Zynga launches battle royale game as a Snap Games exclusive

Zynga the casual games developer which once rode Facebook’s platform to popularity and riches is now turning its attention to Snap for growth.

Today, the gaming company is launching its new battle royale game, Tiny Royale, exclusively on Snap’s gaming platform, Snap Games.

A multiplayer shooting game first announced as part of the big unveiling of Snap Games in April, Tiny Royale’s likely aim is to bring the popular game format that has made Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds so successful to the Snap platform.

In the game, players can choose custom characters and form squads with friends or battle alone for quick two-minute rounds to gather loot and shoot their way to victory.

Up to 30 players can battle at a time in terms of up to four. The gameplay is much the same as the other battle royale games with maps shrinking in size until only one player, or team, remains, the company said.

“We are thrilled to be one of the first companies to launch a gaming experience on Snapchat,” said Bernard Kim, president of Publishing at Zynga, in a statement. “Game developers rarely get the opportunity to create an entirely new experience on an emerging platform so our team was excited to remix the battle royale genre into a fast-paced game designed to rock on Snap Games.”

Built on the PlayCanvas game engine, Snap Games features a selection of third party titles. Players can access Tiny Royale through the Snapchat messaging feature and use text and voice-based features during game play. Later the summer, Zynga will offer a ranked matchmaking feature called Tiny Royale Leagues, which will place competitors in groups of 100, broken out into 20 tiers. Players can battle to climb up in tier ranks earning trophies and rewards based on their performance.

Snap launched in April with six announced titles including Tiny Royale and:

  • Bitmoji Party, you can play as yourself in a series of quick, wacky mini-games.
  • Snake Squad from Game Closure, you and your squad work together to be the last ones standing!
  • C.A.T.S. Drift Race from ZeptoLab, you’ll drift around the track and speed past friends for the win!
  • Zombie Rescue Squad from PikPok, your squad will rescue survivors in a zombie-infested city.
  • Alphabear Hustle from Spry Fox, you’ll collaborate to form words — fast! — to build your village.

“Snap Games is all about exploring new ways for friends to play together and Tiny Royale™ is the perfect example of that,” said Will Wu, Snap’s Head of Snap Games. “We jumped at the chance to have a global leader in mobile games like Zynga develop for our platform, and we can’t wait to see what our community thinks about this new way to connect with each other.”

RapChat raises $1.6 million to help you make and share your def jams

The first thing to understand about media sharing app RapChat is that co-founder Seth Miller is not a rapper and his other co-founder, Pat Gibson, is. Together they created RapChat, a service for making and sharing raps, and the conjunction of rapper and nerd seems to be really taking off.

Since we last looked at the app in 2016 (you can see Tito’s review below), a lot has changed. The team has raised $1.6 million in funding from investors out of Oakland and the midwest. Their app, which is sort of a musical.ly for rap, is a top 50 music app on iOS and Android and hit 100 million listens since launch. In short, their little social network/sharing platform is a “millionaire in the making, boss of [its] team, bringin home the bacon.”

The pair’s rap bonafides are genuine. Gibson has opened or performed with with Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, and Machine Gun Kelly and he’s sold beats to MTV. “My music has garnered over 20M+ plays across YouTube, SoundCloud and more,” he wrote me, boasting in the semi-churlish manner of a rapper with a “beef.” Miller, on the other hand, likes to freestyle.

“I grew up loving to freestyle with friends at OU and I noticed lots of other millennials did this too (even if most suck lol) … at any party at 3am – there would always be a group of people in the corner freestyling,” he said. “At the same time Snapchat was blowing up on campus and just thought you should be able to do the same exact thing for rap.”

Gibson, on the other hand, saw it as a serious tool to help him with his music.

