matter

Incubated: Inside Matter.VC’s Structured Approach To Helping Media Startups

A few years ago, a startup accelerator called Matter.VC launched with some funding from The Knight Foundation and KQED. Since then, the San Francisco-based accelerator has been working to help usher in the next generation of media-focused startups.

Matter takes a different approach from many incubators out there in that it has a fairly long and pretty structured program for helping startups to build and iterate on their products. It has a five-month acceleration program, compared to the typical 12 weeks for accelerators like Y Combinator or 500 Startups.

The accelerator also takes a prototype-driven approach to product design, putting its startups through a series of monthly design sprints to build up, tear down, and improve their products. That starts with an initial week-long “boot camp” that gets startups familiar with the program’s way of thinking around user-centered design. At the end of every month, Matter does a design review through which companies pitch their startup, demo their product, and take constructive criticism from the rest of the group.

Matter works specifically with media-focused startups who are looking to innovate around the industry. Based in Silicon Valley, it’s hoping to bring that spirit of entrepreneurship while also providing in-roads to major media companies through its partner and mentor connections.

To learn more, watch the video above, and check out some other episodes of Incubated.

This is the third of ten episodes for a new TechCrunch TV series called Incubated. We’ll have a new episode after Wednesday afternoon for the next two-and-a-half months, each of which will take a look at what it’s like inside some of the top accelerators in the U.S. Please join us each week to find out how all the different incubators and accelerators help out the startups that participate in them.

Check out all the episodes of Incubated here:

Read this article: Incubated: Inside Matter.VC’s Structured Approach To Helping Media Startups

Y Combinator Calls For Strict Net Neutrality Rules, Reclassification Of Broadband Under Title II

Early this afternoon Y Combinator released a letter, written by its own Alexis Ohanian, calling on the FCC to abandon its current plan to pursue net neutrality regulation under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, and instead work to manage broadband providers under Title II of the  Communications Act.

Classifying broadband under Title II would grant the FCC wider purview to regulate and control the industry.

YC, a popular technology company incubator, is not the first firm to push for a strong form of net neutrality. A steady beat of young technology companies have recently pushed for similar reform, including Dwolla and Etsy.

Y Combinator’s call for Title II reform is notable for its technicality. Its missive digs into the technical side of why the group favors that specific form of reform, which is contrary to what the FCC is currently proposing:

The Court held that, absent reclassifying broadband providers as Title II carriers, the FCC would be treating broadband providers as common carriers unless it left open room for “substantial room for individualized bargaining and discrimination in terms.”

Therefore, the FCC cannot impose a nondiscrimination rule–unless it classifies broadband providers under Title II. The Court also held that, without classifying broadband providers under Title II, the FCC could not ban charging fees for priority access, even though the FCC recognized such fees would be a “significant departure from historical and current practice.”

This section is interesting given that ISPs themselves have argued that under Title II, paid prioritization would not be illegal.

AT&T for example had the following to say in May:

We noted in particular that calls for reclassification of broadband Internet access services as a Title II telecommunications service would cause risks and harms that dwarf any putative benefits, all but scuttle the administration’s ambitious broadband agenda, and would not, in all events, preclude the paid prioritization arrangements that seem to be the singular focus of reclassification proponents.

So, there is dissension among the ranks.

The technology group is joined today by Senator Ron Wyden, who also called for the reclassification of broadband service under Title II. In the same note the Senator disparaged paid prioritization, which is often called the allowance for the creation of ‘fast lanes’ for some providers of Internet services.

Y Combinator’s complaint matters as it lends a fresh institutional voice to the idea that the economic impact of net neutrality being enacted would be net positive, not negative. Currently entrenched market players like AT&T have argued that open Internet rules would restrict investment in broadband and the like. (The Internet Association, which counts a host of technology companies as members, has a decent rebuttal of the idea that is worth considering.)

The technology incubator certainly has a profit motive in the matter. Y Combinator has benefited financially, on the back of an open Internet. For shame? Not in this case. Financial incentive can sometimes put corporations on the right sides of an issue. Microsoft has spoken out in favor of less active government surveillance in recent weeks. Bad for its business? The opposite. But that doesn’t mean that its notes are out of key.

