Quibi risks mobile video platform launch amid quarantine and economic turbulence

Quibi’s founders like to say their mobile video streaming platform is not a typical startup. So perhaps it’s only fitting that the company is launching in the midst of an unprecedented global event that has introduced even more variables it can’t control.

As the April 6 launch date arrives, even the team building the service has no idea whether their timing is auspicious or catastrophic. Amid expanding coronavirus lockdowns, video streaming has been booming. But Quibi is introducing a product designed to be consumed while people are on the go at a moment when most people are going nowhere.

These and a host of other factors have created an unpredictable atmosphere ahead of the release. After weeks of last-minute scrambling to finish the product, the company has to trust that the hunger for more entertainment will allow it to overcome the current social and economic turmoil.

“We’re really in uncharted territory as an industry with Quibi,” said Dan Rayburn, a streaming media analyst at research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. “It’s a new type of service trying to fill a different type of segment of the market.”

Quibi arrives amid a frenzy of streaming platform launches. For years, pioneers like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube dominated this sector. But last fall saw the launch of Apple Plus and Disney Plus. And NBC Universal’s Peacock and HBO MAX are coming soon.

That would be an extraordinary market dynamic on its own. But starting last month, the COVID-19 pandemic caused governments around the world to issue stay-at-home orders, bringing the global economy to a grinding halt. At the same time, video streaming rose 20% in late March, potentially accelerating a shift to on-demand viewing.

Certainly, Quibi is hoping to ride that wave by targeting a younger, mobile-first generation. Its name is an amalgam of “quick bites,” and the platform is built to deliver videos of under 10 minutes to smartphones. The app will launch with nearly 50 shows and aims to have 8,500 episodes across 175 shows within a year. Quibi costs $4.99 per month with ads and has an ad-free premium layer for $7.99 per month.

All the content on Quibi is exclusive, and the company touts plenty of top-tier talent and high production values. Content includes titles like Most Dangerous Game, starring Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz; Survive, starring Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner; and Flipped, starring Will Forte. The categories of content include what Quibi calls Movies in Chapters, Unscripted and Docs, and Daily Essentials. The latter includes daily news shows by the BBC and NBC that were made specifically for Quibi.

While all major streaming services have some kind of mobile application, Quibi will be the only one designed specifically for smartphones. The company is not even developing versions of the apps optimized for tablets.

“As a first mover in this area, it is a great opportunity for Quibi, but the challenge is of course that this is untested territory,” said Tony Gunnarsson, a video streaming research analyst at Ovum. “Focusing on younger demographics makes sense. But will they be prepared to pay for the service? I mean, $4.99 per month (and you still get adverts) isn’t particularly expensive, but I think it’ll be borderline for many younger people.”

Tech and creativity

The platform is the brainchild of Meg Whitman, former CEO of HP and eBay, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former Disney executive who founded Dreamworks Studio. Quibi says its founders’ backgrounds are reflected in the way it melds the technological and creative aspects throughout every step of the content creation process.

“What we’re building here is the result of a totally unique collaboration between creators and technologists,” said Rob Post, Quibi’s chief technology officer. “We’ve been having these integrated technology and creative conversations every day. This is what’s driving the innovations in both our stories and our technology.”

The best example of this is Quibi’s “turnstyle” technology. In thinking mobile first, the company wanted to address people’s natural instinct to hold their smartphone vertically when moving and then switch to horizontal views when resting or sitting.

All phones and streaming apps have some kind of auto-rotate features, but Quibi takes this one step further by having content creators shoot all video with cameras optimized for both viewing positions. These two video streams are then stitched together with the audio and sent as a single stream to the smartphone. Ideally, that means no lag when the phone rotates, as well as an image that always fills the whole screen.

However, the tradeoff for customers is that bandwidth use will be higher. Post said Quibi has been discussing this issue with carriers, particularly one of its main partners, T-Mobile.