“I spent a lot of time, energy and resources making music,” he said. “I was producing the beats, writing the songs, recording/mixing the vocals, mastering the project, then distributing & promoting the music all by myself. With Rapchat, there’s a library of 1,000+ beats from top producers, an instant recording studio in your pocket, and the network to distribute your music worldwide and be discovered…. all from a free app. Rapchat is disrupting the creation, collaboration, distribution, & discovery of music via mobile

“We have a much bigger but also more active community than any other music creation app,” said Miller.

While it’s clear the wold needs another sharing platform like it needs a hole in the head, thanks to a rabid fanbase and a great idea the team has ensured that RapChat is not, as they say, wicka-wicka-whack. That, in the end, is all that matters.

The problems with Facebook are inherent in its design, but that can change

Amber Case

Amber Case is the former CEO of Geoloqi, a past keynote speaker for SXSWi and at TED, and author of the O’Reilly book Calm Technology: Designing for Billions of Devices and the Internet of Things. She is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

The latest controversies of social networks Facebook and Twitter are easily the most heated in their entire 12-14 year history — not just because of their suspect role in enabling interference in the 2016 election, but because by now, nearly all of us are users. If history is any guide, however, this outrage likely won’t last.

The simple fact is Facebook and Twitter have become too useful for most of us to quit, efficiently connecting us to people and ideas in ways that no other platform can replicate. It’s usually enough for the social networks’ corporate owners to loudly apologize and promise new reforms; after the anger ebbs, equilibrium is rapidly restored. Even many users who vowed to quit social media forever will eventually, begrudgingly, return.

Still, this current crisis of trust has created an opportunity to interrogate just exactly how social media is failing us, and push for the fundamental, systemic changes needed to make it better. I’m speaking of deeper, more subtle problems that are far less acknowledged than fake news or data mining: The core user experience of Facebook and Twitter are broken, rife with subtle visual and interactive cues which exploit and fuel our darker urges on these platforms — subtly impelling many of us to share fake news, engage in trolling, and worse. Here’s how:

Fast, Focused, Frenetic

Websites live and die by engagement, their ability to attract new users and keep them on the site. Facebook and Twitter have earned mass user bases and a central place in the mainstream discourse years ago, but their user experiences still reflect these companies’ origins as scrappy startups, desperate to keep growing. Consequently, every aspect of their user experience is optimized to reward frequent, and ultimately, frenetic engagement. For instance:

  • Publication speed: Response comments are published through an “Enter to send” model, versus “click to reply”.

  • One-click interaction: Retweet, reshare, reply, Like, Upvote/Downvote, or (in Facebook’s case) express an emotion, all with a single finger twitch.

  • Real-time usage stats: Content creation is rewarded with game-like “scores”, encouraging users to see how many likes, comments and reactions each of their interactions earns.

  • Brevity: Short form user responses (in the case of Twitter)

These dynamic interactions are compounded by the overall user interface, with image-based posts, screenshots and retweets occupying much of the interface display. Imagery accelerates and magnifies user engagement; it also encourages users to take and spread screencaps of incendiary private discussions and inflammatory discussions from other social networks.

The ever-increasing speed of wireless broadband further exacerbates this problem, encouraging emotional engagements wherever and wherever we might be with a device in our hands. It’s rare that you can scroll down a Twitter or Facebook feed without getting emotionally hooked by something. Unlike an analog conversation, which might hook you emotionally one part at a time, social media feeds offer multiple barbs per page. Scroll long enough and there is no escape.

It would be simplistic, however, to say the design of social media is the sole culprit, because they are papering over an even deeper design problem.

Filling the Flaws in the UX of Modern Life  

Social networks are flourishing (for good and ill) because our networks are no longer operating at human scale. At human scale, we’re able to moderate better. Consider the user experience of the Thanksgiving dinner, where a heated political topic between relatives can be gently overridden by asking to pass the gravy. The entire shape of our communication patterns have changed. We routinely communicate with people far away, and increasingly, less with the people in our neighborhood. Our family and friend groups are smaller than ever before; 1 in 4 of us live alone, more than half us are unmarried. We spend increasingly more of our time in non-places — in freeway traffic, sterile office buildings, bland airports — putting us as humans on pause.

