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Nike sues over “Satan Shoe,” disavowing all connection to soul soles

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Promotional image shoes a man with demonic eyes holding a customized sneaker.
Enlarge / The shoes—and the marketing for them—are definitely committed to their aesthetic.

Nike is suing the company behind a viral, limited-edition custom shoe, arguing that the unauthorized custom work dilutes its brand and creates a false impression that Nike approves the controversial design.

The Satan Shoe, a collaboration between a company called MSCHF and rapper Lil Nas X, is a tie-in to the rapper’s new single, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” released last Friday. The music video for the song (contains explicit language and extremely unambiguous sexual imagery; do not watch at work or around small children) tells a story “of sin, banishment, and redemption” that ends with Lil Nas X descending into Hell, giving Satan the lap dance of a lifetime, then deposing him and claiming the devil’s horns for his own.

“Montero” proved to be an immediate viral sensation; in five days, it has racked up about 45 million YouTube views, and the song, the singer, and various related terms (“Satan,” “mark of the beast,” “devil,” etc.) have been trending on Twitter and other platforms nonstop for days.

The Satan Shoes differ from the original Nike Air Max 97 shoe due to the addition of a bronze pentagram on the laces, the number “666” and the phrase “Luke 10:18” embroidered on the side, “Lil Nas X” embroidered on the back, a red inverted cross on the top of the tongue, and a mixture of 60 cc of red ink and one drop of human blood injected into the bubble of the sole. MSCHF made only 666 pairs of the shoes, which (despite costing $1,018 each) sold out in minutes.

Nike argues in its suit (PDF) that it had nothing to do with these shoes, but MSCHF has created brand confusion leading customers to think Nike is somehow involved. “Nike files this lawsuit to maintain control of its brand, to protect its intellectual property, and to clear the confusion and dilution in the marketplace by setting the record straight,” the suit reads. “Nike has not and does not approve or authorize MSCHF’s customized Satan Shoes.” The company asks the court to stop MSCHF from fulfilling any orders for the shoes.

How is this shoe different from any other shoe?

People sell customized sneakers all the time. The Internet is chock-full of individual sellers slinging custom Nikes, as well as any number of websites specializing in them.

US law, broadly speaking, tends to be pretty forgiving of doing whatever the hell you want with a thing after you have legally purchased that thing. In intellectual property law, there’s a legal principle called the first-sale doctrine. At a high level, the first-sale doctrine basically means that someone loses their intellectual property rights over what is done with a thing they have sold at the time they sell it and that the new owner then gets to decide what to do with it. There are, of course, exceptions, but generally if I spend my own money legally to acquire something—a book, a shoe, a designer bag—I can modify it however I want and then sell it to whomever I want for whatever price that person is willing to pay. There is a similar principle, called patent exhaustion, that applies to goods that are patented rather than copyrighted.

Nike, however, is specifically alleging brand confusion and trademark infringement. In short, the company says its swoop (sorry, “SWOOP”) is world-famous, and by leaving it on the shoe, MSCHF is deliberately confusing consumers into thinking Nike has something to do with the product. “MSCHF’s wrongful use of the Nike Asserted Marks is likely to cause dilution by blurring and the whittling away of the distinctiveness and fame” of Nike’s visual trademarks, the suit argues. “Unless restrained, MSCHF will continue to use the Nike Asserted Marks and/or confusingly similar marks and will cause irreparable damage to Nike for which Nike has no adequate remedy” other than the lawsuit.

Nike is clearly right that the Satan Shoes and associated video are deliberately and intentionally provocative, and they are indeed drawing predictable ire from certain conservative Christian corners. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, for example, shared the Twitter announcement of the Satan Shoe with the caption, “We are in a fight for the soul of our nation. We need to fight hard. And we need to fight smart. We have to win.”

The suit includes several online comments from consumers claiming they are going to boycott Nike over the Satan Shoe. “Words cannot describe the amount of disgust and disbelieve that this is truly happening,” one user going by “Michelle” wrote. “Jesus please save us!!!! Never supporting or buying Nike again!!!!”

