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If 12% is the new 30%, 4% is the new 12%

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
The whole team was aboard for this recording, with Grace and Chris behind the scenes, and Danny, Alex and Natasha on the mics. We had to cut more than we included this week, which should give you a good idea of how busy the startup and VC worlds are of late.
Make sure that you are following the podcast on Twitter, where we post all sorts of memes and cuts and, perhaps, the occasional video here and there. That aside, here’ …

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Sony announces investment and partnership with Discord to bring the chat app to PlayStation

Sony and Discord have announced a partnership that will integrate the latter’s popular gaming-focused chat app with PlayStation’s own built-in social tools. It’s a big move and a fairly surprising one given how recently acquisition talks were in the air — Sony appears to have offered a better deal than Microsoft, taking an undisclosed minority stake in the company ahead of a rumored IPO.
The exact nature of the partnership is not expressed in the brief announcement post. The closest we come to hearing what will actually happen is that the two companies plan to “bring the Discord …

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The Roblox final fantasy

Hello friends, and welcome to Week in Review.
Last week, I talked a bit about NFTs and their impact on artists. If you’re inundated with NFT talk just take one quick look at this story I wrote this week about the $69 million sale of Beeple’s photo collage. This hype cycle is probably all the result of crypto folks talking each other up and buying each other’s stuff, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be lasting impacts. That said, I would imagine we’re pretty close to the peak of this wave, with a larger one …

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Maestro nets $15 million for its interactive commerce, community and engagement tools for livestreams

Making money on livestreams has never been easier thanks to a suite of tools from the Los Angeles-based startup Maestro, which just nabbed $15 million in financing to grow its business.
As video commerce becomes the norm and entertainers, brands, businesses, and franchises of all sizes and stripes look to cut out the middle man, the array of services on offer from Maestro may be the scissors these entities need to cut the cord.
The company has already worked with names as diverse as the Golden State Warriors, the Dallas Cowboys, and pop sensation Billy Eilish on embedding its interactive tools …

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This Week in Apps: TikTok viral hit breaks Spotify records, inauguration boosts news app installs, judge rules against Parler

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.
Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t …

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Sony reveals more details on its secretive Vision-S sedan

Sony’s Vision-S prototype sedan, one of the biggest surprises at CES last year, didn’t fade away after the tech trade show ended.
The Vision-S is back in a series of new videos released by Sony during 2021 CES, which kicked off Monday. Two videos show the Vision-S prototype driving on a private track and then public roads in Austria. But it’s a third, longer video (included below) that sheds more light on how Sony designed and developed the prototype, its partners and some of the tech that’s under the hood.
Image Credits: Sony/screenshot
Importantly, the Vision-S …

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Sony to launch PlayStation 5 in India on February 2

Sony said on Friday that it will launch the PlayStation 5 in India on February 2, suggesting improvements in the supply chain network that has been severely throttled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Japanese firm said it will begin taking pre-order requests for the new gaming console in India, the world’s second largest internet market, on January 12. The console will be available for pre-order from a number of retailers including Amazon India, Flipkart, Croma, Reliance Digital, Games the Shop, Sony Center, and Vijay Sales, the company said.
The PlayStation 5 is priced at Indian rupees 49,990 ($685), while the digital edition of the console …

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Sony’s PlayStation 5 won’t be available in-store at launch

A small wrinkle in the console wars. Sony took to Twitter today to note that the PlayStation 5 won’t be available for in-store purchases on launch day (November 12 or 19, depending on what part of the world you live in). Instead, users will only be able to but it online at that date. The next-gen console went up for pre-order in mid-September, though a rush on purchasing caused a bit of a hiccup early on.

Sony specifies in a blog post that the decision was made — at least in part — over safety concerns surrounding the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the interest of keeping our gamers, retailers, and staff safe amidst COVID-19, today we are confirming that all day-of launch sales will be conducted through the online stores of our retail partners,” the company writes. “[P]lease don’t plan on camping out or lining up at your local retailer on launch day in hopes of finding a PS5 console for purchase. Be safe, stay home, and place your order online.”

Microsoft’s latest — the Xbox Series X/S — will launch globally two days prior. Lucas just posted up an on-going review of the system earlier today. On the Sony side, Devin has thus far featured this hands-on with the console’s controller.

