Posts from Games

Nailing It

I saw dozens of pitches for what was essentially YouTube between 1998 and 2005. But when YouTube launched, it was pretty clear pretty quickly that they had nailed it and nobody else before them had.

I saw way more pitches for what was essentially Pokemon Go between the arrival of the iPhone and now. But when my daughter told me to download Pokemon Go and play it, I immediately realized that they had nailed something that nobody had before them

AVC regular LIAD tweeted this today:

You are not alone LIAD.

I recall seeing John Geraci‘s ITP senior thesis project in 2005 which was a web version of this idea powered by Google Maps, and understanding that we all want to interact with interactive media in the real world.

I’ve always loved the idea that we could do a massively public treasure hunt together using the web and mobile. But it took over ten years since I first saw this idea to have it really happen.

It made me smile when Emily told me to download it and I am still smiling days later. And I have a gym right outside my front door.

gym on W side hway

The New Entertainment Bundlers

One of the things that many of us dislike about our cable company is the bundle. We are required to subscribe to a host of channels when we only want a few. The promise of going over the top is that we can now choose the services we want without the ones we don’t.

But we are now witnessing the re-emergence of the entertainment bundle in the over the top world.

The leader in the new bundle movement is Amazon which is putting entertainment options into its Prime service. Estimates for Prime membership go as high as 60mm households. We are one of them and have been for as long as Prime has existed.

The other bundler is YouTube. Their newish Red subscription service offers ad-free youtube, “original shows”, and premium music.

I expect Prime and Red to expand over time to include additional services (games, sports, etc). They are the new entertainment bundlers. I also expect others to enter this business. The most obvious candidates are the mobile carriers who already have a regular billing relationship with us.

The good news is that the new bundlers do not have a monopoly in their ability to offer entertainment to us. They have to compete with each other in an open market. So I expect that the bundles that emerge will be attractively priced and will be differentiated by price and content options.

Bundling has cost advantages like sales and marketing that can be offset across multiple services. And it is easier to subscribe to one service than ten. But over the top promises user choice over our entertainment options. With the new bundlers, we may be getting the best of both worlds.

What Is Going To Happen In 2016

It’s easier to predict the medium to long term future. We will be able to tell our cars to take us home after a late night of new year’s partying within a decade. I sat next to a life sciences investor at a dinner a couple months ago who told me cancer will be a curable disease within the next decade. As amazing as these things sound, they are coming and soon.

But what will happen this year that we are now in? That’s a bit trickier. But I will take some shots this morning.

  1. Oculus will finally ship the Rift in 2016. Games and other VR apps for the Rift will be released. We just learned that the Touch controller won’t ship with the Rift and is delayed until later in 2016. I believe the initial commercial versions of Oculus technology will underwhelm. The technology has been so hyped and it is hard to live up to that. Games will be the strongest early use case, but not everyone is going to want to put on a headset to play a game. I think VR will only reach its true potential when they figure out how to deploy it in a more natural way.
  2. We will see a new form of wearables take off in 2016. The wrist is not the only place we might want to wear a computer on our bodies. If I had to guess, I would bet on something we wear in or on our ears.
  3. One of the big four will falter in 2016. My guess is Apple. They did not have a great year in 2015 and I’m thinking that it will get worse in 2016.
  4. The FAA regulations on the commercial drone industry will turn out to be a boon for the drone sector, legitimizing drone flights for all sorts of use cases and establishing clear rules for what is acceptable and what is not.
  5. The trend towards publishing inside of social networks (Facebook being the most popular one) will go badly for a number of high profile publishers who won’t be able to monetize as effectively inside social networks and there will be at least one high profile victim of this strategy who will go under as a result.
  6. Time Warner will spin off its HBO business to create a direct competitor to Netflix and the independent HBO will trade at a higher market cap than the entire Time Warner business did pre spinoff.
  7. Bitcoin finally finds a killer app with the emergence of Open Bazaar protocol powered zero take rate marketplaces. (note that OB1, an open bazaar powered service, is a USV portfolio company).
  8. Slack will become so pervasive inside of enterprises that spam will become a problem and third party Slack spam filters will emerge. At the same time, the Slack platform will take off and building Slack bots will become the next big thing in enterprise software.
  9. Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee and he will attack the tech sector for its support of immigrant labor. As a result the tech sector will line up behind Hillary Clinton who will be elected the first woman President.
  10. Markdown mania will hit the venture capital sector as VC firms follow Fidelity’s lead and start aggressively taking down the valuations in their portfolios. Crunchbase will start capturing this valuation data and will become a de-facto “yahoo finance” for the startup sector. Employees will realize their options are underwater and will start leaving tech startups in droves.