“Nike has no control over the nature and quality of the Satan Shoes,” the company concludes, “and MSCHF’s keeping the Nike name on them is reflecting negatively on the company, its reputations, and the quality and safety of its goods.”

Huge success

Whether or not a single pair of shoes gets into the hands of any buyer now seems to be beside the point; clearly MSCHF has gotten all the attention it could possibly desire.

Brooklyn-based MSCHF—i.e., mischief—specializes in viral absurdity. That’s its entire jam, company CEO Gabriel Whaley recently explained to Business Insider.

“We’re trying to do stuff that the world can’t even define,” Whaley said. “Our perspective is everything is funny in a nihilistic sort of way. We’re not here to make the world a better place… We just do shit, and people buy our stuff.”

Lil Nas X himself is likewise clearly enjoying and leaning into the controversy online, as he is known to do. Over the weekend he posted a YouTube video called “Lil Nas X Apologizes for Satan Shoe,” in which he briefly holds up a shoe before the video cuts to the sex-with-Satan part of the “Montero” video.

The singer also posted a Tweet late Sunday with a mock-up of a white version of the Nike shoe, featuring Chick-fil-A branding in place of the iconic swoop and an allusion to John 3:16. “[W]e have decided to drop these to even the score,” he wrote. “[D]amn y’all happy now?”

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Nintendo has some intriguing indie games to fill out the Switch’s future lineup

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Nintendo has some intriguing indie games to fill out the Switch's future lineup

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OK, I admit that I’m a little bummed that we didn’t see an update on Hollow Knight: Silksong during today’s Nintendo Indie World event. But we got enough other cool looking games that I’m not too upset.

Nintendo has done a great job showcasing indies on Switch during the console’s first four years. Along with those awesome Nintendo first-party games, it has really been these smaller digital titles that have kept the Switch’s library looking so attractive. And today, we saw some that I imagine many of us are going to want to download.

Play them soon

A few of them are even coming out later today. The Longing jumped out at me with its moody, hand-drawn art. It also looks like an adventure game of sorts, which sings to this old LucasArts fan. There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension is also coming out later today, somehow looking even weirder than The Longing. It gives me some WarioWare vibes. It looks like you’re playing snippets of minigames.

Above: There Is No Game.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Fez is also heading to Switch later today. This is a classic indie game that should appeal to anyone who enjoys 2D platformers with a heavy emphasis on puzzle-solving. As the Switch continues to become such an indie-focused machine, it’s important to get classics like Fez on the console.

Look at all these games

I also saw a few action games that look intriguing. Skul: The Hero Slayer is a 2D roguelite that gives me a bit of a Dead Cells impression, both because of its pixel art and its fast-paced 2D fighting. Then there’s Aztech: Forgotten Gods, a 3D action game! You don’t often see the indies take on that genre, and its Mesoamerican aesthetic helps it stand out from all the fantasy and sci-fi stuff that we usually see.

aztech

Above: Aztech: Forgotten Gods.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Nintendo also showed off some neat games that focus on story, like Road 96. This one is about a teenager going on a road trip, and its procedural story should make for a lot of replayability. Nintendo closed the show with Oxenfree II: Lost Signals, a sequel to one of the better-liked indie games ever. I was also impressed by Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield, an auto-runner set in a Tokyo-Detroit mashup.

It was an impressive showcase. I know that some Nintendo fans have been worried that 2021 would be a quiet year for the Switch. That may be true when it comes to Nintendo first-party games, but these indies should help keep the system relevant for a lot of players while they wait Breath of the Wild 2.

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USC Games Expo will highlight 70 student games on May 15

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Danny Bilson is head of USC Gam,es.

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The USC Games Expo will debut more than 70 student-made games at noon Pacific on May 15 in a livestreamed online-only event.

The event for the University of Southern California’s video game program will feature returning host Geoff Keighley, creator of The Game Awards. Long-term partner Jam City returns as well. The USC Games program is rated as the top undergraduate game school in the country by The Princeton Review.

The event will be the second time it has been held in an online-only format because of the pandemic. The 70 games are up from 50 a year ago. They’re from students teams who worked remotely and were distributed across the globe.

