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“Apple cuts USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 dongle prices amid MacBook Pro criticism” plus 29 more VentureBeat

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“Apple cuts USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 dongle prices amid MacBook Pro criticism” plus 29 more VentureBeat


Apple cuts USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 dongle prices amid MacBook Pro criticism

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 01:29 PM PDT

The 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.

Apple today temporarily lowered the prices of some of its accessories for connecting to its new MacBook Pro laptops, each of which comes with up to four USB-C ports and a headphone jack but no other ports.

The gesture, which is in place through December 31, follows complaints about perceived connectivity issues in the new high-end computers, particularly given their high prices. And it comes after Apple also lowered the cost of SSD upgrades for older Macs.

Here are the new prices for the dongles:

  • USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter: $49 (down from $69)
  • USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter: $49 (down from $69)
  • USB-C to Lightning Cable (1 m): $19 (down from $25)
  • USB-C to Lightning Cable (2 m): $29 (down from $35)
  • USB-C to USB Adapter: $9 (down from $19)

The price of the Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 adapter is also being dropped, from $49 to $29. That’s interesting; some reports have indicated that the MacBook Pro might not be compatible with all Thunderbolt 3 accessories.

Additionally, Apple has lowered the prices of the LG displays it announced at the MacBook Pro event last month, MacRumors reports. The LG UltraFine 5K Display now costs $974, down from $1,299.95, and the LG UltraFine 4K Display costs $524, down from $699.95. As is the case with the adapters, these discounts are available through December 31.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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VuFine returns to Kickstarter with a new wearable display for Pokémon Go, drone piloting, and more

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 12:40 PM PDT

Vufine chief Goro Kosaka rocking his Pokémon Go setup.

You can probably imagine a situation where you need to see your phone screen at all times but cannot look down at it because your hands or eyes are on something else. I bet you can also imagine laughing in disgust if someone suggested you try wearing a Google Glass. Well, startup tech firm Vufine wants you to give a similar form-factor a try, and it thinks it can work because it doesn’t treat the device like a replacement for your smartphone.

Vufine’s product, which shares the same name, is a small display that hangs out over your face and can patch in a videofeed from most devices with an HDMI port. The company introduced the gadget in 2015 with a Kickstarter that raised $240,000 from 1,466 backers, and now Vufine has returned to the crowdfunding platform with a Kickstarter project for the next-generation Vufine+. The campaign went live yesterday, and it has already raised $45,000 of its $100,000 goal.

I’ve used the original Vufine, and I found that it quickly overcome my skepticism. While you might not want to deal with the public ridicule that comes with donning Google’s failed Glass, Vufine is sidestepping a lot of the concerns of that product by hyperfocusing its wearable for specific applications like playing Pokémon Go, drone piloting, and navigation for cyclists.

And Vufine chief executive Goro Kosaka was aware that establishing a wedge between itself and Google Glass was crucial. Beyond focusing on what you can do with it, he told GamesBeat in a conversation about how he and his team did that.

“We obviously knew that Google Glass wasn’t very successful,” said Kosaka. “Last year, when we were showing Vufine at trade shows, everyone was saying, ‘oh, it’s another Google Glass.’ People had a negative image of something you put on your glasses, so we had to start from there, and teach people how it’s different. That’s challenging but also helpful. Because, for one, we are much more affordable. And two, we are much more simple.”

The Vufine and the Vufine+ are only really similar to Google Glass in the broadest strokes. Where Glass attempted to build a new computing platform for your face that was distinct from a PC and smartphones, Vufine is simply a way to bring images from your existing devices into your field-of-view at all times.

For example, with Vufine, I was able to keep an eye on Pokémon Go even with my phone in my pocket. That solves one of the biggest issues of the game, which is that you have to have the screen on and running at all times. That means you have to dedicate one hand to your smartphone so that you don’t miss any monsters that appear. But with Vufine, I could actually get on my bicycle and not worry about only having one grip on the handlebars.

And like I started out saying, I believe that most people can think of a situation where they want to have their screen up in front of their eyes. Kosaka confirmed that is exactly what it is hearing from customers.

“There’s a continuum of use cases starting with drones and cinematography on the more prosumer end and going all the way over to Pokémon Go and AR gaming,” Vufine marketing boss Daniel Rogan told GamesBeat. “The best thing about Kickstarter, though, is all the people we got to talk to. Raspberry Pi users have been a big one. They are using that as the brains of the Vufine. But I’ve also talked to more archers than I ever thought I would. There’s also been some equestrian and yoga questions that have popped up.”

And that’s where Vufine wants to fit in. It doesn’t want you to bring the Vufine+ to the bar. They want you to bust it out when your hands are busy building something at work or recording aerial footage as a hobby with your drone. Then, when you get home, they want you to take the damn thing off when you’re in the shower before you head out to socialize with other human beings.

“We don’t imagine a world where two people are wearing their Vufines sitting across from each other while drinking coffee,” explained Rogan. “But whenever you need your Vufine, that’s where it comes in.”

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Diablo III’s upcoming updates will re-create the original game and add the Necromancer class

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 12:20 PM PDT

THe Diablo III Necromancer.

Blizzard didn’t announce an expansion, but Diablo III is getting plenty of new content in the future.

The publisher announced during its massive BlizzCon fan event today in Anaheim, California, that a future update will bring some nostalgic additions. This year marks the franchise’s 20th anniversary. To celebrate, an update called The Darkening of Tristram will re-create the original game inside Diablo III. It will even include graphical filters that make Tristram look pixelated and older. The anniversary patch will be available to play on test servers next week.

Next year, Blizzard will offer the Necromancer for sale, who commands the forces of the undead. It was a popular class in Diablo II. You will need to own both the base game and the Reaper of Souls expansion to purchase it, although Blizzard has not said how much it will cost.

Diablo III originally came out for PC in 2012, with console versions for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 following in 2013. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One releases of the game released in 2014 along with the first expansion, Reaper of Souls. That update fixed many complaints players had with the original game, including adding new end-game content and increasing the frequency of rare item drops. Reaper of Souls also added the Cruasder character class.

Many expected Blizzard to announce a new expansion for Diablo III. Instead, it seems to be spreading out new content via a series of updates. Next year, Blizzard will also add two new zones for Diablo III: Shrouded Moors and Temple of the First Born.

Overwatch Sombra gameplay: Take a closer look at the stealthy hacker

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 12:10 PM PDT

Sombra is an offense character for highly skilled players.

Blizzard announced that its next character will hit Overwatch in a week as part of the game’s test servers, and now we can finally detail how she will eliminate you during matches.

Sombra is all about infiltrating and debilitating the enemy team as one of the “Offense” heroes in the team-based shooter. The hacker can weaken an opponent to give her team an advantage during encounters. Blizzard has detailed how all of these attacks work, so let’s take a look.

Machine Pistol

Sombra’s primary weapon is an SMG with a short-range spread. It is fully automatic, so it sounds similar to Tracer’s weapons. I would expect that this weapon is meant to work as a finisher after using Sombra’s other capabilities to get in close and weaken an opponent.

Hack

This ability enables Sombra to disable her opponents abilities for a set amount of time. Alternatively, Sombra can hack health packs to make them useless to the enemy forces. You can see how this would can change the balance of an engagement if Sombra is able to get off the hack as her teammates jump in to wipe out an opponent.

Thermoptic Camo

Since most of Sombra’s capabilities require her to get in close, she’s going to need a way to do that. Her camo ability is the key here, as it turns her invisible for a short period of time while also giving her a significant speed boost. Flanking with Sombra at the start of a push seems like the intended way to play her, and mastering this skill is a probably a prerequisite to getting the most out of her.

Translocator

This is another travel mechanic where Sombra tosses out a beacon that she can return to instantly whenever you choose as long as it’s still active. You can even throw it and teleport to it while it’s still in midair. I can’t wait to see the GIFs of how players are using this in wild and unexpected ways.

EMP

Finally, Sombra’s ultimate is a charge that destroys barriers and shields and hacks any opponent inside an area of effect. Again, this seems like the ideal way to start off a team push. By eliminating shields and barriers, she can make some middle-of-the-road damage dealers far more effective, which should have a heavy impact on matches as well as the overall competitive meta.

Sombra comes soon

So that’s Sombra. She will hit the test server next week, and you can expect to find her on the official region servers not long after that. That’s smart timing for Blizzard considering that some players might start shifting to holiday titles, and giving everyone a new experience — whether they’re playing as or against Sombra — is a great way to retain players.

How intelligent chatbots can work side by side with customer service agents

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 12:10 PM PDT

Bots can help call centers.

Although chatbots are just now gaining ground as the next “big thing” in customer service, a small number of them have actually been working behind the scenes for quite some time. SMS banking has been around since 1999, doctors send texts to remind us of our appointment, and Amazon buzzes our phone when our package is delivered. We’ve spent several years assessing chatbots’ ability to handle simple customer service tasks, and they have finally earned a spot in the major leagues. Now we need to truly challenge ourselves — and our chatbots — by integrating them into the epicenter of customer service: the contact center.

Contact centers have evolved quickly over the past 10 years, thanks to the rising popularity of digital communication channels. Phone calls still account for roughly 68 percent of inbound inquiries, while the other 32 percent comes from digital channels such as SMS, live chat, social media, and email. To adapt to the dynamic tendencies of mobile customers, progressive contact center platforms have become all-inclusive, eliminating entangled technology stacks and siloed communication channels. All inquiries, regardless of channel, are routed to a single queue and answered in the order they are received. Contact centers use unifying services to create a central hub from which support agents work. That hub is at its peak when communication channels, customer information, and interaction history live together in a single, uncomplicated interface. Chatbots need to be built directly into the solution in order to be an asset to agents, not a disruption.

The biggest challenge with chatbots has been curating a useful database of information from which they can work. It’s an incredibly tedious task that requires the creation of numerous user flows and continuous data monitoring and upkeep. However, developing a chatbot that lives and learns amongst the dynamic data of a contact center platform makes this challenge obsolete. The chatbot can be programmed to build and maintain its own database using the data within the platform, which is being continuously updated by human agents in real time.

The deep learning methodology is comparable to that of a search engine. The chatbot first develops an initial database from which to work by crawling any and all information available in the contact center platform, including customer files, past interactions, FAQ, product knowledge, and more. Any time the data is updated (for example, after a customer service agent closes out a support ticket), the information is crawled again, and the chatbot’s knowledge base stays updated. This method creates the ideal chatbot — self-sufficient, self-taught, and self-maintaining. It acts as an emissary or concierge to help humans make sense of the volumes of data we couldn't process previously.

Let’s take a look at how this would function in a real-life situation. Let’s say a contact center agent just ended a live chat session with a customer who had a question regarding a warranty. The conversation would be logged within the contact center platform, which the chatbot crawls periodically, analyzing the initial request, the final answer, and the steps to resolution. The following day, when another customer initiates a live chat conversation and has a warranty question, the chatbot, having already “learned” about the warranty policy from the conversations it has crawled, has the knowledge to handle the inquiry from start to finish without ever involving a human agent. Without the reliance on humans to feed it information, the chatbot is able to mature on its own.

The ultimate goal of a chatbot isn’t  to replace human agents, but to serve as an enhancement. Mundane and monotonous tasks should be handled by chatbots to allow human agents the ability to focus on more complex cases. The ultimate goal is efficiency. The inclusion of chatbots in the contact center should result in more first-call resolutions, reduced hold times, and higher customer satisfaction. A byproduct of this greater efficiency is agent satisfaction, which can have a huge impact on the quality of service agents provide. According to recent research, 90 percent of consumers stated than an agent’s perceived happiness affects their overall customer experience.