The first public comment period comes to an end tomorrow evening. Expect more dissonant cries of dissent in the coming 34 hours.

More here: Y Combinator Calls For Strict Net Neutrality Rules, Reclassification Of Broadband Under Title II

Apple Is Testing Promo Codes For In-App Purchases

Apple’s app store has let developers create promo codes for ages. It’s also supported In-App purchases for ages.

But promo codes for in-app purchases? That’s crazy talk. You want to give a user a promo code for a free bag of virtual cat food to feed their virtual cat? Get the heck out of here.

But that might be changing!

While it doesn’t seem to be a widely rolled out feature just yet, Apple looks to be letting EA generate and distribute promo codes for a free allotment of gold (usually valued at 2 bucks) in their latest racing sim, Real Racing 3. As MacRumors points out, 148Apps’ Jeff Scott has a few screenshots of the process:

real racing

The most interesting part? You can use the code whether or not the user has the original app installed. If they already do, they unlock the in-app purchase. If they don’t, the relevant app is automatically installed.

rr download

Why that matters, of course, is because it’s a damned good form of promotion. Giving someone a code and saying “Here, have an app!” is one thing. But saying “Here, have an app plus some free stuff that other people don’t get that may or may not give you some sort of advantage!“? That’s an easy pitch.

The bad news, of course, is that this really just further encourages the nickel-and-dime freemium model that has turned many an App Store chart topper into a matter of smashing your wallet into your phone until you win or get bored. Alas, that ship sailed a while ago.

See the original post here: Apple Is Testing Promo Codes For In-App Purchases

What Games Are: The Politics Of Play Matter

Editor’s note: Tadhg Kelly is a consultant game designer and creator of leading game design blog What Games Are. You can follow him on Twitter here.

A few years ago, film critic Roger Ebert royally put his foot in it when he declared that video games could never be art. Tone deaf though his reasoning was (he got hung up on their functional nature and saw the capacity of play as destroying all possible representation), the most interesting aspect of the debate was just how pilloried he became. Ebert wasn’t just wrong, he was on the wrong side of history.

It was an example of how games are increasingly political, and of how some of the next gamer generation finds personal significance in them. I don’t mean stuff like players who cosplay their favorite characters at conventions. I mean issues of representation, reflection and the dynamics of power.

Nintendoh!

Just look at how Nintendo got caught up in a PR vortex this week around Tomodachi Life. The game is a lighthearted sim intended to be played for laughs. Players can use their Miis to play the game, largely watching them interact and do silly stuff. One of the things that their Miis can do in that context is marry. But the game doesn’t support gay marriage. Reports first indicated that it initially did, but was phased out as “a bug”, but later proven untrue.

There are several articles considering why gay marriage was left out of the game. For the most part they concluded that, because it’s a Japanese game and Japan is more conservative, perhaps it was considered too far. Or maybe in all honesty is just never occurred to the developers to include. Regardless as the issue gained momentum ahead of the game’s launch in the West it become a question that Nintendo had to answer. And its first answer was profoundly dumb (“Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of Tomodachi Life“) for not realizing that the addition or removal of gay marriage was itself an act of social commentary. Everything is, whether you intend it to be or not.

Mansplaining

For every noble cause there are also opportunities for the reactionary voice. Witness the small furore surrounding Depression Quest designer Zoe Quinn as she documented an experiment with implantable tech. Quinn is a fan of implanted chips and wanted to toy about with having a programmable one in her hand. The actual device she implanted (an NTAG216) seems pretty rudimentary, but it’s still an interesting experiment.

Yet to look at some of the comments on the Kotaku article that featured her experiment is to see the dark political underbelly of gaming. You know, the one that thinks that anything that women do is basically an act of being a fame-crazed showy whore. Or that they clearly have a flexible relationship with sanity and need to have their derangement mansplained to them.