“This does require a little bit of extra bandwidth in order to deliver the experience onto the phone,” Post said. “But we’ve been tuning it for quite some time, and we’ve been working with the mobile carriers, and we’ve been working with the device manufacturers as well. Our compression technology benefits from the fact that a lot of these shots and scenes are very similar. Ultimately, we think that we’ve struck the right balance for the user on requiring a little bit of extra bandwidth at the same time we’re creating this beautiful rendering and playback experience.”

Content frenzy

What makes Quibi such an audacious bet is the decision to commission all new content that is specifically conceived for its platform. While Disney Plus is all original, much of that content is first released in theaters or cable stations and is supplemented by the company’s merchandising, theme parks, and cruises. Apple Plus is all original content, but the company is building its catalog slowly and Apple can subsidize it with huge profits from its hardware business.

Quibi’s success is wholly dependent on a new slate of titles presented in a unique format.

“There’s no denying that Quibi is an odd sort of startup,” Post said. “On the one hand, like any new venture, our team has come together in a little more than a year and then built the entire business and product from scratch. On the other hand, our ambitions to create an entirely new medium means that we’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars in content production. Trust me, it’s as obvious to me as it is to you that this makes us a unique startup.”

The app is designed to make it easy for people to navigate this host of new titles. There are just four tabs: For You, Browse, Following, and Downloads. The first is a news feed powered by Quibi’s algorithms to match a viewer’s interests. It’s designed like a series of cards that viewers can flip through. The Browse section has a search bar, as well as categories like New Releases. Viewers can select shows they want to follow to get notifications about new episodes. And they can download as many as they want to watch offline.

But there will be some restrictions when it comes to viewing that content. For instance, accounts can’t be shared between family members.

Seeding the app with sufficient content has meant not only ramping up production but also attending to countless details that might typically be handled separately by studios. Quibi’s team has to design all the art metadata for its 50 launch shows. This involved creating 5,000 pieces of artwork, including the title treatments, posters, and descriptions.

On a positive note, the company said it has sold out all of its advertising inventory for the entire first year. That includes major sponsors such as Progressive, Discover, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, AB InBev, Taco Bell, Pepsi, T-Mobile, Google, and Walmart. However, Rayburn notes that it’s not entirely clear what this means since Quibi can run as many or as few ads during a show as it wants.

The massive content investment has placed additional pressure on the technology side. The company has developed a set of best practices for content partners to help them shoot their video in formats that won’t become obsolete as the shapes and sizes of smartphone screens evolve. Given the high quality of the video production, the platform’s performance also needs to be flawless.

“One side effect of that content investment is that there’s no room to deliver a so-called minimal viable product,” Post said. “The product has to deliver a mature offering from the get-go.”

COVID-19 curveball 

In the months leading up to the launch, Quibi has been spending millions on an advertising blitz across television, newspapers, and digital. Customer acquisition is typically one of the major expenses for any video streaming service so delaying the launch now, after hyping the start date for months, would be extremely costly.

But sticking to the date has also presented challenges. Like everything else, this huge undertaking has had to adapt over the past month to the coronavirus pandemic, which has meant last-minute work on the technical side.

“We all started working from home about three weeks ago,” said Tom Conrad, Quibi’s chief product officer. “As with the rest of the world, this is not something that we anticipated. But it’s been really kind of incredible the way the team has come together to continue to push forward to get this product out into the world.”

On the content side, the company has been scrambling to adapt to a pandemic that has shut down most types of film and TV production. Conrad said there are enough shows that are either completely finished or in final postproduction to allow Quibi to maintain its planned release cadence through the end of the year.

But part of the content strategy has been built around the Daily Essentials category, with new episodes every day that are intended to keep people coming back to the app. Those were supposed to be produced in studios in New York and Los Angeles. Now, like many other late-night and talk shows, they are being produced from people’s homes.

“We feel confident about our ability to deliver on our ambition of new content daily,” Conrad said.

The lockdown poses another dilemma in terms of the fundamental use case for Quibi. Executives have talked about the app being a great way to consume content when a viewer is on the go or during various in-between moments throughout their day. With millions quarantined and stuck at home with their big-screen TVs and cable and several other streaming services, will there still be that same niche for Quibi to fill?