So we reach for an out. Social media becomes our cigarette break, a quick drag of distilled, pre-filtered humanity with potentially cancerous side effects. We interact with others through our social media profile, what I call our global, templated self, which amplifies the best of who we are — but helps social media companies profit from the demons of our darker nature.

Designing for Warmer Engagement

It will take many years of study and debate to understand and to address the civic design flaws which help make social media so corrosively addictive. Fortunately, addressing the flaws in social media design are easier. Because if it’s true that subtle UX elements can exert a negative influence on our social media usage, then equally small changes can also help curb our worst interactions. Consider some design tweaks to the existing user interface of Twitter and Facebook:

  • Cool-off before commenting: If a given social media post generates a rapid influx of negative comments or reactions, the system can impose a “cool-off” delay before further comments can be made. Even a pause of 30 seconds could work wonders on giving users a respite to consider the heated reaction they’re about to post, or even reconsider posting at all.

  • Quiz before commenting (or sharing): A Norwegian newsite recently introduced this feature to great effect: Whenever a reader wanted to post a comment on a given news item, they first had to answer a series of multiple choice questions about the story, to prove they had actually read it. After this system was deployed, trollish comments substantially decreased. Working in tandem with media sites, social media platforms should implement a similar quiz system on updates. It could also be deployed to prevent the thoughtless dispersion of content: before being able to share or retweet a given piece of content, a user would have to correctly answer a small set of questions to demonstrate they had really read or viewed it.

  • Implement timeline “rest” options: To address the cascade of emotional hooks created by timeline feeds, Facebook and Twitter should experiment with a pause button that imposes user-set resting periods — during which, users wouldn’t receive notifications or comments associated with their timeline.

Key advantage to these features is that they still foster sustained interaction on social media through a warmer overall experience that minimizes the fiery spikes of outrage that often cause users to disengage (or in Internet jargon, “ragequit”). It’s in the interest of Twitter and Facebook, in other words, to implement them.

But if past history is any guide, changes like these will come only after a sustained protest by the user base. It’s up to us to insist on a better, more humane social media experience — and not let the inertia of our everyday surroundings dull us back into our usual, templated routines. Until, that is, the next inevitable social network controversy spurs us into another moment of waning outrage.

Palmer Luckey, political martyr?

In the middle of testimony over Facebook’s privacy scandal, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas took a moment to grill Mark Zuckerberg over his company’s political loyalties.

In the course of a testy exchange between Sen. Cruz and Zuckerberg, the senator brought up the dismissal of Palmer Luckey, the controversial founder of virtual reality tech development pioneer, Oculus .

It was part of Cruz’s broader questioning about whether or not Facebook is biased in the ways it moderates the posts and accounts of members — and in its staffing policies.

Here’s the exchange:

Cruz: Do you know the political orientation of those 15 to 20,000 people engaged in content review?

Zuckerberg: No senator, we do not generally ask people about their political orientation when they’re joining the company.

Cruz: So, as CEO Have you ever made hiring or firing decisions based on political positions or what candidates they supported?

Zuckerberg: No.

Cruz: Why was Palmer Luckey fired?

Zuckerberg: That is a specific personnel matter that seems like it would be inappropriate to speak to here.

Cruz: You just made a specific representation that you didn’t make decisions based on political views, is that accurate?

Zuckerberg: I can commit that it was not because of a political view.

Luckey left Facebook last March, after reports surfaced that he was a member of a pro-Trump troll farm called Nimble America.

Luckey’s departure follows a lengthy period of absence from public view brought about by a Daily Beast piece revealing his involvement and funding of a pro-Trump troll group called Nimble America. News of his support came during a time when very few figures in Silicon Valley were publicly showing support for candidate Trump, the most notable being Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook who started the VC firm Founders Fund, which backed Oculus, as well.