Some of these predictions border on the ridiculous and that is somewhat intentional. I think there is an element of truth (or at least possibility) in all of them. And I will come back to this list a year from now and review the results.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy and healthy 2016.

The Truth About Gamification

We see gamification all over the place on the web and mobile. We are collecting followers in Twitter, likes in Instagram, levels in Candy Crush (I don't play Candy Crush but I know people who d0), and mayorships in Foursquare. People like playing games.

But as the folks from Stack Overflow say in their fifth birthday post on Stack Overflow,

gamification has never gotten a single person do anything they didn’t already basically like to do

When I read that line, it struck me as basic truth. Gamification can amplify things people already like to do. But it cannot get someone to do something they aren't inclined to do in the first place.

So as we design gamification into our apps, games, and lives, it's worth understanding what it can and can't do and what it is good for and what it is not good for.

And a big happy birthday to Stack. Five years, five million programming questions answered. And those answers are viewed by 45 million people a month. I didn't realize there were that many programmers in the world. Maybe services like Stack are making it easier to be a programmer and the number of programmers is growing as a result. Hmmmm.


Interesting blog post on how EA's FIFA game franchise got off the ground.

My son and his friends play lots of Xbox games and they play lots of Xbox sports game. But FIFA is their favorite. It is the game they come back to again and again and it is the game they play year round.

I have this theory, based on a sample size of one (my son Josh), that FIFA for Xbox is responsible for the surging interest in football (which we call soccer) here in the US.

All of my kids played youth soccer but they never loved playing the game. They all went for basketball as their game of choice. So they didn't really learn soccer by playing it.

But Josh has learned to understand the game, the players, the teams, and so much more about football/soccer from playing FIFA. And he watches the big matches on TV and he cheers for teams like Bayern Munich because he loves Franck Ribery. And he loves Franck Ribery because he's awesome in FIFA Xbox.

And his obsession with the sport has led me to become more interested in it over time. We've been in europe during the european cup and the world cup and have hung out in the bars and watched the matches with the locals. It is a great sport and a great experience.

And for us, all of this interst in and love of the game of football, originated with FIFA on Xbox. And I suspect that is true for lots of people in the US who grew up in the age of videogames.

So going back to the post that I linked to at the start of this post, EA didn't think FIFA was going to be popular. They didn't really care about the game. And yet it has become a monster franchise for them and to my mind, one of the main reasons for the surging popularity of the game here in the US.

Like many big deals, it was ridiculed at the start. That's a sure sign you are on to something.

Fun Friday: Mobile Games

It's friday, time to talk about something fun. Today I thought I'd talk about mobile games.

I've never been much of a gamer. I reached adulthood just before videogames went mainstream. But I have found the "quick hit" aspect of mobile games to be a good way to add some fun to the day and connect with a friend or family member.

I played our portfolio company Zynga's Words With Friends with my daughter late last year. And I've started playing OMGPOP's Draw Something with a few friends in the past week.

When I play a mobile game, I check in with our portfolio company HeyZap's social gaming service so others can see what game I am playing.

I'm not the only one checking in with HeyZap. Here's a cool maps mashup of HeyZap's data showing live checkins from around the world.

Heyzap game map

Do you play mobile games on your phone? And if so, which ones?


Our very own Kid Mercury has built a learning community (and game) called Fredsquare. The following is a guest post he has written to introduce all of you to it. I hope you’ll visit Fredsquare, play the game, and learn a bit about startups too.

I am sure the Kid will love to get your feedback on Fredsquare in the comments too.