“That’s a great question,” Post said. “I find that with my workday, I’m trying to remind myself to take a small break, stand up, walk around, go outside. I think our use case [comes down to] these in-between moments, whether you’re on the go or not. I think now more than ever, the use case still persists.”

The decision to move ahead with the launch is also driven, in part, by the desire to finally start gathering real data on usage. “One of the things that we’ve been anticipating for some time now is starting to collect some data on how users are really interacting with our app,” Post said. “We’ll definitely find out the day we launch what users like and don’t like.”

Rayburn said that Quibi faced a large number of hurdles even before COVID-19. In contrast to a service like Apple or Disney, Quibi doesn’t have an ecosystem of products and services to draw in new viewers. And limiting itself to one type of screen with untested content while having very little real knowledge about consumer preferences is a big risk. He agrees that launching is a necessary step because the company urgently needs that data to start learning and adapting things like episode lengths.

“They’re actually trying to do something really large, which is change the way consumers in the U.S. consume video on mobile,” Rayburn said. “I think that’s quite a big undertaking, and trying to do it all at once through all these different avenues at the same time with restrictions is a little too much, frankly.”

Because Quibi is offering a free 90-day trial period, it will still be several months before it’s clear whether people who sign up are sticking with the service. But with the curtain finally lifting, Post said he’s confident Quibi is ready for its big premiere.

“It’s always been our ambition to bring a little bit of entertainment, inspiration, and information into the world,” Post said. “And that charge feels more urgent today than ever before.”

The company has raised $1.75 billion in venture capital ahead of the launch.

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Legends of Runeterra mobile release date & 1.0 patch details revealed

Riot Games has officially announced the release of Legends of Runeterra for PC and mobile. Coming April 30, the official release of the game will come with several additions to the game, including a new region and a fresh ranked season. Included in the announcement is a FAQ put out by Riot Games to detail the changes coming to the game.

Big changes coming to Legends of Runeterra

Most importantly, Riot Games will not be wiping players’ accounts when Legends of Runeterra goes live. The cards players have collected so far will remain in their collections, so all progress players have made with their collections is just fine. Purchases will remain intact as well.

Not only will players keep their current collections, but Riot Games is introducing more than 120 new cards and a brand new region to the game. Spoiler season for Legends of Runeterra will start soon and continue up until the release of the game. Riot did not say what the new region would be unfortunately.

The new cards and region will be available with the 1.0 patch, which goes live sooner, early April 28.

What about that mobile release?

The mobile version of Legends of Runeterra will release with the PC 1.0 patch on April 30. Legends of Runeterra will be available for the iOS App Store and Android Play Store but might take anywhere from 4 to 48 hours to be live depending on the region. By April 30, the mobile version is expected to be released worldwide, excluding China and Vietnam.

The best part of the mobile release is that Legends of Runeterra will feature cross-play with the PC client. Players can link their Riot accounts between the two versions of the game, much like the Teamfight Tactics mobile release.

What else is coming to Legends of Runeterra?

The first official ranked season will begin when the 1.0 patch releases, and players will be getting rewards based on their end-of-season rank. Players will get a Beta Season exclusive icon based on the highest tier reached during the beta. Once the first season releases, players will see a dip in LP to adjust for the next season:

  • Master: -800 LP
  • Diamond and Platinum: -750 LP
  • Gold and Silver: -675 LP
  • Bronze and Iron: moved to Iron IV

Players will then have another two months to climb as high as they can before the next season. More information about upcoming ranked seasons will be coming in future patch notes.

To celebrate the announcement, Riot Games released a gorgeous animated trailer of the game, showcasing some of the game’s most powerful units.

The wait is over—Legends of Runeterra is launching on PC and Mobile April 30!

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That’s all the information Riot Games has given about the release of Legends of Runeterra so far. For some hot decks to play in the current meta, check out this list of top-rated decks to climb through ranks before the season ends. For more Legends of Runeterra news, spoilers, and more, make sure to follow Daily Esports.

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Disney Emoji Blitz mobile game debuts in Japan

Jam City, the mobile game company behind Disney Frozen Adventures and Cookie Jam, has launched its popular match-3 game Disney Emoji Blitz mobile game in Japan, the second-largest mobile game market.