Though Luckey initially denied funding the group, he ultimately took to social media to apologize in the midst of an upheaval that had many developers threatening to leave the platform. His last public statement (on Facebook, of course) was a mixture of regret and defense, reading, in part, “I am deeply sorry that my actions are negatively impacting the perception of Oculus and its partners. The recent news stories about me do not accurately represent my views… my actions were my own and do not represent Oculus. I’m sorry for the impact my actions are having on the community.”

Google and Netflix team up to launch a new open source canary analysis tool

Google and Netflix today announced the launch of Kayenta, a new open source project that aims bring the canary analysis tools Netflix developed internally to a wider audience. Kayenta is integrated into the Netflix-incubated Spinnaker continuous delivery platform, which works across virtually every public and private cloud. While Spinnaker is the focus of this release, though, Kayenta can also be adapted to other environments.

The general idea behind canary analysis is pretty straightforward. Like the name implies, this is an early warning system that is all about prevent major issues when you roll out an update to a service or your infrastructure. As you roll out an update to a subset of new users (or servers, or parts of your network), the canary analysis service checks whether the new system behaves as it should — or at least as well as the old one. At every step, the system performs its checks and ensures that you don’t roll out an upgrade that may pass all of your regular tests but creates issues when thrown into a more complex production system.

As Google product manager Andrew Phillips told me, a lot of developers already do this, but it’s often a rather informal process. Teams often build their apps, deploy it to a few servers, wait for a few minutes and then check their dashboards to look for obvious issues. That introduces the chance of human error and brings in the potential for bias. A canary analysis system, on the other hand, can evaluate the metrics and then (ideally) make an objective decision on whether the code is ready to ship or not. While most companies run automated tests to check their code for obvious errors, that kind of testing is often not enough when you want to put your code into production, especially if that production environment consists of a set of microservices that may end up interacting with each other in unexpected ways.

As is so often the case these days, with Kayenta, the Netflix team wants to open up its own system to bring the service to the wider community (and in return benefit from the community’s advances, too). To do this, Netflix and Google also worked to rewrite the parts of Kayenta that were specific to Netflix, where the system grew rather organically. That doesn’t necessarily make for good code, though, so with Kayenta, Google and Netflix also spent some time cleaning up the code and making it more modular. Indeed, as Netflix director of delivery engineering Andy Glover told me, the Google and Netflix teams spent about a year to get the code ready for today’s release and one of the major areas of focus for both teams was making sure that the code was as modular as possible.

The fact that Google and Netflix already did some joint work on Spinnaker surely helped their efforts to get Kayenta off the ground, too. It also helps that canary analysis isn’t exactly a competitive advantage for either company. As Phillips stressed, there is really no need for every enterprise to reinvent the wheel and this kind of project is all about “giving space-age tech to the masses.”

Looking forward, the plan is to grow both the Kayenta and Spinnaker community. “The goodwill of Netflix and Google together has attracted a certain crowd of developers that have embraced Spinnaker,” Glover noted. The Kayenta project will surely benefit from that. The Spinnaker Slack room already has over 4,000 participants, after all.

As Phillips also stressed, part of that interest is due to the simple fact that people need software delivery solutions and while there are plenty of options, a project that has the backing of Google and Netflix attracts a lot of attention by default. And given the backing of these two companies, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some kind of commercial distribution of Spinnaker and Kayenta in the near future.

What Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony doesn’t say

There’s a lot of keen analytical hindsight on display in Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s written testimony to Congress ahead of his appearance at hearings on Wednesday, but nothing that indicates Facebook is ready to come to terms with the problems rotting the core of the social network.

The bulk of Zuckerberg’s opening statement is an historical analysis of the events of the past two years that have bruised the company’s reputation and share price.

Zuckerberg is defending his company on two fronts as he faces down the members of Congress that could regulate his company out of existence — user privacy and platform integrity.