The Holy Grail scenario for chatbots within contact centers lies in creating a coherent bond between a human agent and a chatbot. When chatbots are deeply integrated into a contact center platform, they can become powerful sidekicks who handle multiple mundane tasks and allow their agent partner to give more complex issues adequate attention. Should a chatbot become stuck, the conversation can be immediately transitioned to their agent partner, along with all the customer account information and chatbot conversation history, thus enabling the agent to pick up right where the chatbot left off. Ideally, the customer wouldn't even be aware that they were initially speaking with a bot, nor would they be aware that a human agent has taken over the conversation.

Unleashing chatbots into the contact center world is a sure fire way to make chatbots the customer service rock stars we all dream they will be. We will educate them with access to the same tools and resources used by human agents and give them the ability to monitor the humans themselves. With massive numbers of customer files, product information, and actual human interaction at their fingertips, chatbots will become independent learners. At that point, the focus shifts to simply refining the working relationship between chatbots and humans, bringing us one step closer to a perfect solution.

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Hearthstone’s new expansion is Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, coming ‘early December’

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 12:01 PM PDT

meanstreetsofgadgetzan

Be careful out there!

Blizzard revealed the latest expansion for its digital card game market leader Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft during its BlizzCon event in Anaheim, California, today. bringing back lapsed players. It’s called Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. The new cards not only give players new packs to buy, but they can keep current card-slingers engaged while potentially new players. The expansion will be out in early December.

Gadgetzan first appeared as a city in World of Warcraft when the online game launched in 2004. It’s a port town run by goblins in a desert area called Tanaris. It was one of the first neutral cities players could explore, meaning that both the Alliance and Horde faction were allowed inside.

In Heartstone, Gadgetzan is a bustling town with a dark side … well, it looks like the town is mostly engulfed in darkness. Gangs have taken over, and crime rampant.

The new expansion’s major contribution is tri-class cards. Before, cards were either neutral or class-specific. These new ones can be put into decks of three classes. For example, one card can work for Mages, Priests, or Warlock decks.

A new tri-class legendary, Kazakus, has the unique ability to create a new spell as long as you don’t have any duplicate cards in your deck (making this a natural for Reno Jackson works). You craft the spell by choosing mana cost and effects from a series of three choices. No other card in Hearthstone’s two year-plus history has done this.

Other new cards include the Priest minion Kabal Talonpriest, a 3/4 card that can give another minion +3 health with its Battlecry effect. The Piranha Launcher is a 2/4 weapon that summons a 1/1 Piranha every time a player attacks with it. The Rogue class minion Lotus Assassins has 5/5 stats and starts with Stealth, and it regains Stealth every time it kills an enemy minion. The Kabal Courier is another tri-class card. It’s a 2/2 minion that allows players to Discover a random Mage, Priest, or Warlock card. I Know a Guy is a Warrior spell that Discovers a random Taunt minion.

Expansions add over a hundred new cards to the game, which can shake up the kinds of decks and classes people use. And Hearthstone can use a shakeup, especially for players tired of seeing the same Shaman decks in the Standard format while classes like Paladin and Priest continue to struggle.

The last new set of cards released for Hearthstone came via the One Night in Karazhan adventure, which came out in August. Adventures add fewer cards, but they also offer unique fights against computer-controlled opponents. However, many fans were critical of One Night in Karazhan, complaining that its new cards did little shake up the game while negatively impacting the Arena mode by making the already powerful Mage even stronger.

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Heroes of the Storm adds Alliance king Varian Wyrnn and Ragnaros the Fire Lord

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 11:51 AM PDT

varianwyrnn

Death isn’t the end of a beloved Blizzard character.

The developer announced during the opening ceremonies for BlizzCon in Anaheim today that Varian Wyrnn and Ragnaros will become the newest characters in Heroes of the Storm, the company’s multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA). New characters keep players engaged in the free-to-play PC title.

Varian Wyrnn was the leader of the Alliance faction in World of Warcraft, Blizzard’s hit multiplayer online game. He was the king of the humans until the launch of the Legion expansion, where he … uh, well, he died. Ragnaros is an elemental lord, twice serving as the final boss of epic raids that required large groups of players to beat.

Varian comes out on November 15, with Ragnaros following in December. November 15 also starts the Nexux Challenge. Teaming up with one person on your friend’s list in Heroes of the Storm will unlock content for both Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch based on how many games you play.

Blizzard’s Overwatch League looks a lot like an actual sport

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 11:30 AM PDT

Well, that looks awfully official.

Is this boring NFL season getting you down? Well, we have some more modern competition to look forward to soon.

Blizzard today announced the details for its new Overwatch League, an official organization designed to promote professional, competitive play of its hit team-based shooter. Overwatch is quickly becoming one of the most popular games in the growing esports market that’s worth $493 million. This official league, which will launch in 2017, from Blizzard will help grow its appeal.

Blizzard is also looking to help players that want to play Overwatch as their career. Each player in the league will have a contract that ensures compensation and benefits. These pros will play for teams based in major cities in the Americas, Europe, China, Korea, and Asian Pacific regions, which is the way the biggest traditional sports leagues like English Premiere soccer and the National Basketball Association work.

The Overwatch League will even have its own combine (just like the NFL!), where invited players can show off their skills to team owners in the hope of securing a contract. The regular season will feature matches in front of live audiences, with the best teams moving on to live playoffs.

You can watch a video explaining the league below.

Overwatch launched this May, but it’s already become a big hit with over 20 million players. While it came out for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, the tournament scene focuses on PC players.

Sombra comes to Overwatch test servers next week along with arcade mode

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 11:21 AM PDT

Sombra is great at the cyber.

Blizzard has teased the hidden character Sombra since launching the game in May, and it has finally unveiled the character in full.

Sombra is a stealthy character with hacking capabilities. She is playable at Blizzcon, and she’ll roll onto the public test servers next week. Blizzard boss Mike Morhaime also showed off a new map called Oasis as well as an Arcade mode that has one-versus-one and three-versus-three arena-style game modes. Arcade will come with a new map called Ecopoint Antarctica that is frozen over and is part of the scientist Mei’s backstory.

Along with Sombra, Arcade and Ecopoint Antarctica will hit the test server next week. Oasis will come at some point after that.

Finally, Blizzard launched an animated short for Sombra during its Blizzcon event in Anaheim today, and you can watch it right here:

Periscope for iOS now lets you use Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump selfie masks

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 10:38 AM PDT

Hillary Clinton mask on Periscope.

Twitter today announced that the iOS version of its Periscope live video streaming app now gives you a way to record streams with the front-facing selfie camera on iOS devices with an artificial “mask” of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. This comes just five days before the U.S. presidential election.

You can activate the feature by starting a broadcast, flipping the camera over to selfie mode, and then swiping up from the two little heads on the bottom of the display. The feature is iOS only, the Periscope team said in a Medium post, meaning that it won’t be coming to Android.

The talking head effect of the moving mouth on each presidential candidate is goofy, and a little reminiscent of the JibJab cartoons of George W. Bush and John Kerry in the run-up to the 2004 election. But you could interpret it as just another way for Twitter to try to get out the vote.

This comes after Twitter made it possible for users to get a personalized link to register to vote by sending a direct message to its @gov account. And earlier this week Twitter enhanced the experience by letting users get information about polling places, candidates, and propositions by DMing @gov.

Facebook and Google have also taken steps to help people vote in recent months.

In March Twitter said Periscope had racked up 200 million streams.

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Nintendo ressurects its retro tips-and-tricks phone hotline for the NES Classic launch

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 09:55 AM PDT

That's the life!

In the 1980s, the idea of working as a Gameplay Counselor for Nintendo’s Power Line service was a dream job for kids around the United States. The internet eliminated the need for most people to get their gaming tips and tricks over the phone, but Nintendo is bringing that concept back in a limited capacity.

For the launch of the NES Classic Edition, a closed gaming system that looks like the original 8-bit Nintendo console and includes 30 of that retro device’s games, the publisher is reactivating the Power Line phone-counselor program. Starting November 11 and running through November 13, players can dial up (425) 885-7529 to learn all about classics like Super Mario Bros., Mega Man, and Castlevania. Unlike with the original Power Line, humans won’t actively work the phones. Instead, Nintendo will serve you up automated, pre-recorded tips. Think of it as MovieFone for the Konami code … please don’t tell me if you’re also too young to know what that means.

"Many of us have fond and wonderful memories of the original NES," Nintendo marketing boss Doug Bowser (yes, really his name) said in a statement. "With these launch activities for the NES Classic Edition, we want to replicate the nostalgic feelings of sitting down and playing the NES with your family for the first time."

In addition to the Power Line, Nintendo is holding an ’80s-themed launch party at the Nintendo store in New York City. It also plans to transform its social-media accounts to make them look more like they are operating in the interlaced, VHS, Casio-watch-drenched decade of excess and Ronald Reagan. Expect a lot of references to Alf and the Iran-Contra Affair.

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Hearthstone’s World Championship: What we can learn from the best players’ decks

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 09:30 AM PDT

Hearthstone

Where to watch

Times

  • Friday, November 4 from 12:15 p.m to 10 p.m. Pacific
  • Saturday, November 5 from 10:30 a.m to 3:45 p.m. Pacific

You may not be a pro, but you can always learn from them.

On November 4 and November 5, eight of the best Hearthstone players in the world compete at BlizzCon in Anaheim for a $1 million prize pool in the Hearthstone World Championship. With stakes this high, those competitors better bring their best decks.

And thanks to Blizzard, we actually know exactly what those decks are. Below, you can see the five decks that each of the eight players are bringing to the tournament. Peeking at them gives us some insight into the current state of Hearthstone before the release of its next expansion (which Blizzard should be announcing on November 4).

Spoiler alert: You won’t be seeing a lot of Priests.

The decks

Amnesiasc Shaman deck. Amnesiasc Druid deck. Amnesiasc Warlock deck. Amnesiasc Hunter deck. Amnesiasc Mage deck. Che0nsu Warlock deck. Che0nsu Shaman deck. Che0nsu Warrior deck. Che0nsu Druid deck. Che0nsu Mage deck. Cydonia Warrior deck. Cydonia Shaman deck. Cydonia Mage deck. Cydonia Hunter deck. Cydonia Druid deck. DrHippi Druid deck. DrHippi Mage deck. DrHippi Shaman deck. DrHippi Warlock deck. DrHippi Warrior deck. Hamster Warrior deck. Hamster Priest deck. Hamster Shaman deck. Hamster Druid deck. Hamster Paladin deck. HotMEOWTH Warrior deck. HotMEOWTH Druid deck. HotMEOWTH Shaman deck. HotMEOWTH Mage deck. HotMEOWTH Warlock deck. Jasonzhou Druid deck. Jasonzhou Warlock deck. Jasonzhou Rogue deck. Jasonzhou Shaman deck. Jasonzhou Warrior deck. Pavel Shaman deck. Pavel Druid deck. Pavel Rogue deck. Pavel Warrior deck. Pavel Mage deck.

Takeaways

The popular classes

Looking at everyone’s decks, you see a lot of the same classes popping up time and again. Every single competitor has a Shaman and Druid deck. Seven of them are bringing Warrior. These are all some of the most popular and powerful classes in the game right now.

