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Tencent seeks the best indies for Games Without Borders Awards

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Tencent seeks the best indies for Games Without Borders Awards

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Tencent is busy taking applications for its fourth annual Tencent Games Without Borders Awards, which celebrates the best indie games from around the world. The applications opened on March 22, and they close on June 30. This year the entire process takes place online. This is becoming a bigger deal, and it’s a way for the world’s biggest game maker to give back to the game developers who make it successful.

As it has grown, the program has helped draw attention to the games that would otherwise get missed in the sea of noise around the industry. And it helps surface developers who need to break into the Chinese market or break out of a particular region to global success. This year, the program’s prize pool expanded to include things that will help developers finish their games, including hardware, localization, conference attendance, cloud credit, and mentorship, on top of cash prizes and promotion.

After being screened by Tencent and voted upon by a panel of judges, the winners will be announced in October at an event held by both Tencent Cloud and Intel Game DevBoost. Last year, more than 200 teams from 30 countries applied.

How it came about

The awards started in 2018 originally as a contest to find games that were innovative or creative, and it was focused almost exclusively on Chinese domestic developers. Only a handful of international titles took part, said Indigo Zhu, the head of Tencent Independent Game Incubator, in an email to GamesBeat.

“Over the past couple of years, we’ve altered our focus a little, in that while we still want games that do something completely new, it’s no longer a prerequisite for participation — this is now a competition for all indie games, and we’re as keen to see beautiful homages to classic genres as we are games that try to rewrite the gameplay rulebook,” Zhu said. “By expanding the scope of the awards program and having a dedicated International channel, we saw more than 200 international games being submitted for consideration last year.”

The program resides with the Tencent Institute of Games, whose mission is to support knowledge sharing, industry communication and to help cultivate talent throughout the industry. This can take many forms, such as university partnerships, but it can also take the form of something like the awards, Zhu said.

Above: Indigo Zhu, the head of Tencent Independent Game Incubator.

Image Credit: Tencent

“Running this contest was a way of supporting indie developers globally and identifying standout talent and projects,” Zhu said. “For the international side, it also had a benefit of acting as a form of cultural exchange.”

A cultural exchange is timely because international tensions rose during the administration of ex-President Donald Trump and they haven’t improved much under President Joe Biden.

Zhu said the company plans to focus on the products and teams participating in the competition. In the future, as a part of our community, the participating teams will have the opportunity to participate in various promotional activities. Ultimately, the goal is to promote the diversity of games around the world.

Prizes

With each year, Zhu said the team has absorbed the feedback and tried to make it better. The prize amount was a big question, and the team opted to create smaller cash prizes as well as hardware and other support. That was deemed better than a large, attention-grabbing cash prize for the prestige.

“In the course of preparing for the 2021 awards, we looked at what many indie developers needed and, for a lot of them, a smaller cash prize, some hardware and some support would be a huge deal,” Zhu said.

This was something that Emilie M. Reed wrote about in a piece on arts funding and Adrian Hon spoke about it and it caught Zhu’s ear.

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Above: Tencent GWB winners from 2019.

Image Credit: Tencent

“When looking at prizes we wanted ones that would still be appealing to more established, larger teams, but genuinely make a big difference to the ‘common’ indie,” Zhu said. “And, by splitting the prize fund into multiple smaller pots we can make sure to help as many teams as possible.”

That philosophy extends to all the prizes. Every team gets Intel hardware, for example. With regards the free localization prize, if a game already has a publisher, then it’s likely they already have a simplified Chinese translation. But for a one or two-person team, working on their first game, it’s possible the game only exists in their native language, Zhu said.

“By offering this prize, we can help them reach an entirely new market and, again, the prize will make a genuine difference to the success of a team,” he said.

For larger teams, the opportunity to get their game in front of Chinese players is still appealing, even if they don’t need some of the other prizes. Beyond this, it has to be easy to take part. If devs or publishers have to fill out a million forms or commit days at a time to preparing, they’ll honestly not bother. They already have enough on their plate, Zhu said.

