campaign remains ongoing and is currently leveraging the exploits mentioned above. Researchers said on Thursday that they’re seeing Internet scanning that is intended to identify servers that have yet to patch the Fortinet vulnerability, which the company fixed in 2019. Scanning for the other vulnerabilities is also likely ongoing.

People managing networks, particularly any that have yet to patch one of the five vulnerabilities, should read the latest CISA alert, which provides extensive technical details about the ongoing hacking campaign and ways to detect and mitigate compromises.

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Autonomous trucking company Plus will use AI and billions of miles of data to train self-driving semis

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Autonomous trucking company Plus will use AI and billions of miles of data to train self-driving semis

This article is part of a VB Lab Insight series paid for by Plus.


The safest drivers are those with the most experience. Studies show it can take years of practice for automobile drivers to become careful and competent road users. Similarly, the more experience a truck driver has the less likely it is that they will cause a serious crash.

What holds true for human drivers holds true for autonomous driving systems — up to a point. The safest self-driving vehicle platforms are those that have accumulated the most experience.

Since driving experience is so important, how can technologists make sure computerized driving systems get the training they need to operate safely on the nation’s roads and highways?

Solving this challenge is the key to unlocking a fully autonomous future.

How computers learn to drive a semi-truck

Thanks to advances in sensor technology and artificial intelligence (AI), an automated truck is capable of analyzing many objects on the road and making a decision about how to respond.

This is accomplished in large part by training so-called “deep learning” algorithms. Repeatedly expose a self-driving system to all kinds of obstacles, from a cut-in vehicle to a construction site, and the system will start to understand how to react when an obstruction appears on the highway.

Here it is important to note that unlike people, machines lack common sense and don’t do well handling novel situations. Human drivers know to slow down in the face of an unexpected obstacle — a bear, say — because we can make decisions based on similar situations we have already encountered or extrapolate from other incidents.

Unlike humans, however, deep neural networks can only learn from data they have been trained on, whether from public roads, closed courses, or computer simulations.

So back to the original question: How do you train the machines so they are exposed to the full range of the driving experience?

Data, data, and more data

Plus’s goal is to help truck drivers on long-haul routes, where they encounter a variety of road and weather conditions. In addition to closed-road testing and computer simulations, the company’s PlusDrive system is learning on the open road, where the trucks can be exposed to real-world obstacles and situations. Junk flying from a pickup bed. Ice slicks. A wind turbine blade. A zigzagging motorcycle.

Plus3

Though these so-called “long tail” phenomena comprise less than 1% of the time behind the wheel, knowing how to safely navigate them is critical for machines. Society expects that a computer-operated machine must be at least an order of magnitude safer than a human driver.

Billions of miles of on-road testing

Starting this summer, Plus will put its supervised automated driving system into factory production. It is also retrofitting existing trucks with the system. By this time next year, hundreds of automated trucks powered by PlusDrive will be on the road, hauling commercial cargo.

Human drivers will be behind the wheel. Like an experienced professional training a new recruit, Plus drivers will monitor the autonomous trucks while teaching them how to handle unexpected obstacles.

Plus estimates that its fleet will accumulate billions of collective miles before the company deploys fully driverless vehicles. Taking an evolutionary approach to full autonomy enables the company to rack up miles more quickly, with the assistance of on-board professional drivers who are training and validating the system.

To support its global deployment in the U.S., China, Europe, and other markets, Plus recently raised $420 million in new funding.

Truck driver retention and low-carbon solution

The drivers benefit too. The Plus supervised autonomous trucking solution elevates the role of the truck driver, upskilling them in preparation for an autonomous future. At the same time a digital co-pilot will ease driver exhaustion on long-haul routes, and fleets will spend less on the hiring process.

The system yields other gains. Fuel comprises about a third of a trucking company’s operating budget, by far the largest cost for heavy trucks. When an automated system understands the road, pulling in GPS and weather data too, they optimize shifting and braking. Plus has run pilot projects showing that  PlusDrive saves 10% of the tank compared to the most efficient drivers, a win for the bottom line and the environment.

The autonomous trucking future, now

Commercial space travel, solar-powered cities, autonomous vehicles — the first two visions of the future depend on specific economic inflection points, while the third is wholly dependent on the amount of data a system has accumulated.

Plus is building the necessary feedback loop of information today. Its trucks are accumulating the data. Its drivers, who are among the safest and most efficient Class A drivers, are training the system with their responses. Its engineers are fine-tuning PlusDrive’s algorithms and decisions. And eventually PlusDrive will be one of the safest and most experienced drivers on the road.

Plus is applying autonomous trucking technology to trucks today. For more information, please visit www.plus.ai.


VB Lab Insights content is created in collaboration with a company that is either paying for the post or has a business relationship with VentureBeat, and they’re always clearly marked. Content produced by our editorial team is never influenced by advertisers or sponsors in any way. For more information, contact [email protected]

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Misfits Gaming esports group launches Women of Misfits speaker series

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Misfits Gaming esports group launches Women of Misfits speaker series

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Esports company Misfits Gaming Group is leaning into female gamers with the launch of its Women of Misfits speaker series, and it will turn into a wider platform over time.

The Boca Raton, Florida-based company will use its fame in esports to elevate issues for women in gaming and esports, and it’s happening at a time when problems such as sexual harassment and under-representation of women at game studios and at esports organizations have been in the headlines.

Women are a prevalent part of the esports and gaming landscape. Nearly 40% of all gamers are female with 80% of them being 18 or older. The Women of Misfits initiative will provide a space for women to discuss ideas and be inspired by influential women both inside and outside the organization in addition to supporting the growth and development of women within MGG. We’ll have a Women in Gaming Breakfast at our GamesBeat Summit 2021 on April 28-29.

The platform will features a series of monthly guest speakers. The first speakers are Chris Evert, 18-time Grand Slam singles champion and tennis legend; GloZell Green, comedian and YouTuber; Bianca Smith, the first Black woman to serve as a professional baseball coach; Angela Ruggiero, CEO Sports Innovation Lab and four-time Olympian and Gold Medalist for the U.S. Hockey team; and Maya Enista Smith,7 am embargo Executive Director of the Born This Way Foundation.

The focus of the Women of Misfits platform will be mentorship, development, network, and advocacy. The platform will be led by female executives within MGG including chief development officer Hillary Matchett; president of media and branding Ella Pravetz; chief revenue officer Lagen Nash; president of Misfits Agency Amy Palmer; vice president of Communications Becca Henry; chief wellness adviser Carolyn Rubenstein; and cofounder Laurie Silvers.

The Women of Misfits platform includes a monthly speaker series with industry leaders and visionaries which will air on MGG’s YouTube channel. The sessions will be moderated by MGG executives and guest speakers will share topics that matter to them and inspire both the gaming community and women to pursue their dreams.

“I am truly inspired and amazed with our women at MGG and their many accomplishments and eager to watch this platform ascend,” said Misfits CEO Ben Spoont, in a statement. “The determination and dedication to push one another to break the boundaries as women within the esports industry is remarkable, and I am confident this platform will resonate not only within MGG but also within our wider community.”

GamesBeat

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it.

How will you do that? Membership includes access to:

  • Newsletters, such as DeanBeat
  • The wonderful, educational, and fun speakers at our events
  • Networking opportunities
  • Special members-only interviews, chats, and “open office” events with GamesBeat staff
  • Chatting with community members, GamesBeat staff, and other guests in our Discord
  • And maybe even a fun prize or two
  • Introductions to like-minded parties

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