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Hands-on: Sony’s DualSense PS5 controller could be a game changer

After spending a few hours with the PlayStation 5 and its completely redesigned DualSense controller, I can say with confidence that the new haptics and audio features certainly work — and could become integral to the gaming experience. But only if — and it’s a big if — developers truly embrace the tech.

The DualSense controller replaces the extremely familiar and beloved design of the DualShock, which has remained largely the same shape since the first one shipped for the original PlayStation 25 years ago.

While the general layout is the same, the feel of the new controller is significantly different and the appearance is aligned with the PS5’s distinctive but questionable hyper-futuristic look. I’m not entirely sold on the new shape but I’ve also had a long time to get used to the old one, so I’m withholding judgment while I work on the full review.

I can tell you right now though that there indeed are tiny PlayStation symbols all over this thing:

I worry these will be grease magnets.

Shipping with every PS5 is Astro’s Playroom, which like Nintendoland and Wii Sports is intended to provide a reference experience for all the controller’s new features. It may not be quite as original or persistently enjoyable as Nintendo’s pack-ins (which still number among the best games for their platforms), but it’s a fun little playroom that does a good job showing off the DualSense.

The first and perhaps most immediately compelling feature is the haptic feedback on the trigger buttons, L2 and R2. It’s one of those things that when you feel it working, you immediately start thinking about how it could be used.

Image Credits: Sony

What it does is allow not just precision vibration but actual resistance to be added to the triggers, something that sounds vague in theory but is very easy to grasp, so to speak, in practice.

For instance, in the setup process for Astro’s Playroom the feature is introduced by simply asking you to pull the triggers and feel it. You’ll certainly have pulled them before that, so you know that they’re nearly frictionless normally. But suddenly they’re pushing back against your finger — then a click, and the resistance is gone.

“What is this sorcery?” I recall saying out loud at the time, or something like it but more profane. It really is that immediately compelling.

Image Credits: Sony

Later, in the first stage I tried of the game, your little robot jumps into a sort of spring suit (a metal spring, not a linen two-piece) and you have to pull the trigger to make it jump. The haptics in this case truly give a feel of compressing something (though, having played with springs before, I know they don’t feel like this), and importantly give you a non-visual, intuitive indicator of how far you’ve depressed the trigger. My brain was quicker to register how far I’d pulled it with the combination of sound, haptics and graphics than graphics alone. And because the feeling is localized to the trigger you’re using, there’s no confusion with the greater vibrations of the all-purpose rumble system.

The Switch’s Joy-Cons have a sort of precision haptics in them, and while the demo of that feature was interesting — feeling little objects rattle around “inside” the controller — it’s actually quite hard to think of ways it could be used in gameplay. And indeed few games have done so, though to be fair rumble in general is probably better because of it.

In the DualSense’s case, I was immediately thinking, “this would be great for…” and wishing I’d had it in this or that game in the past. It opens up possibilities I’ve never liked the idea of, like “pull the trigger halfway to do one thing, all the way to do another. It’s also potentially a great accessibility feature.

Having a speaker and microphone in the controller is nothing new, though they appear to have been upgraded for the DualSense. Few games have been able to use these features properly, and Astro’s Playroom resorts to the old “blow on the controller to make a propeller go” thing. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do that in any real game — but why can’t I yell “Go, cyberdog! Attack the monster on the right” to direct my (sadly fictitious) companion, or something like that?

Unfortunately that gets to the heart of what makes even the excellent haptic feature a potentially lost cause. Developers need to design for them in a big way, and that’s difficult when you can’t guarantee that people will want or be able to use them. Not only that, but if you want to release on Xbox and PC too, you have to remove them. So they become optional features… and since they’re optional, they can’t be integrated into the game as deeply to begin with, making them less compelling overall. It’s happened over and over with various innovations gaming companies have come up with over the years, and it may happen with this generation’s gimmicks as well.

Sony’s best bet is to make integration painless and highly incentivized, though it’s hard to imagine how multi-platform developers like Ubisoft can do much more than the minimum. Serious use will likely be limited to a handful of top-shelf Sony-funded PS5 exclusives that players will marvel at.

It’s an interesting new gameplay feature, but hardly one that screams “next-generation.” Indeed little about the next consoles from Sony or Microsoft screams that except the specs. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth buying — but don’t expect anything transformative.

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