FredSquare is an application I’ve hacked together for the AVC community. Its mission statement is to help startups learn. Here’s how it works:

  • Articles and videos from around the web that help startups learn are imported the site.
  • Comments on AVC tagged #fs are also imported. If you’re leaving a comment that you think helps advance the FredSquare mission – help startups learn – please feel free to tag it #fs.
  • Imported content, #fs tagged comments, and original content contributed by FredSquare members is curated and organized to create FredSquare University. I like to think of it as “Wikipedia for startups”: an encyclopedia-style reference source that we can use to continue learning, so that we can build the best startups possible.
  • Those with the Bouncer Badge are responsible for curating content and building FredSquare University. (Currently this is just me, though hopefully we can grow to more Bouncers in time when it is warranted). The more content of yours that Bouncers add to our University, the more Badges you’ll earn. Each Badge is assigned a numerical value, and the sum of your Badges is your FredScore. Boosting your FredScore will unlock privileges as our game develops (right to launch your own storefront and accept FredBucks, discounts on other stores, etc – but all that comes later, once the community has some more engagement).
  • While building an educational resource is the paramount goal, effectively serving our mission goes beyond creating an encyclopedia – for learning is an interactive endeavor, and we humans tend to learn most by doing. And so, the game mechanics of FredSquare also reward founders for building their startup. Here are some Badges founders can earn for engaging in activities that most startups need to do to as part of their path towards sustainable success:

  • Slide Deck (for publishing a slide deck)
  • Video Pitch (for creating a video pitch)
  • Engaged Users (for reaching 10,000+ authentic registered members)
  • Disruptive Strategy (for having a strategy that fits the framework of disruptive theory
  • Click here for a full list of badges.

    Remember that earning Badges boosts one’s FredScore. As our game develops, I’d like for FredScore to serve as a reputation metric of sorts. I hope that it can be used to identify startups getting traction that may be worthy of investment – either via crowdsourcing, should the legislative environment allow that, or by bringing qualified startups to the attention of accredited investors – like Fred. I believe that FredScore, in conjunction with private groups and discussion forums on FredSquare, will provide us with a richer environment for startups to network with each other — and thus to learn how to build great startups by doing the work involved.   

    Money, Governance, and Copyright

    The creation and management of FredSquare is part of my larger objective of building learning-centric communities with game mechanics for blog stars that will include a P2P economy (i.e. users buy and sell with each other using Fredbucks – sellers must have a high enough FredScore). InformedTrades is a more developed prototype if you are looking for another example. Anyway, as game operator, I will impose a tax on all transactions once our economy develops, and will retain a portion of revenue via virtual goods and affiliate marketing. The goal is to share the majority of revenue with the community via FredBucks (which, in time, will be able to redeemed for a variety services that help startups grow – i.e. hosting, video production, web design, outsourced software development, etc), as well as with Fred’s favorite charity, Donor’s Choose. At present there are just banners on FredSquare, and 100% of all banner revenue is being donated to Donor’s Choose. A large percentage of virtual gift revenue will be donated to Donor’s Choose as well.

    Fred appears to be down with giving me leeway to run this. But while I’m running things, if Fred tells me to do or not do something, I will obey, so long as the order does not violate any law imposed by the US Federal government or the state of Florida, USA. The goal is certainly to channel the brand of Fred and the spirit he has engendered here. I find it extremely unlikely this will be a cause for concern but I do find it worthwhile to clarify as much as possible at the outset.  

    All original content published on FredSquare is CC-BY licensed. Consistent with the spirit of Fred, FredSquare operates on that side of the business model debate pertaining to copyright, under the belief that such a policy will generate the most opportunity for all. If you do not find this agreeable, publishing original content on FredSquare or tagging your comments on AVC with #fs may not be for you.  

    Anyway, the first step is to build the community and get an economy going, then we can all argue about sharing money later. 🙂

    By now the time has come for me to end this introduction to FredSquare, and for you to make a choice: you can ignore this blog post and tell yourself that there is no hope for society; government sucks, corporations suck, the economy sucks, most startups fail, your mom doesn’t love you, etc. Or you can enlist as a citizen of FredSquare, share your knowledge and build your startup, and be a part of creating the startup utopia that sets us free.