In the testimony, Zuckerberg highlights the initial steps that Facebook has taken to close down access for third parties and to do more to combat fake accounts and the spread of misinformation.

These steps constitute what are now Zuckerberg’s usual assurances… Facebook is sacrificing its own profits to develop new tools and hire new personnel to combat bad actors that would leverage Facebook’s user information for their own fun and profit. Facebook has taken steps before the U.S. election to root out bad actors and will take even more steps now — since those initial efforts weren’t enough.

Near the close of his written testimony, Zuckerberg writes: “I want to be clear about what our priority is: protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.”

What Zuckerberg’s testimony fails to mention, as ever, is whether users themselves will ever be protected from Facebook.

Ultimately Facebook’s scandal is about how much the company knows about its users and how much power those users then have to control how Facebook applies (or shares) its knowledge.

As Wired columnist Zeynep Tufekci pointed out in a column this weekend, that’s been Facebook’s problem since the company’s inception.

By now, it ought to be plain to them, and to everyone, that Facebook’s 2 billion-plus users are surveilled and profiled, that their attention is then sold to advertisers and, it seems, practically anyone else who will pay Facebook—including unsavory dictators like the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. That is Facebook’s business model. That is why the company has an almost half-a-trillion-dollar market capitalization, along with billions in spare cash to buy competitors.

All of the steps that Facebook is taking now to “make sure what happened with Kogan and Cambridge Analytica doesn’t happen again” only achieve one thing — consolidating Facebook’s control over the user data that it can make available to its customers.

The policies just reduce the funnel of information that application developers, advertisers and others can freely access (the emphasis here is on free). For those who want to pay the company for the information — there’s no guarantee that it won’t be used in some way.

As Tufekci writes, Facebook is a surveillance engine — that’s the core of its business and the sale of that surveillance to bidders is the way that it functions to connect its “community.” And protecting that community is a good way to also protect Facebook’s profits.

The problem for Facebook begins with the platform itself — and Zuckerberg’s designs for it. And it won’t be solved with a single congressional hearing.

To pre-empt Congressional questioning and change the conversation, Zuckerberg could have offered solutions for Facebook to proactively address the problems that bedevil it — beyond the adoption of the One scenario that could free Facebook from the advertising chains that ostensibly bind it to being a digital surveillance state is the introduction of a subscription service (as my colleague Josh Constine suggested earlier this year).

For regulators looking at potential legal solutions, the application of GDPR standards across the entire Facebook platform would be a step in the right direction. Zuckerberg has committed to it, but his company has a history of failing to live up to its promises to users. Perhaps Congress will find a way to convince Facebook’s chief to help the company keep its word… and avoid another apology tour.

Walmart brings its partnership with JD.com into the food business

Walmart is bringing its partnership with JD.com into its grocery business.

The Chinese physical store will stock products that customers can also buy through its Walmart’s virtual storefront on the Chinese electronic marketplace, JD.com, according to a report in Reuters.

Walmart first partnered with JD.com two years ago as both companies struggled to overcome the retail dominance of Alibaba, China’s ecommerce juggernaut.

Throwing the ouroboros of 21st century economics into sharp relief, the partnership was established in 2016 to sell Walmart’s China-made, U.S.-branded products to Chinese consumers through JD.com’s online marketplace and by setting up electronics showrooms hawking JD.com’s tech wares in Walmart locations throughout China.

Now the integration of JD.com’s online and Walmart’s offline supply chains will extend to groceries. Beginning with a store in China’s southern megacity — Shenzhen — 8,000 items ranging from fresh fruit to seafood will not only be stocked in stores, but will also be available for online orders through JD.com.

Customers in a 3 kilometer radius from the store will get their food delivered within 30 minutes — and will be able to use a new shopping application available through WeChat to skip checkout counters. 

The new stores step up the competition for convenience that’s now top of mind for big retailers from Amazon and Alibaba to Target and Walmart.