The aggressive Shaman deck can outpace other fast decks but still deal enough damage to take down control decks. The class has dominated Standard play because of its reliability. It makes sense to see it used in tournaments.

Druid is another flexible class, since mana-raising cards like Innervate and Wild Growth can allow players to use expensive cards earlier in their matchups. A lot of tournament players have been using a spell-based Druid deck that can can deal a lot of damage with a Malygos and Moonfire combo. Some of them are even still playing the recently nerfed Yogg Saron, as it’s spell spam can turn a hopeless loss into a win if a player had cast a lot spells that game.

The Warrior’s armor can increase its life pool past 30, making it a natural counter to many aggressive decks, which is why so many players run it. However, it’s also a versatile class that can use many different archetypes. In the lists above, we see a C’Thun Warrior from Pavel (which just has to outlast an opponent to win), a Dragon Warrior from DrHippi (a more aggressive, value-oriented deck), and a Patron Warrior from HotMeowth (which can use the Grim Patron card to summon an endless onslaught of minions).

The unpopular classes

Poor Paladin and Priest — they’re only in one deck apiece … and from the same player, Hamster. So if you’re looking for an unconventional competitor to watch, he may be your guy (even if his other three decks are the popular Warrior, Druid, and Shaman).

Paladin and Priest just don’t have the tools to compete with the popular aggressive decks — a lack of early minions that are strong — and their control game is too slow and can’t survive the high amounts of damage dealt by classes like Shaman, Druid, and Warlock. Rogue isn’t far behind, only showing up twice these deck lists.

Hopefully, that next expansion will make these suffering classes more viable.

Surprisingly, Hunter also only has two appearances. That’s not a top-tier class right now, but it’s also not an awful one. Still, Hunter’s specialty is mid-range, which Shaman simply does better. The class also took hit recently when Blizzard increased the cost of Call of the Wild, arguably the Hunter’s best card, from 8 mana to 9.

The rest of them

Mage and Warlock make up the rest of the classes. Mage shows up six times, while five are playing Warlock. Those using Mage are competing with a tempo version of the class, which specializes in trying to play a perfect mana curve (1 mana card on the first turn, 2 mana card on the second, and so on) that uses strong spells like Firelands Portal and low-mana spells like Arcane Missiles that can synergize with Flamewalker. Mage is also one of the strongest counters to Shaman, which explains why a decent amount of players would want to run it.

All of the Warlock decks are working with the new discard mechanics released in the last adventure, One Night in Karazhan, thanks to cards like Malchezaar’s Imp and Silverware Golem. But they still focus on what Warlock always does best: overwhelm the opponent with a bunch of minions.

Conclusions

Fast decks still reign supreme in the world of Hearthstone. Despite Blizzard’s many attempts to slow the game down, those that can outpace opponents with early and mid-game minions often have the best chance to win. Warrior is the only class that can consistently compete with a control-style deck, thanks largely to the armor mechanic.

So, who will win? That’s impossible to say. Not only are these all fantastic competitors, but Hearthstone still has enough randomness that you rarely see a single player dominate the tournament scene. The most skilled competitor can still suffer from bad luck. Some may want to root for Hamster, the out-of-nowhere player from China who dared to play a Priest deck, while many American hearts will be with the 16-year-old Hearthstone prodigy Amnesiasc.

As for me, I’m picking Jasonzhou to win it all … just because if he does, I’ll win more card packs.

But we do know one thing for sure. Whoever wins, they’re running a Shaman deck.

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Google will ‘eventually’ use mobile versions of websites to rank search results

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 09:24 AM PDT

Google Search

Google today said that over time it will switch to using the mobile versions of websites, instead of desktop versions, in order to rank them for search results, thus making its search index more mobile-first.

So far, the company has started experimenting; the shift could take some time.

“Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results,” Google product manager Doantam Phan wrote in a blog post. “Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.”

This comes after Google has taken several steps to improve the experience of search on mobile devices. In November 2014 Google started marking pages as mobile-friendly in mobile web search results. In February 2015, Google said that within two months it would start using mobile-friendly as a ranking signal (aka Mobilegeddon). Most recently, in March, Google said that in May it would start ranking mobile-friendly sites even higher.

This is going further because it goes across the board, on mobile and desktop.

“We understand this is an important shift in our indexing and it’s one we take seriously,” Phan wrote. “We’ll continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale and we’ll ramp up this change when we’re confident that we have a great user experience.”

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GamesBeat weekly roundup: Deep inside Call of Duty, and the Wii U’s legacy

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 09:02 AM PDT

Ship assault in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Welcome to another GamesBeat weekly roundup!

Activision Blizzard, Take-Two, Zynga, and more reported their quarterly earnings, and we covered them all. Also, we try to figure out what the Wii U’s legacy will be as Nintendo’s console takes its last breaths, and we launched the alpha episode of our new podcast, GamesBeat Decides.

Enjoy, and have a great weekend!


Pieces of flair and opinion


World of Warcraft: Legion

Above: World of Warcraft: Legion is doing well.

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

News


Zynga's Words With Friends EDU is refashioned for classrooms.

Above: Zynga’s Words With Friends EDU is refashioned for classrooms.

Image Credit: Zynga

Mobile and social


Previews, reviews, and interviews

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How to watch the 500 Startups Weapons of Mass Distribution conference

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 08:30 AM PDT

500 Startups Weapons of Mass Distribution conference

Scaling your startup can be difficult without the right tools and insights, but where can you turn for such resources? 500 Startups believes its conference Weapons of Mass Distribution (WMD) is a good place to start. The latest installment of this event kicks off on Friday, November 4. But if you’re not able to attend, don’t fret, as you can watch all the action, keynotes, and sessions right here.

Speakers include GrowthHackers chief executive Sean Ellis, Mozilla chief marketer Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, SurveyMonkey senior vice president of growth Elena Verna, and author Nir Eyal.

The conference starts at 9:00 a.m. Pacific.

Here’s the agenda:

  • 9:00 a.m. – 9:15 a.m.: 500 Distro staff opening remarks
  • 9:15 a.m. – 9:45 a.m.: Jascha Kaykas-Wolff (CMO, Mozilla)
    Rethink collecting customer data
  • 9:45 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.: James Currier (Managing Partner, NFX Guild)
    Unlocking the secrets of growth
  • 10:15 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.: Break
  • 10:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.:  Ryan Deiss (Founder & CEO, Digital Marketer)
    Automate your ideal sales convo
  • 11:15 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.: George Lee (Head of Growth, Instagram)
    Running growth for a 116 million user social network
  • 11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.: Sean Ellis (Founder & CEO, GrowthHackers)
    Make your marketing team agile or die
  • 12:15 p.m. – 1:15 p.m.: Lunch

Track 1 – Rethinking growth fundamentals

  • 1:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.: Steven Dupree (Entrepreneur in Residence, Trinity Ventures)
    How do I spend my first $10K on marketing?
  • 1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.: Brittany Murlas (Content Strategist, Pinterest Expert)
    Why everyone needs to pay attention to Pinterest
  • 2:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.: Susan Su (Venture Partner, 500 Startups; Head of Marketing, Reforge)
    The ROI of content and how to scale

Track 2 – Hack-tics on the growth battlefield

  • 1:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.: Lance Loveday (CEO, Closed Loop)
    It's OK to trick people to click
  • 1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.: Elena Verna (SVP Growth, SurveyMonkey)
    Minimize involuntary churn through payment processing
  • 2:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.: Casey Winters (Advisor to Pocket, Airbnb, Darby Smart;
    Former Growth Lead at Pinterest & GrubHub)
    Constant rejection: A lesson in retaining users
  • 2:45 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.: Break

Track 1 – Get ahead of the future of growth

  • 3:15 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.: Adelyn Zhou (Co-Founder, Asend Direct)
    Direct Mail 2.0 – Get ahead of the next big growth channel
  • 3:45 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.: Karen X Cheng (Founder & CEO, Karen X LLC)
    Facebook is completely changing viral videos – Take advantage of it
  • 4:15 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.: Everette Taylor (CMO, Skurt)
    Fueling growth through emotional intelligence

Track 2 – Let’s grow some money!

  • 3:15 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.: Daniel Harmon (Creative Director, Harmon Brothers)
    Create videos that don’t just go viral, they drive sales
  • 3:45 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.: Patrick Campbell (Co-Founder & CEO, Price Intelligently)
    What you need to know to have the best pricing and positioning
  • 4:15 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.: Michael Sharkey (Co-Founder & CEO, Autopilot)
    Souped-up: Get big and fast with strategic partnerships
  • 4:45 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.: Break

Closing keynotes

  • 5:15 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.: Nir Eyal (Author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products")
    How to build habit-forming products
  • 5:45 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.: Brian Balfour (Founder & CEO, Reforge)
    How to (actually) become elite at growth
  • 6:15 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.: 500 Distro Staff
    Closing
  • 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.: Networking reception
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9 apps to help you survive the election whether you hate Trump or Clinton

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 08:23 AM PDT

collage

By sometime late Tuesday night, we’ll know who will be the next president of the United States. And that lucky person will have the pleasure of being detested for four years by the half of the country that didn’t vote for them.

Between now and the end of the election, there will be a lot of bowel-clenching, sleepless nights for everyone. Fortunately, we have something to distract your mind as the country slowly rolls off the edge of a cliff into a bottomless abyss of misery.

Of course, we’re talking about apps!

Developers around the world have been hard at work making iOS apps that mock the candidates. OK, they’re mostly apps mocking Trump. But there’s a handful of ones designed to make Clinton look like a goofball, too. So, here are 9 for you to download and stare at until the first returns come in and you can finally stop using alcohol as a crutch.

1. Jrump: It’s basically like Doodle, except Trump is jumping.

2016-11-04 15.13.38

2. President Trump Soundboard: You click a short phrase like “Tell you some stories” and you hear Trump in his own words. Over and over. The stuff of dreams or nightmares. It all depends.

2016-11-04 15.14.20

3. Smack Donald Trump: Some of these you have to wonder: How did these get through the App Store police? This is one of them. Trump talks and you click a button and a hand reaches out and smacks him. That’s it. There’s a bar to measure his ego that drops as you smack him. But trust me, it’s meaningless.

2016-11-04 15.14.48

4. Trump Business: Run a business like Donald Trump. Noted without further comment.

2016-11-04 15.15.03

5. Punch The Trump: Again with the violence? Brutal is the name of the studio that made it, and that about sums it up.

2016-11-04 15.15.35

6. Trump Dump: It’s Flappy Bird, sorta, though Trump as a big pile of poop eventually appears. Not the highest level of satires if we’re being perfectly honest here.

2016-11-04 15.16.02

7. Candidate Crunch: Okay, finally balancing the scales a bit here. I guess it’s not surprising that anti-Trump apps are outweighing anti-Clintons by a large margin. Maybe some day we’ll look back on that as a meaningful barometer as to how the vote will go. Or not.

In any case, you pick a candidate, and then you drop stuff on them. Like a tank, or the Statue of Liberty.

2016-11-04 15.17.32

8. Slots: Trump vs Hillary Clinton. Is there really any more explanation needed?

2016-11-04 15.17.50

9. Caricature Sticker Pack of HIllary Clinton: Really, this is probably the most obviously anti-Clinton one. Sorry. And it’s really stickers for iMessage. Still, no doubt your friends and relatives will find this hilarious! (insert laughing emoji.)