Over the past year, Jam City and Disney have forged a collaboration on titles such as Disney Frozen Adventures, which launched during the holiday season ahead of the launch of the film Frozen II. Disney Emoji Blitz is available on iOS and Android.

Jam City believes that Disney Emoji Blitz has the cute art style and elements of gameplay that Japanese audiences, who are among the most mobile-crazed in the world, love.

Above: Disney Emoji Blitz is going into Japan, the second-largest mobile game market.

Combining the modern expression of emojis with Disney characters, the mobile game allows players to collect, download, and share over 90 years of classic Disney, Pixar, and Star Wars characters.

Since its release, Disney Emoji Blitz has surpassed 30 million installs and over 20 billion rounds played to date, and it has had growth across all metrics.

Disney Emoji Blitz has in-game events with themes tied to past and present films and series and recently celebrated an event for The Mandalorian, the first-ever Star Wars live-action series streaming exclusively on Disney+.

In the coming months, fans will be treated to brand-new springtime Winnie the Pooh emojis, exclusive offers during Japan’s Golden Week, and a month-long giveaway throughout April.

Most uniquely, Disney Emoji Blitz is the first mobile game connected to a custom keyboard with characters unlocked through gameplay and emojis that players can use in everyday conversations as they collect them.

Above: Disney Emoji Blitz keeps adding an endless number of emojis.

Once an emoji is collected within the game, it is also unlocked in the keyboard and converted into stickers which can be used in text messages.

Disney Emoji Blitz is kind of an endless game, with an ever-evolving game with episodic events and emoji releases connected to new films and characters from deep within the Disney, Pixar, and Star Wars archives.

In an email, Jam City CEO Chris Dewolfe said, “We’ve been planning to bring this game to players in Japan for a long time. The game is one of the most successful and unique puzzle games globally, and we felt that the art style and game play had the potential to be successful in the country. We worked with our friends at Disney and our consumer insights teams to conduct research to support this conclusion. We then made a Japanese version a top priority and put a lot of effort to make sure the game was localized to this very large but unique audience.”

Jam City’s games such as Cookie Jam and Panda Pop have had more than 120 million downloads to date. The Los Angeles company has more than 700 employees.

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Call Of Duty: Mobile Loses Zombies, Gets New Mode

Along with a bunch of other additions across the Call of Duty franchise, Activision has detailed two brand-new modes coming to its on-the-go Call of Duty Mobile game developed by TiMi Studios.

The first mode is Rapid Fire, a limited-time event that sees players earning Operator Skills and Scorestreaks at a much faster rate. In addition to this added firepower, Rapid Fire makes ammunition completely unlimited for those more inclined to spray and pray. Rapid Fire will be available until Thursday, March 26.

Sticks and Stones is Call of Duty Mobile’s second limited-time event. A classic game mode in the Call of Duty series, Sticks and Stones sees players duking it out with a limited loadout–typically a crossbow and throwing axe–to see who can score the most points. While every kill earns points, the axe also provides the devastating effect of resetting your victim’s score when you kill them.

While this week sees Call of Duty Mobile get some new content, the game will also lose something in turn. On Wednesday, March 25, the mobile game’s Zombies mode was removed. However, according to a Reddit Community Update, the supposed limited-time mode could make a return in the future.

Earlier this month, Call of Duty Mobile started a brand-new season that introduced a new Battle Pass, an additional map, extra Operators and weapons, and more. And a new Battle Pass means new tier rewards, of which they are plenty to unlock. You can check out the full tier rewards list below.

In other Call of Duty news, Zombies mode director Jason Blundell has left Activision. Blundell, who was employed at Black Ops 4 developer Treyarch for 13 years, said in a statement that he enjoyed working at the studio over the past decade-plus. This comes during the same year that Black Ops 5 is rumored to launch. There’s also a new map coming to Modern Warfare and weapons to Warzone.