The integration of the online and physical retail experience for consumers through mobile purchasing, contactless check-out and delivery and in-store pickup are going to be the next front in the war for customers’ clicks and trips online and offline.

MacOS finally gains external GPU support

The latest update to macOS provides support for external graphics card. Apple announced this would hit the OS last June at WWDC and now it’s finally here. The update allows Mac users to increase the graphical processing power through an external graphics card connected through Thunderbolt 3.

Perviously users had to buy an eGPU dev kit from Apple or employ unofficial means to enable external graphics cards, which meant Apple wouldn’t bail them out if something happened. The additional horsepower isn’t needed for general use, but the added graphics cards supercharge Macs for VR, rendering and gaming. Only a handful of eGPUs are compatible with macOS so choose carefully before adding one to your rig.

The feature comes from the High Sierra 10.13.4 Combo Update which also adds Business Chat in Messages, a new iTunes and a super handy feature to Safari in which users can jump to the right-most open tab by using Command+9.

Microsoft can ban you for using offensive language

A report by CSOOnline presented the possibility that Microsoft would be able to ban “offensive language” from Skype, Xbox, and, inexplicably, Office. The post, which cites Microsoft’s new terms of use, said that the company would not allow users to “publicly display or use the Services to share inappropriate content or material (involving, for example, nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence, or criminal activity)” and that you could lose your Xbox Live Membership if you curse out a kid Overwatch.

“We are committed to providing our customers with safe and secure experiences while using our services. The recent changes to the Microsoft Service Agreement’s Code of Conduct provide transparency on how we respond to customer reports of inappropriate public content,” said a Microsoft spokesperson. The company notes that “Microsoft Agents” do not watch Skype calls and that they can only respond to complaints with clear evidence of abuse. The changes, which go into effect May 1, allows Microsoft to ban you from it services if you’re found passing “inappropriate content” or using “offensive language.”

These new rules give Microsoft more power over abusive users and it seems like Microsoft is cracking down on bad behavior on its platforms. This is good news for victims of abuse in private communications channels on Microsoft products and may give trolls pause before they yell something about your mother on Xbox. We can only dare to dream.

Mobile gaming is having a moment, and Apple has the reins

It’s moved beyond tradition and into the realm of meme that Apple manages to dominate the news cycle around major industry events all while not actually participating in said events. CES rolls around and every story is about HomeKit or its competitors, another tech giant has a conference and the news is that Apple updated some random subsystem of its ever-larger ecosystem of devices and software .

This is, undoubtedly planned by Apple in many instances. And why not? Why shouldn’t it own the cycle when it can, it’s only strategically sound.

This week, the 2018 Game Developer’s Conference is going on and there’s a bunch of news coverage about various aspects of the show. There are all of the pre-written embargo bits about big titles and high-profile indies, there are the trend pieces and, of course, there’s the traditional ennui-laden ‘who is this event even for’ post that accompanies any industry event that achieves critical mass.

But the absolute biggest story of the event wasn’t even at the event. It was the launch of Fortnite and, shortly thereafter, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on mobile devices. Specifically, both were launched on iOS and PUBG hit Android simultaneously.

The launch of Fortnite, especially, resonates across the larger gaming spectrum in several unique ways. It’s the full and complete game as present on consoles, it’s iOS-first and it supports cross-platform play with console and PC players.

This has, essentially, never happened before. There have been stabs at one or more of those conditions on experimental levels but it really marks a watershed in the games industry that could serve to change the psychology around the platform discussion in major ways. 

For one, though the shape of GDC has changed over the years as it relates to mobile gaming – it’s only recently that the conference has become dominated by indie titles that are mobile centric. The big players and triple-A console titles still take up a lot of air, but the long tail is very long and mobile is not synonymous with “casual gamers” as it once was.

I remember the GDC before we launched Monument Valley,” says Dan Gray of Monument Valley 2 studio ustwo. “We were fortunate enough that Unity offered us a place on their stand. Nobody had heard of us or our game and we were begging journalists to come say hello, it’s crazy how things have changed in four years. We’ve now got three speakers at the conference this year, people stop you in the street (within a two block radius) and we’re asked to be part of interviews like this about the future of mobile.”