2016-11-04 15.18.06

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The DeanBeat: The time we put into games says a lot about us

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 08:00 AM PDT

Scorch multiplayer map in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

You still have time to play video games? I get that question a lot these days. I pride myself on being a game journalist who plays games. But I understand why people feel like they’re too busy to play games through to completion. Many days, I don’t have enough time to play.

Take Wednesday night, for example. I put the last touches on my stories for the next day. And by the end of Thursday, I had published 14 stories. That represents a lot of labor. How much? In my newspaper days, we rarely did more than 14 stories in a week. On Wednesday and Thursday, I only had time to play Clash Royale and Pokémon Go on my iPhone. Like many people, I only had the time for gaming snacks. I run into a lot of people in the game industry who feel guilty or ashamed about the amount of time they do, or do not, put into playing games. And I know a lot of parents who worry about much time their kids put into games. I suppose we put a lot of time into worrying about time, as we can’t get it back.

I’ve had a good run of completing games in recent weeks. I played through Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, twice. That was a good 40 hours. Abzu, on the other hand, lasted for just a couple of hours. It was a nice snack in between some huge dinners. I went on to play Gears of War 4 for nine hours. Then I moved right into Mafia III, a 35-hour game. Since 2K gave me the code shortly before the launch, I didn’t get my review of the game up for more than a week after the game launched. Then I moved right into the relatively short eight-hour campaign for Battlefield 1, and I was sad that I didn’t have many hours to spare for the outstanding multiplayer. Then I jumped right into Titanfall 2‘s 10-hour single-player campaign. This week, it’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. You could call this dedication on my part. I feel like I’ve reached the end of a forced march, a burden forced on me by my own completionist tendencies.

Lincoln Clay and Thomas Burke in Mafia III

Above: Lincoln Clay and Thomas Burke in Mafia III

Image Credit: 2K

I think that game developers and publishers should be acutely aware of these kinds of play patterns, and how complex our lives have become. It’s so hard to carve out the time that I put into this string of games. On a few nights, when I was powering through some of the games, I had to stay up all night. And at my age, all-nighters aren’t all that easy to do, as I pay for them with exhaustion for days afterward. I can’t do that so much anymore. I feel there are parents out there who are judging me, that I must be an awful father because I play for so many hours. I understand that time is precious.

I was quite upset with 2K when they sent me Mafia III so late, considering how long that game was. But I understand their reasons for doing so. I can’t, however, fathom why Electronic Arts and Activision didn’t reach some agreement on when to launch the top three shooters of the year. Sure, they can’t collude as businesses. But surely they should have know that launching Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare over three consecutive weeks was a really bad idea.

It is possible to get the single-player campaigns of those games done in three weeks, especially for dedicated hardcore gamers. But I like to level up through the entire multiplayer ladder, playing the shooter games until I’ve hit the top level. Since that process usually takes weeks, I now have to choose which one of these games I’m going to play for an extended amount of time on multiplayer. Other gamers are going to have to make the same choice, and two out of three of these games are going to suffer as a result. That’s just a case of the game publishers shooting themselves in the foot. It makes me mad, and I think those publishers owe us some kind of apology. But there’s not that much harm. I suppose I could eventually level up in all three games in the coming weeks.

For this season’s string of console games, I put in more than 115 hours of gameplay. I also put a lot of hours into various virtual reality games. I don’t regret any of that time. Yet I also have my shelf of shame. Tom Russo, a gamer friend of mine, told me he put more 200 hours into playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I have to confess that I played it for just a couple of hours. (I have, however, watched a lot of videos of people doing silly things in Skyrim). Based on my own tastes, I rarely get a chance to play and finish role-playing games or massively multiplayer online games, so I don’t even start them. At GamesBeat, we’re lucky to have writers and freelancers with a variety of tastes, so we can provide reviews to satisfy a larger spectrum of readers.

When the job of writing news or stories about the business of games gets hectic, I am always tempted to stop playing games. But ultimately, I believe that will make me less useful to readers. What use is a game journalist who doesn’t finish games? Once in a while, I calculate all the things I could have done if I didn’t play. I could have written a book or two, for sure. But they would have been boring books, written by someone who dearly needed some kind of gaming break.

Zara Ghufran, a fictional character who fights for Lawrence of Arabia in Battlefield 1, is based on real female rebels.

Above: Zara Ghufran, a fictional character who fights for Lawrence of Arabia in Battlefield 1, is based on real female rebels.

Image Credit: EA

Last year, I played the real-time strategy game Total War: Attila for maybe 400 hours, or so my Steam timer told me. For a game reviewer, that was kind of nuts, and it was a rare thing for me. When I did that, I deliberately took myself out of the rotation for reviewing a lot of games. I just played what I wanted to play. It was liberating, and I didn’t really pay that much attention to the hours I was putting in. This year, I felt like I wanted to throw myself into the new games. Mostly, that meant playing Triple-A games rather than sleeper indie titles.

My mobile gaming friends asked why I would put so much time into console games. My virtual reality friends felt like I should be playing nothing but VR because that represented the future. But I feel that the titles like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End were highest form of the art. I can’t call myself a critic and a games journalist without playing some of the best experiences available. Rather than cover a single segment of games, like mobile or VR, I feel that I should be familiar with the full spectrum of games.

I also appreciate new ways to experience games, like Twitch or YouTube, where I can be a spectator just to educate myself about games that I should know about but just don’t have time to play. By watching the streams or game videos, I can appreciate and learn about a much wider array of titles that I can’t find the time to finish.

I’m not wed to a single platform. Games find their way onto every new platform. And I follow games wherever they go. It’s what I love to do. Some people unplug totally when they want to relax. I play games for a living and for fun.

And while I’ve carefully counted the hours I’ve played for console games, I can’t even begin to figure out how much I play while on the run. If you added up all of the time that I’ve played Clash Royale and Pokémon Go this year, I’m sure it would add up to more than the time I’ve put into the console games. But I’m here to say that whatever works for you is fine. You shouldn’t feel obligated to play games or worry about which games to play. It’s not like being an English major where you have to worry about reading the right stack of books. You should play games if you think they’re fun. Game developers and publishers should respect the time that you have and carefully decide how much of your time to take. You should be aware of the time you put into games, as it says a lot about you. But I don’t think any of us has to apologize for putting so much time into something that we love.

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4 ways to boost engagement using cross-platform analytics

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 07:45 AM PDT

texting.shutterstock_209648002

Presented by Facebook.


There’s a radical shift happening in the nature of what we consider "the web" today. With 1.5 billion smartphones and 6 billion worldwide expected by 2020 — we're now more likely to be accessing the web on a device than on desktop. Mobile is such a dominant platform that according to Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz, "Saying ‘mobile internet’ = saying ‘color tv’."

Today, acquisition is only part of the story for growth. In a constantly-connected world, it’s important to drive retention, engagement, and conversion — on every screen. But how do you do that?

You need to understand your audience, focusing on the complete customer journey across channels and platforms. Do you know who's visiting your website or using your app? Do you know how often people open it, daily or weekly? Do you know what parts of your app they love and where they're having problems? If you don't, or if you're not sure, you're missing out on valuable opportunities to engage people and keep them coming back.

Here are 4 ways to use cross-platform analytics to grow audience engagement:

1. Focus on people, not cookies or devices

More and more people are using multiple devices to browse and interact with your product. If you're measuring activity based on cookies or device IDs, you’re missing out on important insights into your customers’ full experience and path to purchase. At Facebook, we believe in thinking about people, not devices. We know that in the course of completing a task, people are likely to switch between multiple platforms and devices. In fact, 53 percent of people who own two devices switch between them to complete tasks or activities, and 77 percent of people who have three or more devices do the same.

It's important to get a complete picture of customer behavior across your native mobile apps, desktop web, and mobile web presences so you can optimize customer experiences. For example, you may discover that your mobile experience may not be converting users directly, but it’s the first touch point where people engage, and they eventually convert on your website via desktop browser.

2. Know your audience

Truly understanding who's using your product is the key to smarter marketing and better product design. You'll want to know their key demographics such as age, gender, location, and language. You may also want to know:

  • Education level or interests
  • Technologies used to access your product, such as device type, operating system, and more
  • Job roles and size of their company (if you're a B2B product)

Analytics get really interesting when you start looking at the intersection of "who" and "what." This prompts questions like "Who's more likely to purchase — men or women?” or “Do people on Samsung phones retain better than those on Apple devices?”

By overlaying things like demographics, interests, and your CRM data on top of behavioral data, you can discover new, game-changing insights for your business.

Facebook Analytics

Above: Example funnel pivoted by gender in Facebook Analytics for Apps

3. Optimize the customer experience

Timing is everything when it comes to re-engaging your audience. Each audience is different and responds better at certain days and times, so it's important to optimize your marketing campaigns accordingly. Base your strategy around when your audience is most likely to respond to push notifications or emails, and remind them about your app.

To determine the best timing, messaging, and content, you'll need to experiment. Track which changes work best and measure the results so you can improve conversion in the future. Optimize everything across the customer experience — from on-boarding flows, to button copy and placement, speed, and more. Any improvements you can make to improve results are worth the effort.

4. Re-engage to maximize retention

To maximize retention, you need to continually provide captivating experiences to your audience, ensuring that they'll want to return to your app. Look at your analytics and identify areas of drop-off, then adjust to help keep people in your app.

For example, social or dating apps are a more engaging experience for people when they've completed their profiles. E-commerce apps can dramatically improve conversion if they remind people about items they left in their cart. Whatever your use case may be, you can gently remind your audience to convert using an ad, push notification, or email. These reminders have proven to be effective, driving a 180 percent higher retention rate after 3 months among users who opt-in to these notifications. When used correctly, re-engagement can super-charge your growth.

Use the right tools to drive success

To achieve your goals, getting to know your audience and providing a great experience are key. For insights into who your ideal and most valuable customers are, as well as how you can improve results, you need a powerful analytics solution with deep metrics.

With Facebook Analytics for Apps, you have seamless, cross-platform reporting in one centralized location. Using this tool, you can quickly access demographics data and advanced features like cohorts, funnels, and push notifications to drive engagement and growth — at scale.

Josh Twist is Product Manager for Facebook Analytics for Apps.


cell phone.shutterstock_143129299Dive deeper: Learn more about boosting retention and acquiring new customers. Download these free white papers from Facebook Analytics for Apps:

6 Steps to Increase Engagement with Push Notification Campaigns

Five Tips to Grow your App


Sponsored posts are content produced by 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 sales@venturebeat.com.

Netflix arrives out of beta for all Comcast X1 customers

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 07:17 AM PDT

ComcastNetflix

Netflix and Comcast have today announced that Comcast cable customers will finally be able to access Netflix content.

The news comes four months after the duo first announced a partnership and almost two months after a beta version of the service was introduced through the Comcast Labs area of the X1 set-top box. Now, however, Netflix is ready for prime time on the country’s biggest cable operator, with its video streaming service showing up in the main menu. That said, the companies have issued a conflicting statement that suggests the full rollout may not actually take place until next week.

Netflix on X1

Above: Netflix on X1

Netflix has often found itself at loggerheads with cable companies, as more and more so-called cord-cutters ditch their cable subscriptions for monthly internet streaming packages. While Comcast has long resisted the push to cater to standalone internet TV services, the Netflix partnership represents a milestone moment for TV entertainment in the U.S.