“So, we structured the competition to be completely online from day one, only take an hour or so to sign up, and then there’s no other involvement necessary unless they opt in to a promotional activity or announcement,” Zhu said.

Targeted developers

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Above: Tencent GWB winners from 2018.

Image Credit: Tencent

Tencent wants a mix of developers whose games that have an established following, high production values, and broad appeal. It also wants titles that not that many people have seen before.

“The result of this approach is that we’ve seen titles such as Cloudpunk, Haven and Spellbreak, all relatively well-known indie titles, with super-high production values, that found an audience,” Zhu said. “And we can try to mix that in with titles such as Pull Stay, In My Shadow, Super Cable Boy, and Peaks of Yore, all games from less-established devs that might go under the radar for a lot of people. It’s important to us that our awards activity doesn’t just end up signal boosting the same titles that already have the spotlight. We try to share it as equally as we can.”

The other thing Tencent does is to make sure that the awards are truly global. A lot of entrants come from North America and Western Europe. But Tencent also tries to reach teams from India, from Brazil, from Tunisia and so on.

“There’s some really impressive devs there right now, but the teams in these regions don’t always have the same promotional and networking opportunities that a team in California might have, for example,” Zhu said. “One of the things we’re proud of is that we’ve seen a lot of titles (and winners!) come from all across the world.”

The program finds the indie titles mainly through the judges. The staff at different Tencent studios like Timi and WeGame screens out games that don’t meet the rules or criteria, filtering through hundreds of submissions. Then the judges get a crack at a shorter list. And the judges come from both Tencent and external producers from the industry. The judges this year include Callum Underwood, Elle Osilli-Wood, Kim Pallister, Anna Megill, Elaine Gómez, Markus Khulo, Meredith Hall and Josh Tarrant.

Too many games?

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Above: Some of the winners from Tencent’s GWB awards in 2020.

Image Credit: Tencent

I asked if there were too many games now.

“I’m not sure I would put it as there being ‘too many games’ but it’s certainly true that modern game development and social media has created a signal-to-noise ratio problem,” Zhu said. “It’s easier than ever for developers to start making games thanks to Unity, Unreal, GameMaker Studio 2, Godot, etc., as well as distribution platforms being more open than before. Fundamentally, this is a good thing both for players and creators, but the result is a lot of games struggling for attention.”

Zhu pointed out that others trying to find good indies include IWOCON, Wholesome Direct, and the Guerrilla Collective.

“They all try to lift a handful of titles into the spotlight but the indie game industry is so competitive right now, it’s tough, and it’s also hard to make sure that the people who end up viewing this  content aren’t just other people already in the industry — you want to get the games in front of people who buy and play games,” Zhu said. “They all have their own solutions to this problem. And for us, one part of our solution is to take two games to a Chinese industry event so can guarantee that players can actually get their hands on the titles. Another part is translating interviews and articles about these games for China-side socials. We’ve tried to find multiple ways to tackle these problems.”

The Chinese market

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Above: More winners from Tencent GWB awards in 2020.

Image Credit: Tencent

Last year, Tencent took two international games, Zelter and The Riftbreaker, to the WePlay Expo in Shanghai, as the company felt they would be enjoyable and understandable to a local audience and fit in with the loud environment at those types of events, Zhu said. More applications come in from Chinese mobile game developers, as well as PC game makers.

“In the Chinese competition area, we find that the products sometimes have strong Chinese flavor or characteristics, which in fact has a lot to do with the orientation of Chinese creators,” Zhu said. “By comparison, in the global competition area, products often have the characteristics of the global market. At the same time, also welcome products with strong regional characteristics.”

But the program focuses on good products, regardless of where they’re from. And once the winners are selected, both Tencent and its partners amplify the winners. But that doesn’t always translate into extra sales for a game. Intel GameDev Boost has been particularly helpful in supporting winners, Zhu said.