Zach Gage, the creator of SpellTower, and my wife’s favorite game of all time, Flip Flip Solitaire, says that things feel like they have calmed down a bit. “It seems like that might be boring, but actually I think it’s quite exciting, because a consequence of it is that playing games has become just a normal thing that everyone does… which frankly, is wild. Games have never had the cultural reach that they do now, and it’s largely because of the App Store and these magical devices that are in everyones pockets.”

Alto’s Odyssey is the followup to Snowman’s 2015 endless boarder Alto’s Adventure. If you look at these two titles, three years apart, you can see the encapsulation of the growth and maturity of gaming on iOS. The original game was fun, but the newer title is beyond fun and into a realm where you can see the form being elevated into art. And it’s happening blazingly fast.

“There’s a real and continually growing sense that mobile is a platform to launch compelling, artful experiences,” says Snowman’s Ryan Cash. “This has always been the sentiment among the really amazing community of developers we’ve been lucky enough to meet. What’s most exciting to me, now, though, is hearing this acknowledged by representatives of major console platforms. Having conversations with people about their favorite games from the past year, and seeing that many of them are titles tailor-made for mobile platforms, is really gratifying. I definitely don’t want to paint the picture that mobile gaming has ever been some sort of pariah, but there’s a definite sense that more people are realizing how unique an experience it is to play games on these deeply personal devices.”

Mobile gaming as a whole has fought since the beginning against the depiction that it was for wasting time only, not making ‘true art’, which was reserved for consoles or dedicated gaming platforms. Aside from the ‘casual’ vs. ‘hardcore’ debate, which is more about mechanics, there was a general stigma that mobile gaming was a sidecar bet to the main functions of these devices, and that their depth would always reflect that. But the narratives and themes being tackled on the platform beyond just clever mechanics are really incredible.

Playing Monument Valley 2 together with my daughter really just blew my doors off, and I think it changed a lot of people’s minds in this regard. The interplay between the characters and environment and a surprisingly emotional undercurrent for a puzzle game made it a breakout that was also a breakthrough of sorts.

“There’s so many things about games that are so awesome that the average person on the street doesn’t even know about,” says Gray. “As small developers right now we have the chance to make somebody feel a range of emotions about a video game for the first time, it’s not often you’re in the right place at the right time for this and to do it with the most personal device that sits in your pocket is the perfect opportunity.”

The fact that so many of the highest profile titles are launching on iOS first is a constant source of consternation for Android users, but it’s largely a function of addressable audience.

I spoke to Apple VP Greg Joswiak about Apple’s place in the industry. “Gaming has always been one of the most popular categories on the App Store,” he says. A recent relaunch of the App Store put gaming into its own section and introduced a Today tab that tells stories about the games and about their developers.

That redesign, he says, has been effective. “Traffic to the App Store is up significantly, and with higher traffic, of course, comes higher sales.”

“One thing I think smaller developers appreciate from this is the ability to show the people behind the games,” says ustwo’s Gray about the new gaming and Today sections in the App Store. “Previously customers would just see an icon and assume a corporation of 200 made the game, but now it’s great we can show this really is a labour of love for a small group of people who’re trying to make something special. Hopefully this leads to players seeing the value in paying up front for games in the future once they can see the craft that goes into something.”

Snowman’s Cash agrees. “It’s often hard to communicate the why behind the games you’re making — not just what your game is and does, but how much went into making it, and what it could mean to your players. The stories that now sit on the Today tab are a really exciting way to do this; as an example, when Alto’s Odyssey released for pre-order, we saw a really positive player response to the discussion of the game’s development. I think the variety that the new App Store encourages as well, through rotational stories and regularly refreshed sections, infuses a sense of variety that’s great for both players and developers. There’s a real sense I’m hearing that this setup is equipped to help apps and games surface, and stayed surfaced, in a longer term and more sustainable way.”