Today’s news comes less than a month after Netflix reported that it had added more than 3.5 million members globally in Q3 2016, taking its total tally to 86.74 million subscribers. With that in mind, the Comcast deal represents a win-win for all concerned — it gives Comcast a distinct advantage over competitors such as Verizon and Roku and keeps customers from flirting with multiple services to access Netflix. For Netflix, this serves as a massive opportunity to gain further mindshare and sign up new customers in the U.S. And for customers, well, this deal removes the friction of switching between cable and Netflix.

“The Netflix integration into the X1 platform means our mutual customers will no longer need to change inputs or juggle remotes,” said Netflix cofounder and CEO Reed Hastings, in a statement. “Now they can seamlessly move between the Netflix app and their cable service, enjoying all the TV shows and movies they love without hassle.”

It’s worth noting here that this is more than simply launching an app on the Comcast set-top box. The integration means that Netflix can be launched by voice command using the X1 remote. Its content has also been ushered in alongside Comcast’s other on-demand programming, meaning that searches will simultaneously surface shows across both Netflix and Comcast.

Additionally, those signing up to Netflix through Comcast will be able to have their subscription bundled in alongside their usual cable bill, thus addressing so-called subscription fatigue.

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How the game investors at Signia Venture Partners have steered into VR

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 07:00 AM PDT

Rick Thompson (left) and Sunny Dhillon of Signia Venture Partners.

Rick Thompson has made a lot of good investments over time which have generated around $6 billion in returns, roughly speaking. He is knowledgeable about games, as he is the former chairman of Playdom, which Disney bought for $763 million in 2010. And his partner Sunny Dhillon has also specialized in game investments and he is now carving out time looking at virtual reality and augmented reality startups.

While Thompson and Dhillon are bullish on games for the long term, they see the wisdom of investing during the right part of the cycle. Right now, it’s pretty hard to invest in mobile games because it takes so much advertising spending to stand out. That’s why they’ve followed the patterns of many game developers themselves and looked for “blue ocean” opportunities, where the waters aren’t bloody with too much competition.

Signia recently raised a second fund — $85 million worth — and the team expects to put a lot of it into virtual reality startups. But the firm will also put money into startups that fit its themes of mobility, like self-driving cars and data analysis. I recently sat down with Thompson and Dhillon for an extended conversation about investing in games and VR.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

The team at Signia Venture Partners. Left to right. Top: Zaw Thet, Ed Cluss, Sunny Dhillon, Rick Thompson. Bottom: Anagha Raje, Linus Liang, Gina Domizio.

Above: The team at Signia Venture Partners. Left to right. Top: Zaw Thet, Ed Cluss, Sunny Dhillon, Rick Thompson. Bottom: Anagha Raje, Linus Liang, Gina Domizio.

Image Credit: Signia Venture Partners

Rick Thompson: There are windows of opportunity in new platforms, which is pretty exciting, either as an entrepreneur or as an investor. Picking those platforms is important. Facebook, we were very lucky that Disney liked us. I don't think we would have survived another year, frankly.

GamesBeat: Because of that transition to mobile?

Thompson: With Facebook it was really a deathtrap. Fortunately mobile allowed a lot of people another escape route, another chance. For those who were able to make it. Some of the Flash programmers and people who were really stuck on Canvas, they had a tough time with it. Obviously Zynga suffered for a long time with legacy Facebook business.

Every turn of the technology crank, there's a new center of gravity, where things seem to be able to give lift to new businesses. Sunny was smart in thinking about VR a couple of years ago. "This is something that's going to be important for the long term." He built his brand, essentially, with that as a cornerstone. It's not only VR, but I think he's going to make a 10 to 15 year career on VR as a focus. That was a good choice.

Sunny Dhillon: We've seen VR, AR, MR, all the different acronyms you've written about, that we hear about at conferences, that we write about ourselves, that we've seen — we've seen the speed of progress between first, second, to present-day iterations, and it's been really impressive.

An interesting opportunity that we wrote about with you was what Pokemon Go was and wasn't. It was commonly lauded as the first major iteration of AR. I argued otherwise, saying there was no real-time environmental depth mapping to make intelligent insinuations as to where Pokemon should be relatively in the real world, outside of location-based premises. What it did was open people's eyes to using their mobile device as a window for digital overlay into the real world. That is pretty significant.

Educating the population en masse that using mobile devices for viewing, especially when it comes to depth-sensing cameras becoming commonplace, it's cool to — you'd be able to put this over Rick's table now and see an animation of cyclists from the Tour de France or whatever. You and I could sit here and have a live Jedi battle on this table. Whatever the use case might be, this is a very interesting near-term monetizable opportunity using AR on mobile devices. This is a particular area of interest right now, which I think is particularly relevant for you and I given our Pokemon Go discussions.

Taking over the world.

Above: Taking over the world.

Image Credit: amirraizat / Shutterstock.com

GamesBeat: Some people were thinking that if you still target the mobile market, you can have an outsized success compared to going early into VR and targeting a smaller base. If they had a chance for a billion users and they got that….

Thompson: Your answer is probably "have your cake and eat it too." The VR companies we talk to have a mobile strategy, a piece to it that is mobile.

GamesBeat: Like the Gear VR strategy?

Dhillon: Amongst others — Daydream, Gear VR, Xiaomi. Whoever's coming out with the latest thing. Mobile is part of it.

Thompson: It has to be part of the customer acquisition, at the very least.

Dhillon: Having cross-platform play, especially for multiplayer — all these companies — not to knock them, because everyone out there pushing the boat out to sea for VR, I'm a big fan — companies that raised significant venture dollars trying to own social as a stand-alone product, whether trying to re-create Second Life or re-create a basic hangout experience — this year at Oculus Connect, there's a legitimate threat from the platform disintermediating them, making them obsolete with avatar systems and other social functionality.

GamesBeat: Facebook's doing it.

Dhillon: High fidelity VR chat, all that other stuff from companies in the same space. The point I'm making, when it comes to having cross-platform, mobile has to be part of that play, but even within PlayStation VR, eventually Xbox, Rift, and Vive, having cross-platform is important for social. Including mobile being a part of that.

Thompson: There's almost no technology work to do that. It just means you don't sign exclusive deals with platforms.

The Oculus Touch controls let you navigate independently with each hand in VR.

Above: The Oculus Touch controls let you navigate independently with each hand in VR.

Image Credit: Oculus

GamesBeat: What is your view of games themselves? My view has been — I write about games. I cover them. They always change. They move from one platform to the next. I cover old platforms and new platforms too. And yet I always feel like, whatever happens to platforms, games will continue. Games will still be an interesting market to write about and focus on. I've detected a different view among traditional VCs, where they viewed games as a finite opportunity in time. Maybe social games and then mobile games, but now games are done. Let's move on to something else like Uber or whatever unicorn of the moment. It feels to me like a lot of people came into games, saw the value, and then left.

Thompson: They'll be back. They push through business cycles. It's hard to make money on mobile now. Almost no value is tangible beyond the duration of the hit, which is unfortunate. Multiples of EBITDA — we were selling companies for seven times EBITDA. Okay, this is a hit, it has a lifespan. Basically it's almost pricing it to discounted cash flow. That's not a good place to invest. I couldn't believe — with Cie Games, we were at seven times EBITDA and we had to take terms that included risk of holding stock and all those things. We did the deal. That was our best offer.

GamesBeat: In that case, have you encountered times when the smart move is to get out and stay away for a while?

Thompson: Or go quiet. Particularly with regards to specific platforms. But the times to get in are when there's something disruptive happening, in terms of new technology, new platform, new areas that existing players don't understand. EA was fortunate that they didn't really understand Facebook. [laughs] By the time they got it the party was over. Good for them.

Dhillon: Similarly — you and I have also discussed this, maybe a year or so ago. When we're seeing as much licensed IP out there, games rising to the top of the charts with existing branded content as the hook, the user acquisition hook, you're splitting royalties the same way you'd be splitting something with a publisher in the past. When it gets to that phase in any platform for games – where licensed IP is a representation of maturity — when we're talking early stage VCs, not the big giant Sandhill guys, it's a sign that it's time to start looking elsewhere.

GamesBeat: It means it's more of a big company's market than a startup's market.

Dhillon: Yeah. They're the ones that can pay the up-fronts.

Thompson: The problem with console in the '90s was a EA and a few other people controlling the endcaps. That's what's happened now with the App Store. It's hard to crack into that without relationships.

Dhillon: Are you going to download an Avengers app with Marvel IP or a random ninja thing?

Thompson: Will you even see random ninja? It's just invisible.

Dhillon: Using mobile games as part of a larger trans-media strategy for major intellectual property is what we continue to see right now.

Thompson: I don't know that I would invest in a mobile game as much as video and chat and excitement and events and watchability.

Continue Reading ...

Uber seeks organic growth as it expands into Southeast Asia

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 06:28 AM PDT

2015-08-21T062019Z_1_LYNXNPEB7K08N_RTROPTP_3_SPAIN-UBER

(Reuters) — Ride-hailing service Uber Technologies Inc will focus on organic growth as it expands into Southeast Asian markets, a senior vice president told Reuters on Friday.

It will also seek to work with Taiwan’s government towards a regulatory environment that will allow ride-sharing to flourish, David Plouffe, Uber’s senior vice president of policy and strategy, said in an interview during a visit to Taipei.

Uber faces increasing competition in Southeast Asia, such as from Gojek in Indonesia. Analysts have said such competition could prompt Uber to try to acquire some of its rivals as it expands.

“I think our view is that we prefer to build and succeed on our own, and that’s what our focus is,” Plouffe said, declining to comment on questions on fundraising plans.

While competition is increasing in other parts of Asia, the U.S. start-up is facing specific challenges in the Taiwan market, mirroring legal and regulatory scrutiny in other parts of the world.

“It would be amazing if a country like Taiwan that wants to be seen as such a bastion of innovation and embracing technology would turn a cold shoulder on something like ride-sharing,” said Plouffe, who was President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager.

Taiwan has asked Uber to pay a sales tax bill estimated by local media to be up to about $6.4 million.

Taiwan’s Investment Commission once considered ordering Uber to exit the market, saying the company misrepresented its business as an internet-based technology platform rather than a transportation service.

“We are a technology company, and we’re not regulated as a transportation company anywhere in the world,” Plouffe said.

As Uber continues to work with the Taiwan government, it sees challenges ahead.

“Not every county understands the benefit. So we just have to agree with the right way forward… We do want to be regulated,” he said.

“I think here in Taiwan the government understands and embraces ride-sharing. That’s a great start… But you also have to understand that you have to have the right regulatory environment to allow that to flourish. That’s the challenge.”

(Reporting by Faith Hung; Editing by Keith Weir)

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Infinity Ward’s new chief marched his developers to a comeback with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 06:05 AM PDT

Dave Stohl is head of Infinity Ward.

Infinity Ward wasn’t in the best shape after its last game, Call of Duty: Ghosts, which debuted in 2013. The studio’s founders had departed in a fractious lawsuit with Activision. Critics didn’t like the game, and Infinity Ward had needed help from another new studio, Sledgehammer Games, to get the game out the door.

The two-year cycle for making Call of Duty games had reached its breaking point as Infinity Ward had been required to make a game that ran on the older PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, as well as the then brand new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles.

Dave Stohl, a veteran of the franchise who had previously run all of the studios for Activision, stepped into the job of running Infinity Ward. He recruited new leaders like Jacob Minkoff and Taylor Kurosaki from Naughty Dog to make Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Stohl was able to give the team three years to make its next Call of Duty game because three studios were able to alternate the yearly task. Stohl never criticized Ghosts directly, but it is clear that the game’s lack of a sequel shows that the storyline didn’t really go over that well.