Continuing the “global” theme, an additional live encore of the expo will stream that evening Pacific time to coincide with daytime in Asia. All interested attendees can register on uscgamesexpo.com for event updates, with North America attendees who RSVP eligible to win prizes, including game codes, during the stream itself.

Above: Danny Bilson is head of USC Games.

Image Credit: USC

This is the fifth year USC Games has held an expo, which covers the video game development programs offered by USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. The Expo will also feature the first hands-on for the 10 projects being developed in its capstone course, the Advanced Games Program (AGP).

The 10 games from the AGP class are:

  • Beat the Beat Up (Oculus VR) — A VR action/rhythm game where you fight to the beat as the star of your own Bollywood blockbuster. The neighborhood Don has sent out his goons to terrorize the locals, and you are the only one that can stop them. You have to impress the critics, including one voiced by Bollywood star Abhay Deol (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Dev.D, Happy Bhag Jayegi). If you rack up your score and clear the streets, you can save the village.
  • Corporate Clash (Mobile IOS/Android) — You can become the richest CEO of 2250. Corporate Clash is a casual mobile strategy game where players are the CEO of a futuristic company that makes widgets for robot consumers. You have to deal with the twists and turns thrown at you by your factory, employees, investors and other demanding groups. Pollute to cut costs but irk environmentalists, or raise prices and upset your customers?
  • Crescendo (PC) — Crescendo is a 2D combat action game where you conduct a musical world through your actions. Travel through an eerie fairy tale setting with music and battle the monstrous personifications of an orchestra.
  • Detour Bus (SteamVR, Oculus Rift/Link) — Detour Bus is a VR construction-comedy game where players build winding highways around themselves to take the Flowers family on a psychedelic road trip across post-infrastructure America. Snap together random road pieces to traverse groovy landscapes, avoid hazardous obstacles, and prevent corrupt Senator Joseph McCarthief from turning all freeways into pay-to-drive tunnels.
  • Larger Than Light (PC) — Traverse shadows by manipulating light in the 2.5D puzzle platform game, Larger Than Light. Escape a haunted school as the sibling duo: Skia the shadow, who can move across other shadows on the wall, and Lux the lightbulb, who can manipulate the size and placement of shadows for his younger sister to platform across. A single player will control both characters, getting them to work together to break away from the otherworldly force trapping them in their school while overcoming their bitter sibling rivalry.
  • Leechbug (PC) — Leechbug is a real-time strategy combat game where players take on the role of the Leechbug, a robotic symbiotic parasite who exists in an alien seascape. Your home is under threat from a polluting force that’s also sapping the will of your fellow undersea denizens. You have to use your powers of possession to free your friends, control their unique abilities synergistically to engage in combat, and reach the surface of the ocean to rescue your underwater world.
  • Pelota (PC) — Pelota is an action-packed online sports game for 2-to-4 players that brings an ancient sport into the interactive medium. Players will be immersed in a Mesoamerican setting as they master the game’s novel physics-based mechanics to get the game ball through a vertical hoop, using everything they have — except their hands — in order to win the favor of the gods.
  • Snowshoe Thompson (PC) — Explore the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in The Trials of Snowshoe Thompson, a skiing expedition game set in the 19th century about an immigrant traversing the elements and laying the groundwork for what would become the U.S. Postal Service. During 1856, Snowshoe Thompson sets out to aid his new community as a mailman cross-country skiing across the Sierra Nevada mountain range, connecting the wild west with the wider world.
  • Sweeping the Ruins (PC) — Sweeping the Ruins is a two-player co-op strategy and combat game that let’s players engage in asymmetrical combat with an overpowered behemoth inside a dark and deep dungeon. Armed with no weaponry, two players will rely on their wits and use environmental traps to work in tandem to take down the beast. Players will need strategic coordination, situational awareness and teamwork to defeat the massive enemy and prevent the destruction of their nearby homeland.
  • Wheelin’ & Mealin’ (PC) — Wheelin’ and Mealin’ is a two-player co-op driving-and-cooking game that blends tooling around a bright, colorful cityscape and cooking fantastical dishes. Players can maneuver a souped-up race car and immerse themselves around a fantastical city to create crazy dishes that satisfy their customers in order to rise to the top of the restaurant world.