“Our prizes are designed to increase commercial opportunities,” Zhu said. “Devs are more likely to be able to finish their games due to prize money. Devs will have better resources to test and optimize their games due to receiving Intel hardware. Devs will be able to reach more markets thanks to localization. More players will actually be able to play these games, thanks to the demo booths. And multiplayer teams will have infrastructure support thanks to the support we are receiving from Tencent Cloud and the prize they are offering to developers. All of these prizes make commercial success more likely.”

On top of that, China can be a tricky market to promote in, Zhu said.

“So by translating articles, producing sizzle reels, running interviews in Chinese on our channels here, we’re effectively marketing these games for free and expanding the pool of potential buyers for when a game launches,” Zhu said. “This can fall under the ‘exposure’ category, I know, but it’s a type of exposure that 99% of teams don’t have access to.”

The awards can also be a great way to network and make connections. Winners can find publishing partners after the awards, and Tencent may decide whether it wants to incubate a winning title.

“As part of this, we can draw from the best experts across Tencent’s development teams, and make use of Tencent’s market advantages, operational experience, and networks to help these products reach commercial success,” Zhu said. “That’s another way we can help these teams turn a promotional opportunity into a real commercial benefit.”

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.

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Lucidworks: Chatbots and recommendations boost online brand loyalty

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Who is loyal

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.


Pandemic-related shutdowns led consumers to divert the bulk of their shopping to online — and many of those shoppers are now hesitant about returning to stores as businesses begin to open back up. A recent survey of 800 consumers conducted by cloud company Lucidworks found that 59% of shoppers plan to either avoid in-person shopping as much as possible,  or visit in-person stores less often than before the pandemic.

Above: Shoppers across the U.S. and U.K. agree that high-quality products, personalized recommendations, and excellent customer service are the top three reasons they’re brand-loyal.

Image Credit: Lucidworks

As the world stabilizes, shoppers want brands to provide a multi-faceted shopping experience — expanded chatbot capabilities, diverse recommendations, and personalized experiences that take into account personal preferences and history, Lucidworks found in its study. More than half of shoppers in the survey, 55%, said they use a site’s chatbot on every visit. American shoppers use chatbots more than their counterparts in the United Kingdom, at 70%.

The majority of shoppers, 70%, use chatbots for customer service, and 53% said they want a chatbot to help them find specific products or check product compatibility. A little less than half, or 48%, said they use chatbots to find more information about a product, and 42% use chatbots to find policies such as shipping information and how to get refunds.

A quarter of shoppers will leave the website to seek information elsewhere if the chatbot doesn’t give them the answer. Brands that deploy chatbots capable of going beyond basic FAQs and can perform product and content discovery will provide the well-rounded chatbot experience shoppers expect, Lucidworks said.

Respondents also pointed to the importance of content recommendations. The survey found that almost a third of shoppers said they find recommendations for “suggested content” useful, and 61% of shoppers like to do research via reviews on the brand’s website where they’ll be purchasing from. A little over a third — 37% — of shoppers use marketplaces such as Amazon, Google Shopping, and eBay for their research.

Brands should try to offer something for every step in the shopping journey, from research to purchase to support, to keep shoppers on their sites longer. How online shopping will look in coming years is being defined at this very moment as the world reopens. Brands that are able to understand a shopper’s goal in the moment and deliver a connected experience that understands who shoppers are and what they like are well-positioned for the future, Lucidworks said.

Lucidworks used a self-serve survey tool, Pollfish, in late May 2021 to survey 800 consumers over the age of 18—400 in the U.K. and 400 in the U.S.—to understand how shoppers interact with chatbots, product and content recommendations, where they prefer to do research, and plans for future in-store shopping.

Read the full U.S./U.K. Consumer Survey Report from Lucidworks.

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Breakroom teams up with High Fidelity to bring 3D audio to online meetings

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Breakroom teams up with High Fidelity to bring 3D audio to online meetings

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.


Social meeting space Breakroom has integrated High Fidelity‘s 3D audio into its 3D virtual world for social and business events.