With this title, Call of Duty has branched away from modern warfare and into science fiction. The developers wanted to do something different, and Stohl encouraged them.

It remains to be seen if fans will like Infinite Warfare as much as past titles. But I have played the whole single-player campaign, and I consider it to be one of the better single-player campaigns in recent years, with a strong story that matches the outsized gameplay ambitions. After I played, I sat down with Stohl for an interview, delving into the decisions that he and the team made along the way.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare debuts today on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC.


Editor's note: This story has some spoilers, but we've tried to minimize them. We recommend you read this after you’ve played the campaign. 


You'll fight in outer space in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Above: You’ll fight in outer space in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Image Credit: Activision

GamesBeat: What was the transition like for you, coming to Infinity Ward?

Dave Stohl: I ran Treyarch for a lot of years. Then I went back and ran all the studios. It was fun, because we could do a lot of strategic stuff. I kicked off the Destiny project. I'd been probably the longest-running head of studios at Activision. I did it for seven or eight years. It was time to go back. I was looking for somebody to go to IW, and then I decided to do it myself. Scratch that development itch again.

GamesBeat: They had a lot of transitions around that point, when Mark left.

Stohl: And Joel and Scott had left Neversoft. We kind of put the teams together. Hired a bunch of new guys like Taylor and Brian Horton. Rock and roll.

GamesBeat: What was the goal at that time? Was there a set of marching orders you could give to people – here's what we want?

Stohl: It wasn't so much marching orders. These guys had been working on Modern Warfare, on Ghosts. A lot of them had been on other projects. There was a desire among a lot of the team when I got there to do something different, to really mix up the formula. That was part of the impetus for—when you're in the Call of Duty franchise, you're either doing not enough or too much, you know what I mean? People really wanted to do something different. There was so much passion on the team for doing this game.

I felt like my job was to help them realize that vision, and to bring in talent that could strengthen the studio in the departments like narrative, where I wanted us to raise our game. We found a lot of great people to achieve that.

Captain Nick Reyes finds out he's in charge in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Above: Captain Nick Reyes finds out he’s in charge in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Image Credit: Activision

GamesBeat: Some people criticize Call of Duty as the same thing every year. And yet when you go from year to year, the sales aren't always the same. They fluctuate a little. It seems like when you change things, it does reflect how people receive the franchise.

Stohl: Sure. There's continued interest in Black Ops. That's a strong sub-IP of the franchise. People are fans of that particular style of Call of Duty. The game is a bit different there.

GamesBeat: Was there much discussion about diverging along different storylines at that time? When each studio went off in a different direction?

Stohl: It's not so much about studios as it's about each game. We didn't set out to make a Black Ops game. The guys wanted to work on building a new sub-franchise, something different. I think you're right in that it's good to have ideas that build greater differentiation between these paths. Making Infinite Warfare was also about saying, "Let's do something that has its own space." No pun intended. Give it some room to breathe as a concept.

And we had three years to do that. Ghosts had been a two-year title. I wasn't at the studio during Ghosts, but I feel like it was a two-year title in a hardware transition. A lot of franchises just didn't come out that year. I think they did an excellent job of getting that game done on a very short time scale, having just made Modern Warfare 3, and getting it done on multiple generations of hardware.

GamesBeat: It seems like that made it evident that three years would provide more breathing room.

Stohl: Also, we started to have the teams to do it. We put Sledgehammer together and those guys got up and running. As the Activision studio guy, I helped work between the studios. Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward worked on Modern Warfare 3 together. After that, we had another team that was experienced at making Call of Duty. They made Advanced Warfare. We started to have teams where we could fill every year with high-quality Call of Duty games.

GamesBeat: There's this mythical Call of Duty: Roman Wars project, which got a fair amount of discussion.

Stohl: I can tell you this. I've never heard of it. Before I was at Infinity Ward I was running all the studios. Hear it from me right here. It never happened. It sounds awesome, though.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare publisher Activision will give fans a chance to play the game early.

Above: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare publisher Activision will give fans a chance to play the game early.

Image Credit: Activision

GamesBeat: The internet seems to outvote you on that one. [Laughter]

Stohl: Well, you can tell them, I'm definitively the only person in the world who would know. I can tell you right now, that did not happen. Maybe somebody made a funny little movie or built a level or something–

GamesBeat: I know the guy who claims he pitched it.

Stohl: Oh, everything's been pitched. But if they did, I never heard about it.

GamesBeat: The characters in this game are more complicated than we've come to expect. They change.

Stohl: That was the goal.

GamesBeat: I like how you stay with the same characters through the whole campaign. It tells a much deeper story. A lot of times in past games the characters feel a little more throwaway. Sometimes it seems like their purpose is to die.

Stohl: Or to get you to a location, yeah. Not only did we want you to go through the story arc, we wanted you to feel like you were in charge. You weren't just a guy following the crew through the story. It was important that we stuck with Reyes. You're reflected back by the characters around you. I feel like Salter, Omar, and Ethan (also known as ETH.3n) are such a great crew to have around you. ETH.3n’s obviously become one of the more popular characters. He was very well-executed.

GamesBeat: A lot of the humor comes from a robot.

Stohl: That's tough line, I'll tell you. Doing a robot, a talking robot, that's a tough line to walk. It's been done so many times in pop culture, in entertainment. We've created a robot, I think, that does his own kind of thing. He's not like any of the others.

GamesBeat: Are these some of the day-to-day things that you think about as a studio head? Or do you stay above a lot of those decisions?

Stohl: There are tons of story execution things that I don't ever see or get involved with. But when we're talking about things like tone and what Call of Duty in space would be like—not just as studio head, but as somebody who's been with the franchise for a long time, those were important things for me to weigh in on, I felt. But Taylor's infinitely better than I am at story execution and character and all that stuff. That's not my bag. When it came to doing a Call of Duty take on a space game, that's where I would weigh in.

Call of Duty: Jackal Assault.

Above: Call of Duty: Jackal Assault.

Image Credit: Activision

GamesBeat: Taylor mentioned that the Jackal controls are very Call of Duty, even though you're flying. The way you control it, you're using a lot of the same buttons.

Stohl: We tried a lot of different control schemes. One of the things Call of Duty is known for is that core feeling – the way weapons feel, how snappy the game is. People have a lot of motor memory around how the movement system works. When found the version of running-walking-sprinting that worked in the Jackal, and then came up with the lock-on mechanics, we were really excited. We were able to achieve letting people fly anywhere with a control scheme that felt comfortable, but also create some of the cinematic drama in the dogfights with the lock-on spline chasing. We could do a little of both.

GamesBeat: It seemed like there was something a little easier about the space combat, compared to, say, flying the biplanes in Battlefield One. There's a little less verticality.

Stohl: In some of the Jackal missions, there are times you can do more up and down. But it was important to kind of keep stuff on a plane. You can get very disoriented. This is more of a cinematic experience than a flight sim. We try to keep things on a level plane. In some of the more challenging Jackal assaults, like when you're taking out the destroyers, they're at different heights and you can take yourself—I don't get seasick, so I can flip upside down and do all kinds of stuff. But for ease of accessibility we kind of keep stuff on a plane.

GamesBeat: People mentioned that they didn't want to make the [multiplayer] maps too vertical, because that starts to confuse beginners too much.

Stohl: We know that people are very comfortable with the control scheme. We have a version of the Black Ops III style of movement. It's slightly different. We maybe toned it back a bit. On a lot of the maps, yeah, we're a bit less wall run, vertical-focused. It's more like a traditional map, but with opportunities for wall running. That was our formula.

GamesBeat: It seems like a lot of these decisions made it more accessible, opened it up to the biggest possible audience.

Stohl: With Zombies we played a little bit of—we know Zombies is very popular, and it's also a very challenging mode. I think we wanted to make a Zombies that was fun and cool and would get people interested because the theme was more accessible, and then try to ease people in, make the beginning a bit more accessible. Of course, for Zombies, you have to have all the crazy cocktail of quests and stuff going on in the levels. One of my big hopes for this game—the campaign is great, the multiplayer is great. But getting more people to try out Zombies would be great.

GamesBeat: I liked how you could melee the robots. It's very satisfying.

Stohl: We spent a lot of time on them, on how the NPCs would react to weapon hits. Legs coming out, arms going back, that kind of stuff. We tried to make that feel very satisfying.

Continue Reading ...

Not just alive and kicking, but your number-one marketing channel (VB Live)

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 04:10 AM PDT

email.@sign.shutterstock_64780120 (1)

If you're overlooking or underspending on email marketing, you're missing the channel with the biggest ROI by far. This VB Live event brings together a crack panel to investigate the how, the why, and the wow of the least expensive, most lucrative marketing tool you've got in your arsenal.

Access this VB Live event on demand right here.


Two and a half years ago, in the first State of Marketing Technology report, email emerged as the one channel that was producing the highest return on investment of all, says Stewart Rogers, director of marketing technology at VentureBeat. And despite all the pundits declaring ding dong, email is dead, it's clear that email has only gotten better as segmentation, personalization, and measurement tools have gotten more sophisticated.

"Email definitely isn’t dead," agrees Traci Inglis, CMO of multibillion dollar global fashion retailer Just Fab. "It’s interesting — when people say email is dead, I always ask them, are you sure you’re measuring it correctly? For us, it drives around fifty percent of our order revenue, so it’s very much alive."

Tommy Lamb, director of loyalty and retention at online flower retail giant Teleflora, says that while the incredibly low cost of email shoots it to the top of the strategy list, email marketing is how they stay on top of and react to customer and sales trends.

"Email allows us to be a lot more nimble and flexible with the changing needs of our customers," Lamb says. "The biggest benefit os being able to test in real time and react to that on a day-to-day basis."

At  private jet charter company JetSuite, says Senior Marketing Manager Chris Bernarbe, it's the lightning-fast turnaround of email that makes it valuable. "The timeliness is key for us," Benarbe says. "That really moves the needle not only in terms of revenue but in getting [customers] to engage with us and start a conversation."

By being able to follow up on everything from first transactions to website engagement and flight patterns, they've realized a substantial 50+ percent open rate — but personalization plays a key part too.

In fact, Inglis calls the ability to personalize email marketing their greatest tool, when it comes to customer engagement and boosting revenue — making sure every email they send is relevant to the recipient. And their testing bears out the enormous benefit, she adds.

"We all know promos move the needle," says Inglis. But in a recent test of three messaging tactics to a specific customer segment — their best, but lapsed, buyers—they found adding in messaging that was relevant resulted in a huge leap in revenue. "Just by saying hey, you’re a best customer—we saw 71 percent lift in revenue over just the promo messaging," she says.

"And then when we say we miss you on top of that, it was actually a 103 percent lift over just the promo alone."

And the beauty of the strategy is that email is much easier to personalize than direct mail, or even the onsite web experience or social.

"We do personalization on all those other components as well," Ingliss says, "but for email, we can personalize every single piece of it, including when it’s sent to the customer, what the content is, what the imagery is, what the offer is, and what products are included."

"For us it’s just such a powerful channel," she adds.

And personalization by segmentation is key.

"Our clients become more educated with our brand and private jet charter over time, so we don’t want to be the same across the board," Bernarbe says. "It’s about ensuring we’re not giving the same content to someone who just came into our database yesterday and someone who’s been in our database for five years —and ensuring that it’s very very customized and personalized across each segment."

It's what continues to move the needle over time for your longer-term customers, and what allows you to take the learnings from those older customers and apply them to your new customers or prospects, he adds.