Perhaps no-one gets this treatment more than Anita Sarkeesian. In her most recent Tropes vs Women essay Sarkeesian makes the perfectly reasonable point that female characters in games often tend to be feminized versions of male characters. In many games you’ll have a slew of character choices for instance (the tall one, the fat one, the small one etc) and one of them will be the female character. The female character is often attired in pink, girlish and annoying. It’s woman reflected in man rather than woman as woman.

Sarkeesian’s point is that we should enjoy our games but also consider their culture. And maybe be a little less blinkered and more willing to think of female character representation on its own terms. Seems perfectly reasonable doesn’t it? And yet she receives heavy backlash. Some are valid counter-arguments but many are ad hominem attacks on her person. And she’s often threatened.

Money And Speech

Another form of the politics of play is to be found in crowdfunding. We seem to be past the novelty phase which drove huge amounts of money to some games, but in 2014 there’s a lot of crowdfunding going on. Many of the kinds of game that do well in crowdfunding tend to be aligned with tribal causes. Funding the return of retro classics or spiritual successors, for example, is pretty common. So is funding what-games-should-be projects like Storium.

Yet consider Harmonix’s Amplitude campaignAmplitude is one of those games from back in the day, a forerunner (along with Frequency) of Guitar Hero. It’s considered a cult classic and – like many cult classics – there is a latent market for its return. However unlike many a similar campaign, Harmonix’s campaign raises a lot of political questions because it seems like a game belonging to “The Man”.

Peter Molyneux faced similar questions when he raised funds for Godus in late 2012. Surely, many a journalist asked, a guy like Molyneux could gain funding through official channels like publishers. And similarly with Amplitude, surely crowdfunding is supposed to be about the little guy against “The Man”. Indeed I wrote recently about how Oculus Rift’s sale exposed a very deep divide between how games people think about this stuff as opposed to tech people. In tech crowdfunding is for neat stuff. In games crowdfunding is supposed to be a statement of loyalty according to some.

In a sense crowdfunding seems like it should be a reinforcement of that Supreme Court ruling that money equals speech, but whose speech? The sentiment that some games are worthy of funding regularly runs through the gaming media yet by this standard there have been some notable failures such as 1979 Revolution. And at the same time Amplitude is may well make it (going on its current performance), which leads to this question: Is the politics of play actually that important, or is it just loud?

Tokenizing Games

Do the politics of Titanfall really matter to its sales? Does the conspicuous lack of a female character in Grand Theft Auto V actually matter? Or, more darkly, is the vague suspicion that such omissions happen for fear of hurting sales true? Do the economic perceptions around what crowdfunding should be in the media really matter? Or does it all just amount to lip service?

And that brings up an uncomfortable thought: The politics of play may (not to be insensitive) essentially be a sideshow. The Nintendo example may be interpreted as a lesson in how not to do PR, but not really change anything as such. We may see a phase of game makers inserting token characters and other elements by way of appeasement, but not taking the political issue any further than that. Game developers, publishers and platforms need to be smarter than that.

One way to read the dynamics of crowdfunding is to think that the politics matter only so far, but that’s only to consider where it is today. It forgets that the younger generation are simply cash-strapped. Maybe current Kickstarter success is largely about affluent mid-40s white guys and their childhood obsessions with games involving Cthulhu or fantasy sagas and so on, but that dynamic won’t last forever. They’re simply the ones with disposable income for whom games are a certain kind of passion, but it’s different for their successors.

The younger generation may well be up to its eyes in college debt and unable to pay rent while middle-aged moms burn money in Candy Crush, but that will change. The indie kids of today care about identity, representation and consider their play as more than simple amusement. The dynamic of a smarter and more sensitive culture is stirring all around us (from the NFL through to the Eurovision) and that’s just in free media.

As today’s generation gets better jobs and start having more disposable income it’s eventually going to be the decisive force, the one that gets to with its wallet and make the crowd decisions. Society is on the move in games just as in every other part of culture, and it’s up to us game makers to engage with rather than token-ize it. Otherwise we’ll be replaced by those who get it.

See more here: What Games Are: The Politics Of Play Matter