In addition, there are some technical advantages that keep Apple ahead of Android in this arena. Plenty of Android devices are very performant and capable in individual ways, but Apple has a deep holistic grasp of its hardware that allow it to push platform advantages in introducing new frameworks like ARKit. Google’s efforts in the area with AR Core are just getting started with the first batch of 1.0 apps coming online now, but Google will always be hamstrung by the platform fragmentation that forces developers to target a huge array of possible software and hardware limitations that their apps and games will run up against.

This makes shipping technically ambitious projects like Fortnite on Android as well as iOS a daunting task. “There’s a very wide range of Android devices that we want to support,” Epic Games’ Nick Chester told Forbes. “We want to make sure Android players have a great experience, so we’re taking more time to get it right.“

That wide range of devices includes an insane differential in GPU capability, processing power, Android version and update status.

“We bring a very homogenous customer base to developers where 90% of [devices] are on the current versions of iOS,” says Joswiak. Apple’s customers embrace those changes and updates quickly, he says, and this allows developers to target new features and the full capabilities of the devices more quickly.

Ryan Cash sees these launches on iOS of ‘full games’ as they exist elsewhere as a touchstone of sorts that could legitimize the idea of mobile as a parity platform.

“We have a few die-hard Fortnite players on the team, and the mobile version has them extremely excited,” says Cash. “I think more than the completeness of these games (which is in of itself a technical feat worth celebrating!), things like Epic’s dedication to cross-platform play are massive. Creating these linked ecosystems where players who prefer gaming on their iPhones can enjoy huge cultural touchstone titles like Fortnite alongside console players is massive. That brings us one step closer to an industry attitude which focuses more on accessibility, and less on siloing off experiences and separating them into tiers of perceived quality.”

“I think what is happening is people are starting to recognize that ios devices are everywhere, and they are the primary computers of many people,” says Zach Gage. “When people watch a game on Twitch, they take their iPhone out of their pocket and download it. Not because they want to know if there’s a mobile version, but because they just want the game. It’s natural to assume that these games available for a computer or a playstation, and it’s now natural to assume that it would be available for your phone.”

Ustwo’s Gray says that it’s great that the big games are transitioning, but also cautions that there needs to be a sustainable environment for mid-priced games on iOS that specifically use the new capabilities of these devices.

“It’s great that such huge games are transitioning this way, but for me I’d really like to see more $30+ titles designed and developed specifically for iPhone and iPad as new IP, really taking advantage of of how these devices are used,” he says. “It’s definitely going to benefit the AppStore as a whole, but It does need to be acknowledged however that the way players interact with console/PC platforms and mobile are inherently different and should be designed accordingly. Session lengths and the interaction vocabulary of players are two of the main things to consider, but if a game manages to somehow satisfy the benefits of all those platforms then great, but I think it’s hard.”

Apple may not be an official sponsor of GDC, but it is hosting two sessions at the show including an introduction to Metal 2, its rendering pipeline, and ARKit, its hope for the future of gaming on mobile. This presence is exciting for a number of reasons, as it shows a greater willingness by Apple to engage the community that has grown around its platforms, but also that the industry is becoming truly integrated, with mobile taking its rightful place alongside console and portable gaming as a viable target for the industry’s most capable and interesting talent.

“They’re bringing the current generation of console games to iOS,” Joswiak says, of launches like Fortnite and PUBG and notes that he believes we’re at a tipping point when it comes to mobile gaming, because mobile platforms like the iPhone and iOS offer completely unique combinations of hardware and software features that are iterated on quickly.

“Every year we are able to amp up the tech that we bring to developers,” he says, comparing it to the 4-5 year cycle in console gaming hardware. “Before the industry knew it, we were blowing people away [with the tech]. The full gameplay of these titles has woken a lot of people up.”