Personalization tactics can run the gamut from something as simple and novice level as a personalized greeting and subject lines, onboarding and welcome campaigns and A/B testing, all the way to deeply sophisticated attribute-based clustering and real-time cross-channel behavioral triggers. But just the bare minimum returns astonishing results, Rogers says.

"When we look at the results of something really simple, something really novice such as just putting someone’s name in the subject line," he explains, "across all industries we see a 29.3 percent increase in unique open rates."

And if you’re in travel or consumer products and services, a personalized subject line nets you an over 40 percent increase.

"So we don’t have to get into the scary, advanced expert-level email marketing to start getting towards the 300 percent returns that we’re talking about in this particular webinar today," he adds. "The vast majority of people are getting great results even from basic personalization. It’s something that anyone can get into very very quickly."

For some great real-world examples of basic personalization that get real results, the challenges you'll face as you invest in an email strategy — and how to overcome them — and more, catch up on this VB Live event!


Don’t miss out.

Access this VB Live event on demand right here.


In this VB Live event you’ll learn to:

  • Personalize email marketing without making huge errors.
  • Avoid common marketing errors (wrong names and/or interests)
  • Increase open rate
  • Leverage data to target email personalization
  • Speakers:

Speakers:

  • Tommy Lamb, Director of Loyalty and Retention, Teleflora
  • Traci Inglis, CMO, Just Fab
  • Chris Bernarbe, Sr. Marketing Manager, JetSuite
  • Stewart Rogers, Director of Marketing Technology, VentureBeat

Moderator:

  • Wendy Schuchart, Analyst, VentureBeat

Google: HTTPS now represents more than 50% of all pages loaded through Chrome on the desktop

Posted: 04 Nov 2016 02:49 AM PDT

Chrome: Download for Windows

Google has revealed that more than half of all pages loaded on the Chrome desktop app now load over HTTPS, which accounts for more than two-thirds of all browsing time spent by these users.

Since 2015, the internet giant has been tracking the prevalence of HTTPS connections via Chrome users who opt to share their usage data, which has been included in its transparency report. The results show that on the Chrome browser — across Windows, Chrome OS, Linux, and Mac — HTTPS now rules the roost, though on mobile it still lags a little. Using only Android as a gauge, that has increased, however, from around 30 percent of all loaded pages in April 2015 to more than 40 percent today.

HTTPs

For the uninitiated, HTTPS (the “S” stands for “security”) is a communications protocol that was traditionally used by security-conscious bodies such as banks, with the added encryption throwing an extra layer of security atop the traditional HTTP protocol. It basically serves to authenticate a website to ensure the privacy of data exchanged between the user and the server. Other companies have increasingly adopted HTTPS, from Twitter, which switched it on by default in 2012, to Wikipedia and Microsoft’s Bing, which both enabled it by default last year.

“As the remainder of the web transitions to HTTPS, we'll continue working to ensure that migrating to HTTPS is a no-brainer, providing business benefit beyond increased security,” Google explained, in a blog post.

HTTPS currently enables the best performance the web offers and powerful features that benefit site conversions, including both new features such as service workers for offline support and web push notifications, and existing features such as credit card autofill and the HTML5 geolocation API that are too powerful to be used over non-secure HTTP.

Today’s news comes less than a year after Google announced it would index HTTPS pages by default when an HTTP equivalent exists. And a few months back, Google revealed it will now automatically reroute HTTP web requests made via Google.com through its more secure HTTPS counterpart.

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Etsy paid $32.5 million for AI startup Blackbird Technologies

Posted: 03 Nov 2016 11:22 PM PDT

Etsy's New York headquarters.

Ecommerce company Etsy today disclosed in a filing that it spent $32.5 million to acquire Blackbird Technologies, a startup that had developed artificial intelligence (AI) software that could be used for various search applications in the context of shopping.

“The Company completed this acquisition to improve the quality and relevance of search on Etsy.com,” says the SEC filing.

Here’s the full breakdown on the financials:

Total consideration for the acquisition was approximately $15.0 million, consisting of $8.1 million in cash and 513,304 shares of the Company's common stock with a fair value of $6.9 million on the acquisition date. Additionally, the Company issued 184,230 shares of common stock or restricted stock units ("RSUs") on the acquisition date with a fair value of $2.5 million which are tied to continuous service with the Company as an employee and are being accounted for as post-acquisition stock-based compensation expense over a three-year vesting period. The Company will pay up to an additional $8.8 million in cash and issue up to an additional 460,575 shares of RSUs post-close with a fair value of $6.2 million, both of which are also tied to continuous service with the Company as an employee and are being accounted for as post-acquisition stock-based and other compensation expense over a three-year vesting period. A portion of the consideration and post-acquisition compensation is subject to indemnification provisions.

Lots of big technology companies have splurged to rack up AI talent. Among the most recent deals: Intel bought Nervana, eBay bought ExpertMaker, Salesforce bought MetaMind, and Samsung bought Viv.

On its website, Blackbird says the team has “built search at Google, Yahoo, databases at Oracle, scaled Twitter to 200 million users, used computer vision for self-driving cars at Stanford and enterprise sales at Box.”

Previous Etsy acquisitions include Adtuitive, A Little Market, Grand St., Jarvis Labs, Lascaux Co., Mixel, and Trunkt.

Etsy closed out the third quarter of this year with a $2.39 million GAAP loss on $87.56 million in revenue, according to today’s filing.

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Google formally rejects EU antitrust charges

Posted: 03 Nov 2016 10:16 PM PDT

Google logo

(Reuters) – Google on Thursday formally rejected European Union antitrust charges of unfairly promoting its shopping service and blocking rivals in online search advertising, paving the way for EU regulators to rule next year on these issues and potentially impose hefty fines.

The U.S. technology giant’s rebuttal in the shopping case came six years after the European Commission opened an investigation prompted by complaints from rivals such as Microsoft and a host of European and U.S. rivals.

The EU regulator followed up with an anti-competitive charge against the company in April last year and added more evidence in July this year. It also issued a separate charge sheet against its online search advertising product AdSense for Search at the same time.

Google’s general counsel Kent Walker said on a blog that the accusations had no factual, legal or economic basis, and that the company’s actions were driven by its users rather than any plan to squash rivals.

“We never compromised the quality or relevance of the information we displayed. On the contrary, we improved it. That isn’t ‘favoring’ – that’s listening to our customers,” Walker said.

He said the Commission had failed to take into account competition from Amazon, merchant platforms, social media sites, mobile web and online advertising by companies such as Facebook and Pinterest.

The EU executive said it had received Google’s response.

“In each case, we will carefully consider Google’s response before taking any decision on how to proceed and cannot at this stage prejudge the final outcome of the investigation,” Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso said in an email.

Google may find it difficult convincing the EU regulator with its latest arguments, said Michael Carrier, professor at New Jersey-based Rutgers Law School.

“Google has a point that its search results help consumers by allowing them to directly buy the item. But the Commission worries about the effect on rivals. This likely will outweigh the consumer point,” he said.

Google also rejected a Commission proposal which would let the company charge rivals for displaying their services prominently, with the amount corresponding to its operating cost or a nominal amount based on the lowest reserve price for AdWords which is currently 0.01 euro per click.

In the advertising case, the company said it had already scrapped the exclusivity clauses and other provisions identified by the regulator as anti-competitive.

The Commission plans to hand down hefty fines to Google if found guilty of breaching EU rules, the charge sheet seen by Reuters showed. The penalty could reach $7.4 billion or 10 percent of the company’s global turnover for each case.

Walker said Google would respond in the coming days to a third EU charge of using its Android mobile operating system to hinder competitors. The Commission has given it until Nov. 11 to do so.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Jane Merriman)

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Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s nonstop action and epic story redeems Infinity Ward

Posted: 03 Nov 2016 09:02 PM PDT

Ship assault in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is out today, and it’s not a disappointment. I would say that it’s one of the best Call of Duty games in years, but I said the same thing about last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III. But I have to say that the critics of Call of Duty who say that it’s the same game every year are going to have a harder time making the case this year. This one takes a lot of risks that really paid off.

Activision’s Call of Duty series has generated more than $15 billion in more than a decade. And with Infinite Warfare, I expect the company to add a billion or two billion to that figure. Activision’s Infinity Ward studio, coming off the poorly received Call of Duty: Ghosts, redeems itself with an excellent game that takes a lot of risks, like shifting the setting from modern war to science fiction and outer space. Borrowing some leaders from Naughty Dog, maker of the acclaimed Uncharted series, Infinity Ward created an epic story that is also very personal.

The story follows a surprise attack launched by the Settlement Defense Front — a rebellious military group that has colonized the solar system — against its home planet Earth, held by the United Nations Space Alliance. It is an interplanetary war for resources. But Infinity Ward it tells the tale of that war in a personal way, following the path of Lieutenant Nick Reyes, a brave special forces soldier and pilot who gets promoted on the battlefield. The great insight of the developers in improving the story and characters is that it makes you care that much more about the action sequences.

Nora Salter is the main sidekick in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Above: Nora Salter is the main sidekick in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Image Credit: Activision

“One of the reasons I came here to work on Call of Duty is I'd always admired how well they did those big blockbuster action-movie set-pieces,” said Taylor Kurosaki, a former Naught Dog designer who was Infinity Ward’s narrative director on Infinite Warfare. “But my feeling was—if the guys that specialize in doing that stuff just do that again, they don't have to outdo themselves. They just do the thing they do so well, and we can infuse context and characters you care about. You could have two equivalent set-pieces, and the one involving characters you care about is going to feel far more spectacular.”

Infinite Warfare has benefited from three years of development. I encountered almost no bugs in the build that I played. The characters are well crafted, and the story makes good use of them. It’s an epic action game, but it has a lot to say about its central characters and the sacrifices that you make when you move from boots on the ground to command. The voice acting can be moving. The villain and hero are a study in contrasts. The facial animation is great, and the graphics are first rate. Zombies adds some much-needed levity, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered will provide a fix for those who feel nostalgic for modern war. Best of all, the action sequences will leave your hands shaking after you’re done with them because they’re so intense.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare debuts today on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and the Windows PC. I’ve played the entire campaign and multiplayer sessions on the PS4.


This has some spoilers, but we've tried to minimize them. We recommend you read this after you’ve played the campaign. Check out our Reviews Vault for past game reviews –Ed.


What you’ll like

A better story with characters who change

Nick Reyes has to make the tough decisions as a commander in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Above: Nick Reyes has to make the tough decisions as a commander in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Image Credit: Activision

By staying rooted in his grunt’s training, Reyes risks being a terrible commander, as he can’t bring himself to sacrifice a few for the needs of the many. He continues to fight like a grunt until his own subordinates challenge him to step up and be a leader.

“We wanted you to feel what it was like to be a military leader,” said Taylor Kurosaki, narrative director at Infinity Ward and a former Naughty Dog designer. “To have to move forward, despite the fact that maybe some people you're close to didn't make it. There's still an overarching mission you have to focus on despite those losses. That's a tough circumstance to be put in, and we wanted you to be in those boots.”

Reyes undergoes a change in the story as he is tested in battle and loses comrades around him. He is almost paralyzed as his cohorts ask him to step up his command, but he ultimately becomes more assertive and goes on the offensive by taking the battle back to the enemy.

“The fact that he's still the tip of the spear, still going out on the front lines, makes it that much harder for him to have that metamorphosis, to truly behave like a leader,” Kurosaki said. “He's having to wear both hats. Like I said earlier, we're all creatures of habit. We don't like to change. He's going to double down on his MO until he's basically forced to change.”