Call of Duty News

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Adds A Free New Map This Week
  • Call Of Duty: Warzone – 9 Tips To Win In Battle Royale
  • How To Download CoD: Warzone Without Modern Warfare

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Black Desert Mobile: The Versatile Dark Knight Class Is Now Available

In keeping with the mandate to make Black Desert Mobile as fleshed out as its PC and console counterparts, Pearl Abyss has released the Dark Knight class. Among the most popular classes in the game, the Dark Knight is a constant source of high damage, using a massive two-handed Kriegsmesser to strike while bombarding opponents with a stream of dark magic.

The popular class has been long-awaited since the mobile version of the game launched last year. For those who may not be familiar with the class and are only playing for the first time on the mobile platform, the Dark Knight is often compared to the Sorceress class in playstyle — high mobility, strong AoE, and the ability to quickly to clear groups of enemies.

There have also been improvements made across the UI interface and for balance. Auto questing has been improved for all characters, allowing them to progress automatically up to and including the further point reached by a main character. Portuguese has been added as an officially support language, with more still on the way.

Players should click here to review the finer points of the balance changes made, since the list is long and affect three distinct classes. Finally, the Friend Referral Event/Gathering of Friends Event is now live, along with the Dark Knight Level up Event and Art Puzzle Event.

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The Webkinz mobile app is perfect for casual nostalgia

If you’ve ever cared for or encountered Webkinz, the plush stuffed animals and their online counterparts that were all the rage in the mid-2000s, you may on occasion wonder: Are my Webkinz still alive?

To that, the Webkinz Twitter account has a succinct response: “Webkinz don’t die.”

Turns out this is true, as Webkinz — both the creatures and the virtual pet simulator itself — is as alive as ever. Now through March 30, Webkinz is offering the complete, deluxe experience for free. That’s right — no expensive plush toys, no sneaking onto your family computer to spin the Wheel of Wow. The pet simulator of the mid-2000s is waiting for you to remember it.

The major difference between Webkinz and Neopets, another virtual pet simulator, was the stuffed-animal aspect. When you bought a Webkinz, you didn’t just buy a cute plush animal. Each plushie came with an online code which granted admittance to an explorable web-based world. Unlike the more rainbow-swathed fantasy realm of Neopets, Webkinz — at least in its inception — was based in a world akin to Disney’s Zootopia. The Webkinz locale was a town like any other on Earth, except all the residents were animals. Pets could attend school, get jobs, walk on treadmills, cook fancy meals, and delve into mines in search of gems to complete the legendary Crown of Wonder.

Image: Webkinz

Each plush animal unlocked more online credits and items, and guaranteed you access to the Webkinz site for a year. People rarely just bought one — after all, the more you had, the more items you unlocked. And the more items you had, the more you were invested, so you were more likely to hold onto your account longer. Plus, they were just so darn cute. As someone who had nine pets in my heyday (and a 10th fished out of a bargain bin a few years ago by my nostalgic mom), I often yearn for the simpler days of internet yesteryear, when the word “discourse” was reserved for academia, I hid my real identity behind the oh-so-clever username “petragirl,” and Facebook didn’t control the world. Webkinz was one of my first tastes of being online, and it harkens back to the halcyon days of youth.

Just some of my furry chums
Image: Petrana Radulovic

Last September, Webkinz announced its plan to close accounts that haven’t been active for over seven years. Fortunately, that last gift from my mom meant I was able to recover my account. But anyone just thinking about their childhood Webkinz and hoping to recapture the collectible magic is out of luck — the older accounts, much like old LiveJournal logins and DeviantArt pages, have passed on into the Great Internet Beyond. Here’s the thing, though: Webkinz don’t die, at least in the spiritual sense.

As of summer 2012, you no longer need to purchase a plush animal to get Webkinz; you can sign up online for free. Since Flash player is disabled by default in a lot of browsers (with full support ending at the end of 2020), you have the option of downloading the full experience on desktop, or a slightly watered-down experience on mobile.