The deal is a convergence of some virtual world pioneers who have made their mark on the development of virtual life. Philip Rosedale is the CEO of High Fidelity, and he also launched Second Life in 2003. And Sine Wave Entertainment, the creator of Breakroom, got its start as a content brand in Second Life before it spun out to create its own virtual meeting spaces for real world events.

Adam Frisby, chief product officer and cofounder of Sine Wave, said in our interview conducted inside Breakroom that the High Fidelity spatial audio will help Breakroom create a triple-A quality experience in a virtual world.

“The real benefit of having 3D audio in a virtual world like this is you can have lots of conversations going on simultaneously,” said Frisby. “3D audio is the only way to replicate the real-world experience in an online environment. You can have a 150-person conference and end up with 10 groups of people talking at the same time. That has helped us with engagement.”

Above: Breakroom lets an event have dozens of simultaneous conversations where people don’t talk over each other, thanks to High Fidelity.

Image Credit: Sine Wave

Most online events get engagement times of 20 or 30 minutes. But Breakroom’s average events, ranging from 600 to 1,000 attendees, have engagement times of an hour and 40 minutes, Frisby said.

Sine Wave’s Breakroom draws heavily on lessons learned in Second Life to create a frictionless, mass market, user-friendly virtual world.

“You can hear everything better with High Fidelity,” said Rosedale, in our interview in Breakroom. “Breakroom combines low-latency server-side video and spatial audio in a way that lets you hold an event like it’s in the real world.”

High Fidelity is a real-time communications company. Its mission is to build technologies that power more human experiences in today’s digital world. The company’s patented spatial audio technology, originally developed for its VR software platform, adds immersive, high-quality voice chat to any application — for groups of any size. You can really tell how close you are to someone in a High Fidelity space when they talk to you, as voices become fainter the farther away they are.

“We are super excited about this general direction and we wound up building the audio subsystem and extracting that first,” Rosedale said. “It works well where there is no possibility of face-to-face meetings.”

breakroom 3

Above: I could hear Philip Rosedale’s voice clearly in this conversation in Breakroom.

Image Credit: Sine Wave

Spatial audio in a 3D virtual world helps encourage spontaneous conversations into a fun, productive setting, in a way that flatscreen video calls and webinars simply can’t match, Frisby said. It’s easy to tell in Breakroom who is speaking to you, and from what direction.

It took me a little while to figure out how to unmute my voice. Rosedale was jumping up and down while we were talking.

“It’s all remote rendered. And that means that we can bring people in on a variety of platforms,” Frisby said. “No matter what your target hardware is, you can actually get in here and still get good high fidelity. It’s a good quality 3D rendering experience here regardless of what device you’re on.”

I asked Rosedale if he could hear me chewing lettuce, which sounded very loud on my headsets. But he said no. It definitely helps if you have good headsets with 3D audio.

Breakroom is being used by organizations like Stanford University, the United Nations, and The Economist. Breakroom runs on any device with a Chrome browser, offering good 3D graphics and audio quality, with no installation required.

Frisby said that Breakroom is also a way for companies to enable remote workers to gather and meet each other in more relaxed environments as if it were an intermediate space between online-only environments and going back to work in offices.

breakroom 4

Above: Breakroom and High Fidelity are enabling conferences with spatial audio.

Image Credit: Sine Wave

Its full suite of communication tools includes voice chat, instant messenger, and in-world email. It has video conferencing, media sharing, and desktop sharing tools. It has a diverse range of fully customizable avatars and scenes. You can get around just by pointing and clicking on the environment.

It also has event management tools to facilitate conversation and agenda flow, branded interactive exhibition stands, and private meeting rooms, available for rent by sponsors. It has environments including dance clubs, beach and mountain retreats, casual games, quiz shows, and live music/comedy shows. It has an integrated shop where brands can upload and sell their content to customers for real cash.

It gives you the ability to seamlessly license and import any item from the Unity Asset Store (Sine Wave is a verified partner of Unity). The iOS and Android version of Breakroom is in closed beta and Breakroom for consoles and the Oculus Quest 2 coming soon. It has LinkedIn and Eventbrite integration, including ticket sales. It also has a self-serve portal for customers to quickly customize and configure their organizations’ Breakroom, as well as sub-licensing agreements which enable Breakroom customers to host and monetize events and experiences to their own customer base.