Continue Reading ...

BotBeat: This week’s top bot stories

Posted: 03 Nov 2016 07:21 PM PDT

BotBeat Weekly Newsletter for posts

VentureBeat’s Bots Channel tracks the most important news and analysis from the exploding field of bots and messaging. Each week, we select the top stories and present them in our free weekly newsletter, BotBeat. We include news stories by VentureBeat staff, guest articles from leading figures in the bots community, and a good number of posts from a wide variety of other outlets. You can subscribe to our BotBeat newsletter to receive this information in your inbox every Thursday.

Here’s this week's newsletter:

Yesterday’s announcement from Microsoft that it was launching Teams to compete with Slack was a long time coming. After all, what company can better claim to own the enterprise market than the maker of what is now called Office 365? But I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Slack.

Founded in 2009, the company has established an impressive beachhead in the daily work lives of 4 million employees who use the messaging service’s free or paid version. And as a platform for apps — or bots — Slack has real momentum. In February 2016, the company reported 260 apps in its App Directory; in October it listed 746 apps. Slack has become a very efficient way to handle tasks within CRM applications, manage HR functions like expense reports and hiring, and even to organize lunch with colleagues. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Teams will leverage bots from the company’s Bot Framework.

Let’s not forget that Microsoft Office has more than one billion users worldwide and that 2 million people pay to use Office 365 — a requirement to access Teams. Slack meanwhile has only 1.25 million paid users. Yet it does have a free version to entice people to fall in love with its service and, based on its current numbers, can boast of a better than 20 percent conversion rate. Microsoft, on the other hand? Infinitesimally small: 0.000000002.

Microsoft would be wise to follow Slack’s freemium approach, a lesson it should have learned by now.

As always, please send news tips to Khari Johnson and guest post submissions to John Brandon. Be sure to visit our Bots Channel for comprehensive news on bots and messaging.

Thanks for reading,

— Blaise Zerega

Editor in Chief

P.S. Last week we included the wrong link to this video of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos discussing privacy, Alexa, and artificial intelligence. Apologies for the error. Please enjoy!

From the Bots Channel

 

IFTTT-1IFTTT scraps recipes for multi-device commands called applets

Today IFTTT, a company that connects AI-powered assistants, wearables, apps, and the Internet of Things, will terminate three of its apps, launch a new app, and kill off the recipes its been known for since its launch in 2010. Recipes will be replaced by "applets." Some applets will have the same 1-1 connections that allow […]

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microsoft_teamsMicrosoft Teams is a Slack competitor that's part of Office 365

At its Office event in New York City today, Microsoft announced Microsoft Teams. Previously known as Skype Teams internally, this is the company's answer to Slack. The service — with Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, and web apps — is available as a preview in 181 countries and 18 languages. Microsoft is aiming for general availability […]

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NYPD VigilanteApple removes Vigilante live crime alert tool from the App Store

Live crime alert app Vigilante was removed from the iOS App Store late last week after only two days of operation. Vigilante — available only in New York City at launch — sends users a push notification of crimes in progress so they can either choose to avoid the area or go to the scene to broadcast […]

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How a Siri reminder works with Convo.

Moving from virtual assistants to virtual specialists

Today, the virtual assistant landscape is exploding with innovation: New applications and new forms of interaction are constantly emerging. Although the idea of a virtual assistant is decades old, it went mainstream with Apple's introduction of Siri. Siri was created at SRI International based on years of AI research, spun off as an independent venture-backed […]

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code brainDid Microsoft just outwit Silicon Valley's coolest tech startup?

I was shocked to read today that IBM and Slack are partnering so that Slack can use Watson to improve their Slackbot's cognitive capabilities. It seemed like Slack may be outsourcing the one thing that could become their most valuable strength. Except as I thought about it more, I wasn't surprised. Slack may have been […]

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Related coverage

What Chatbots Are Teaching Us About the Future of Marketing

Chatbots are treated like the simpletons of the artificial intelligence world, overshadowed by movie-trailer-creating Watson and its ilk, or the suggestion engines of huge etailers. (via Adweek)

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Banks Bet on the Next Big Thing: Financial Chatbots

Your bank really wants to chat. This week Bank of America MasterCard, and several financial start-ups announced new tools — known as chatbots — that will allow customers to ask questions about their financial accounts, initiate transactions and get financial advice via text messages or services like Facebook Messenger and Amazon's Echo tower. (via The New York Times)

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On Twitter, Trump bots are out-tweeting Clinton bots 7 to 1

A huge percentage of election-related talk on Twitter isn't coming from humans. It's coming from bots.
And the majority of those bots are gunning for Trump to win the race, according to a paper released yesterday from Oxford University's Project on Computational Propaganda. (via Recode)

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China’s WeChat messenger tests its own version of instant apps

WeChat might not mean much here in the US, but in Asia, the messaging app boasts some 800 million users. Its next step toward dominance is “small programs” that act like apps within the chat service, according The Information. (via Engadget)

Read the full story

 

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4 best practices your mobile messaging campaign needs to follow

Posted: 03 Nov 2016 06:10 PM PDT

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In a recent VentureBeat article, I talked about how chatbots and mobile messaging will become increasingly more accessible. At the moment, it may seem like only well-resourced corporations can take advantage of this technology, but we are already seeing small businesses setting up auto-responders and messaging campaigns delivered through the major messaging apps. With this in mind, and considering that your customers want your business to be on messaging apps, we need to go over some of the best practices to follow with your mobile messaging campaigns.

1. Keep the messages simple

Our first mobile messaging best practice is to keep things simple. When moving from email marketing to mobile messaging, you may bring some (bad) habits with you. Mobile messaging isn’t email. You do not need lots of words, multiple touch points, fancy creatives, excessive politeness, or anything else you would consider normal for email. Mobile messaging is about getting to the point. Your customers do not have time to read (millennials now read less than the average person). More importantly, messaging apps are not designed for large amounts of words.

Think of the way you interact with your friends through these apps. You probably use short sentences with multiple messages sent in quick succession. It makes it easier for your business. Imagine the time you spend crafting beautiful words, lovely images, and well-crafted sentences in your emails. All of that can be forgotten. Focus on the message you want your readers to read and the action you want them to take; that’s it.

2. Explain how to opt out

Much like with email, your customers need to be able to opt out. This is more than just a nice thing to do — it is a legal requirement. Ensure you notify anyone on your list how to unsubscribe. Sometimes the process might be as simple as sending an opt-out keyword (“STOP,” for example).

3. Be personal and respectful

Mobile phones are hugely valuable to people. We have everything in them, from personal contacts to photos of the people we cherish. You need to keep this in mind whenever you send messages. Make sure you talk to your subscribers on a personal level, because mobile messaging is all about one-to-one conversation. Don’t invade their personal space. Keep message frequency low and, if possible, at their request. A good example is to set up buttons your subscribers can interact with. You are not actively broadcasting your content; you are offering them a way to keep engaging with you.

4. Start small

It’s easy to get excited by the opportunity mobile messaging offers. You could start by setting up an autoresponder on Facebook Messenger and 2 hours later have 19 campaigns, buttons after each message, call-to-actions, download links, one-click call-to-support teams, and so on. Take a deep breath. Your customers do want to talk to you through messaging apps, but there is a high chance they would feel lost in all the campaigns and interactions.

Start small and focus on a few (two or three) goals. Is it to enable your customers to opt in for content updates? Offer them a simple keyword opt-in. Is it to give your clients a centralized place to find your social media accounts? Deliver a simple autoresponder with all the links.

Once you’re up and running, you can start implementing more options and creating more complex campaigns over time.

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The government failed US workers on global trade — it must do better on tech

Posted: 03 Nov 2016 06:10 PM PDT

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Global trade and investment have been great engines of progress for much of the world. Over the past two decades, poorer countries reduced the gap between themselves and their richer counterparts for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, in no small part because of the opportunities opened by global trade. Technology has the same transformative potential in industries as varied as energy, health care, transportation, and education. New inventions that are imminent or already here could transform the lives of billions of people for the better.

Yet, as we see in the 2016 US election campaign, and as we have seen in Europe and elsewhere, rapid change has a dark side. If too many people are unable to adapt quickly and successfully to these changes, they will push back – blaming trade or immigrants or the elites – and demand a reversion to a simpler time.

The task of governments is to help people manage these transformations so that the changes benefit many and do as little harm as possible. In the United States, governments mostly failed at that task during the era of globalization. If the full benefits of the coming technologies are to be enjoyed, governments will have to do much better this time around.

The competitive pressures create by globalization should have been no surprise. About 45 years ago, President Richard Nixon's top international economic adviser, Pete Peterson, warned him that rising competition from Japan and Germany, with much more on the way, "poses adjustment policy which simply cannot be ignored."

Americans have unquestionably gained by the lower prices and higher quality that import competition enabled. Apple iPhones and the latest Boeing jets are the result of the collective input of tens of thousands of collaborators in dozens of countries around the world. But many Americans lost well-paid manufacturing jobs to import competition or outsourcing, and the US government has made little effort to mitigate those costs, even in worker retraining.

President John F. Kennedy promised in 1962 that the government would help American workers who lost out to trade competition as the United States lowered its barriers to imports. "When considerations of national policy make it desirable to avoid higher tariffs, those injured by the competition should not be required to bear the full brunt of the impact," he said. But today, the United States spends a smaller proportion of its wealth on worker retraining than any of the other 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development except for Mexico and Chile.

Too often, the attitude of the US government has been deeply irresponsible, assuming that markets would simply sort everything out for the best. In the long run, everybody may end up with work and income, but in the short run, as Peterson told Nixon, the failure to help Americans adapt to the new reality will "leave long periods when the transition is painful beyond endurance."

With technology change, too, we know well in advance exactly what is coming. Driverless technology, for example, will soon become the standard in the trucking industry. Driverless trucks can run 24 hours a day and won't demand overtime pay. There are 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States, and an additional 5.5 million jobs in related industries – roughly one in every 15 American workers. They could perhaps go to work for UPS or deliver pizzas, but many of those delivery jobs will be lost to drones.

Personal-care robots will increasingly replace home health-care aides, and self-checkout machines are already replacing retail-store clerks; these are jobs that filled some of the gap left by the disappearance of manufacturing jobs to global competition, but they, too, will soon be under siege.  Automation is even hitting law and education, two sectors long thought immune to technological substitution.

These vulnerabilities necessitate something that too often was absent in the era of globalization: good public policies. Artificial intelligence will transform teaching, for example, but without access to the highest-speed broadband, students in poor and rural areas will fall further behind their urban counterparts. And unless we strengthen social safety nets and retraining schemes, there will be far too many losers in the labor market. There is no way to avoid the huge impact that technology will have on employment; we have to prepare for it and help those whose skills it antiquates.

Much more even than globalization, technology is going to create upheaval and destroy industries and jobs. This can be for the better, helping us create new and more interesting jobs or freeing up time for leisure and artistic pursuits. But unless we find ways to share the prosperity and help Americans adapt to the coming changes, many could be left worse off than they are. And, as we have seen this year, that is a recipe for an angry backlash and political upheaval.

Edward Alden is senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Failure to Adjust: How Americans Got Left Behind in the Global Economy. Follow @edwardalden.

Vivek Wadhwa is Distinguished Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University Engineering at Silicon Valley and a director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke. Follow @wadhwa.

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