The free pet options on Webkinz
Image: Webkinz

Signing up for a new account gives you an option of some default free pets. All are solid choices, but if you want to specifically recreate your earlier arsenal, you can shell out some real-world money for pet options. While the free pets give you six options, if you specifically want the Cocker Spaniel you had at age 12, you can buy it for $8.49 on the Webkinz store. Compared to the pricey plushies, which started at $11 for mini-versions but went up to $25 for deluxe editions (with some rare toys occasionally auctioned for obscene amounts of money), it’s a steal. (And hey, even though Ganz, the company behind Webkinz, discontinued the current plushes, it has plans to roll them out again, so once they’re back in stock, you can also get a plush!) Not only does purchasing a pet give you more options, it also unlocks a “full membership,” which gives you more content than a free one.

Getting nostalgic about Webkinz?

But if you want all the perks of Webkinz, you can pay $5.99 a month ($.99 for the first month) for the Deluxe membership. The pros and cons of each one are outlined on the Webkinz site. Until the end of March, Webkinz is giving everyone Deluxe memberships. Rolling out a free Deluxe membership trial gives those turning to Webkinz a perk — and gives Ganz access to new or returning fans who’re interested in sticking around.

Revisiting my old pets feels like flipping through a photo album. The extensive house I curated meticulously at age 11 is undisturbed. My pets are doing exactly what they were doing when I last logged off some years ago: sitting in empty bathtubs, sleeping in beds, or watching a television that hasn’t been turned on in half a decade. It’s calming, but in an oddly haunting way. I see the ghost of my past captured in this Webkinz house, and wow, apparently I thought it was cool to combine the “Jungle” and “Funky Girl” bedroom themes.

Image: Webkinz

Webkinz has greatly expanded since I was a kid. There are new activities ranging from games and collectible quests to new shops, which are all more expansive than the site I once knew. There’s the Adventure Park, which as far as I can tell is a sort of exploration-based game where you complete quests. There’s the Magical Forest, which contains minigames and collectibles. There’s the Style Boutique, which is somehow different from the Style Outlet. The full panel of activities is a bit overwhelming, honestly. There’s just so much going on. I just wanna play with my animals.

Which is why the mobile app is perfect for casual nostalgia. It has a limited amount of activities: you can explore your home, shop for items, visit the arcade, and care for pets. Sure, it doesn’t have the Curio Shop or the job center, but it’s a cute pick-me-up in the midst of a work day. I can walk my pets around, feed them, and dress them up. I can spin the Wheel of Wow and play a quick game of Cash Cow. It’s not the same as the full Webkinz experience of the desktop app, which is as close to the original web application as it could be. But the mobile app is a modern, streamlined take on Webkinz, one more fit for the slightly nostalgic adult than for the actual target demographic of children.

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The Next Marvel Mobile Game Is An Open-World RPG Called Future Revolution

You can call upon a Marvel superhero for almost any type of game on mobile, be it matching colored blocks or battling villains through turn-based combat. At this year’s PAX East convention, Marvel held a mystery panel that revealed Marvel: Future Revolution, the company’s first open-world role-playing game for mobile. The game is in development at Netmarble, the studio behind the successful mobile action/RPG Marvel: Future Fight.

At PAX, Marvel showed off a number of videos that give a brief look into the world, combat, heroes, and villains. As you can see directly below, combat is handled from a close-over-the-shoulder viewpoint. The action appears to deliver a mix of hand-to-hand combat with special abilities, but we don’t know how players initiate these moves yet, or even handle movement within the sprawling worlds.

Future Revolution’s story kicks off with numerous Earths coming together to form a new “Primary Earth.” You’ll suit up as an agent for the newly formed “Omega Flight” team to take on villains that pose a threat to the Primary Earth. This epic tales of numerous worlds colliding is penned by Marvel Comics scribe Marc Sumerak.

The trailers below give you an idea of what to expect from the art style, as well as a look at four heroes and a few villains. So far, Netmarble and Marvel have announced Captain Marvel, Captain America, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange as heroes, and Red Skull, Baron Mordo, M.O.D.O.K., Yellowjacket, Green Goblin, and Red Goblin as villains.

The final trailer gives you a look at some of the worlds and details you’ll find along the way. The game looks wildly ambitious, which shouldn’t be surprising, given many of the Marvel titles on mobile are overflowing with characters, deliver outstanding visuals, and are played by millions of people.

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