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Nvidia forms Inception VC Alliance to connect AI startups with venture capital

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Nvidia forms Inception VC Alliance to connect AI startups with venture capital

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Nvidia has formed its Inception VC Alliance to connect AI startups with venture capital. The move will help connect more than 7,500 startups in the company’s Inception program for AI tech with venture capital firms.

Jeff Herbst, vice president of business development and head of Inception at Nvidia, unveiled the alliance today at the AI Day for VCs event during Nvidia’s annual GTC 21 conference. Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang unveiled the company’s latest products on Monday in a keynote speech where he talked about the company’s new Grace central processing unit (CPU).

“We always felt a very strong connection to the ecosystem. We give them technology, we introduce them to our 150 different software development kits, we give them joint marketing, we introduce them to investors,” Herbst said in an interview with VentureBeat. “We give them Cloud Credits. We give them discounts for GPUs.”

Above: Nvidia’s Jeff Herbst (top left) leads a panel on AI startups at GTC 21.

Image Credit: Nvidia

AI adoption is growing across industries, and startup funding has been booming. Investment in AI companies increased 52% last year to $52.1 billion, according to PitchBook. The Inception AI startups are up 9 times from 2016, Herbst said.

The alliance aims to help investment firms identify and support leading AI startups early, as part of their effort to realize meaningful returns down the line. The goal is to educate VCs about AI opportunities and nurture startups, Herbst said.

inception 2

Above: Inception has more than 7,500 AI startups.

Image Credit: Nvidia

“AI is growing like a weed. We’re over 7500 companies, and it’s not going to be long before we’ve doubled that,” he said. “The ecosystem is clearly exploding. And VCs are a super important part of it. Startups need VCs, and VCs need startups. It’s just that simple fuel for startups to grow. We have thousands of VCs that are already part of our ecosystem, but we’ve never formalized the partnership with them until now.”

Founding members of the alliance include venture firms NEA, Acrew, Mayfield, Madrona Venture Group, In-Q-Tel, Pitango, Vanedge Capital, and Our Crowd. More VCs can apply here.

nvidia panel 2

Above: Nvidia’s Inception AI startups by industry.

Image Credit: Nvidia

The Nvidia Inception VC Alliance is part of the Nvidia Inception program, an acceleration platform for startups working in AI, data science, and HPC. These startups represent every major industry and are located in more than 90 countries.

Among its benefits, the alliance offers VCs exclusive access to high-profile events, visibility into top startups actively raising funds, and access to growth resources for portfolio companies.

“It’s both a corporate goal and a personal goal to extend this ecosystem around the world,” Herbst said.

nvidia panel 3

Above: Nvidia’s Inception AI startups are from the green countries.

Image Credit: Nvidia

Nvidia currently counts about 40 companies it has invested in directly. Around 300 Inception companies are making presentations at the GTC 21 event, which is expected to have an online audience of about 150,000. And around 35 of the startups are in emerging markets, Herbst said.

“Is there parity in the world with AI startups? No,” Lopez Research analyst Maribel Lopez said on the panel. “Do we have a long way to go? Yes. But I’m seeing exciting things like Cuda, a fintech startup in microfinance in Africa.”

These startups are using AI for a wide range of tasks, like figuring out what percentage of fisheries in the world are operating illegally.

“Now that Jensen has shown the roadmap, people know that Nvidia is a complete platform, with CPUs, GPUs, DPUs, and everything that enables these startups to do their life’s work.”

nvidia panel 4

Above: Nvidia’s Inception AI startups over the years.

Image Credit: Nvidia

On Monday, Herbst moderated a panel on investing in startups around the globe and the need to create a more diverse ecosystem for entrepreneurs. He estimated there are 12,000 to 15,000 AI startups around the world and said Nvidia is only in touch with about half of them through Inception.

“It’s an open invitation to join our ecosystem,” Herbst said. “Nvidia loves startups.”

Herbst said about 16% of Inception members are part of the health care industry. Growth areas include robotics, self-driving cars and trucks, and data science.

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