Frisby said it has been a technical challenge so that people don’t get kicked out of the room, but his team has managed to refine the technology during the pandemic. He thinks conferences are great use cases for the technology because so many people come together simultaneously and push the tech to the limit.

As for High Fidelity, Rosedale believes that the education market will come around, and the whole world will eventually move to better spatial experiences.

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
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Moderne helps companies automate their code migration and fixes

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uR9EPALJKjI&feature=emb_title

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While every company may well be a software company these days, the software development sphere has evolved greatly over the past decade to get to this stage, with developer operations (DevOps), agile, and cloud-native considerations at the forefront.

Moreover, with APIs and open source software now serving as critical components of most modern software stacks, tracking code changes and vulnerabilities introduced by external developers can be a major challenge. This is something fledgling startup Moderne is setting out to solve with a platform that promises to automatically “fix, upgrade, and secure code” in minutes, including offering support for framework or API migrations and applying CVE (common vulnerabilities and exposures) patches.

The Seattle-based company, which will remain in private beta for the foreseeable future, today announced a $4.7 million seed round of funding to bring its SaaS product to market. The investment was led by True Ventures, with participation from a slew of angel and VC backers, including GitHub CTO Jason Warner; Datadog cofounder and CEO Olivier Pomel; Coverity cofounder Andy Chou; Mango Capital; and Overtime.vc.

Version control

If a third-party API provider or open source framework is updated, with the older version no longer actively supported, companies need to ensure their software remains secure and compliant. “It requires revving dependencies [updating version numbers in configuration files] and changing all the call sites for the APIs that have changed — it’s tedious, repetitive, but hasn’t been automated,” Moderne CEO and cofounder Jonathan Schneider told VentureBeat.

Moderne is built on top of OpenRewrite, an open source automated code refactoring tool for Java that Schneider developed at Netflix several years ago. While developers can already use the built-in refactoring and semantic search features included in integrated development environments (IDEs), if they need to perform a migration or apply a CVE patch, they have to follow multiple manual steps. Moreover, they can only work on a single repository at a time.

“So if an organization has hundreds of microservices — which is not uncommon for even very small organizations, and larger ones have thousands — each repository needs to be loaded into [the] IDE and operated one by one,” Schneider said. “A developer can spend weeks or months doing this across the codebase.”

OpenRewrite, on the other hand, provides “building blocks” — individual search and refactoring operations — that can be composed into an automated sequence called recipes anyone can use. Moderne’s offering complements OpenRewrite and allows companies to apply these recipes in bulk to their codebases.

Above: Moderne screenshot

Enterprises, specifically, can accumulate vast amounts of code. One of Moderne’s early product design partners is a “large financial institution” that incorporates some 250 million lines of Java code — or “one-eighth of all GitHub Java code,” Schneider noted, adding that this is actually on the “low to medium” side for what a typical enterprise might have.

“Some of this code is obsolete (e.g. accrued through historical acquisitions), some is under rapid development (e.g. mobile apps) — but the majority represents super valuable business assets, such as ATM software and branch management software,” Schneider said.

And let’s say a company decides to redeploy developers internally to work on rapid development projects — it still needs to consider the core software components that underpin the business and need to be maintained. Moderne automates the code migration and CVE patching process, freeing developers to work on other mission-critical projects.

When Moderne eventually goes to market, it will adopt an open core business model, with a free plan for the open source community and individual users, while the premium SaaS plan will support larger codebases and teams with additional features for collaboration.

The company said it will use its fresh cash injection to grow a “vibrant open source community for OpenRewrite,” expand its internal engineering team, and bolster its SaaS product ahead of launch.

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  • up-to-date information on the subjects of interest to you
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  • gated thought-leader content and discounted access to our prized events, such as Transform 2021: Learn More
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