Lori and I are currently visiting Iceland and today I flew my DJI Mavic Air drone at one of our favorite locations to check out a secret waterfall that is totally inaccessible to humans. If you like waterfalls, I highly recommend visiting Iceland. There are an insane amount of them in this beautiful country.
The Galaxy Note 8 was one of the best phones of 2017, yet I couldn’t help but feel Samsung played things safe after the flaming Note 7 fiasco. Not so with the Note 9. The company has regained its confidence and returned the series to its overpowered roots. I’ve been using the device for over a month now, and it delivers on almost everything you’d want on a $1000 phone. Unless you’re looking for a small and cheap device, there’s something for everyone. The Note 9 isn’t a radical design departure from its predecessor. It’s still a glass-and-metal sandwich, and…
Valve, the company behind the Steam gaming platform, is currently under investigation by the Brazilian government after allowing a controversial game to be sold on its platform. While the platform’s relaxed attitude towards games seemed like a commendable idea at the time, it’s starting to backfire. When Valve announced earlier this year it was taking a more hands-off approach to its own catalog of games, I initially called it a good thing. After all, it allowed the company to forgo the task of deciding on a game’s morality, while also not fully taking away their ability to remove unsavory games.…
Chinese company Dazzle is set to launch its Dazz 3D L120 Pro, an SLA/LCD-powered 3D printer hoping to fill the gap between cheaper no-frills devices and the $2,500 – $5,000 monsters that dominate the field. I put a review unit through the paces to see if it could deliver on its ambitious Kickstarter campaign promises. Typically, I don’t cover Kickstarter projects unless they’ve already started shipping, but Dazz 3D’s track record on the platform is impeccable, and the L120 Pro absolutely smashed its goal of $30K. With less than 24 hours left, it’s currently sitting just shy of $200K. That…
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Facebook today revealed more information about the September data breach that potentially affected up to 50 million users. Now we know roughly what information the attackers accessed, and the number of people they had access to — as well as a help service for those who were effected. According to Guy Rosen VP of Product Management (who’s really had to be on the front lines with regards to the multiple security incidents): We now know that fewer people were impacted than we originally thought. Of the 50 million people whose access tokens we believed were affected, about 30 million actually had their…
When Ken Moss started at the video game company Electronic Arts a little more than four years ago, he was the only EA employee working out of PopCap Games in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. The gaming giant had acquired the Seattle company, known for hit games “Plants vs. Zombies,” “Peggle,” and “Bejeweled,” for up to $1.3 billion in 2011.
He recalls having a “random” office at the time, surrounded by the hub of “creativity and awesomeness” that is PopCap.
Moss, EA’s chief technology officer, showed off the company’s new Seattle offices on Friday, on the fifth floor of 800 Fifth Ave. at the southern edge of downtown. Not only are EA and PopCap sharing a space in what’s billed as a “central technology” hub, but perhaps as a subconscious nod to the man in charge of it all, there is literally moss on the walls in one common area.
With about 100 EA employees and another 100 who are specific to PopCap, the office is looking to grow, and executives expect to reach a headcount of about 300 in the next year or so. Aside from the creative minds working on the next “Plants vs. Zombies” — or something, they wouldn’t say what — the office is home to teams dealing with cybersecurity, tech ops, the cloud, and developer/player experience. EA has more than 10,0000 employees worldwide, with headquarters in Redwood Shores, Calif., and offices in cities such as Vancouver, B.C., Austin, Texas, and elsewhere globally.
EA’s Seattle presence is focused on attracting top tech talent against the likes of Microsoft, Amazon and others. Moss, a Microsoft veteran and former eBay executive, thinks EA has an advantage in that quest.
“There are 2.6 billion gamers in the world. It’s a third of the planet,” Moss said. “Being able to to think about how we make hundreds of millions or billions of people on this planet a little bit happier is what we get to do every day. You’ll see this throughout the office. Certainly you’ll see it in me. It’s a very unique proposition that I don’t know that [other companies are] thinking about. And at the same time, I get to think about the most cutting-edge tech that is anywhere in the industry and it’s truly amazing tech.”
Rattling off such tech disciplines as cybersecurity, the cloud, artificial intelligence, physics, streaming and more, Moss can’t help but smile knowing that at EA and in Seattle they’re all being utilized in the service of gaming and happiness.
“That’s just something I think is incredibly fun,” he said.
The fun is sprinkled throughout the office. There are plants and plush zombies everywhere. Screens on walls flash through popular EA titles, such as “FIFA 19,” and desktops are covered with the toys of the trade. And there are games of all kinds, from billiards and foosball to console games, board games and full-size whack-a-mole-style PopCap arcade games.
The personality of PopCap is definitely being utilized to give the space — which could otherwise house any random tech operation — some charm.
Moss has assembled a team in Seattle that is dealing with leading technical challenges as the world of gaming evolves. Among them is Matt Tomlinson, who is EA’s chief information security officer. Thomlinson spent 22 years at Microsoft, including a role as head of security for the tech giant’s Azure cloud business.
Thomlinson’s global team deals with enterprise security, online security, and the games and products that are part of platform security.
“Security is a pretty hot space right now … so it’s a really difficult place to recruit into,” Thomlinson said. “I’d say we’ve done rather well. We compete against Microsoft, Google, Amazon, just here in Seattle. I’ve got folks on the team that I’ve pulled from the FBI for doing things like investigations. We even have somebody, not based here, whose last job was protecting the International Space Station.”
“We’ve got a great mission here,” Thomlinson added. “Protecting hundreds of millions of players globally is kind of cool.”
For all it is doing in tech, one of the most important things EA has to deal with as a company, Moss said, is the interaction between tech and studios. “And it’s not easy,” he said. “It requires a lot of work and a lot of communication.”
The hope is that it will get easier with all personnel on one floor of the new space, rather than the three or four floors they were split between at the old PopCap building.
Matt Nutt, head of PopCap and general manager for EA’s casual gaming business, said of three PopCap teams in the offices, one is working on new content and features for “Plants vs. Zombies 2,” one is working on forward-looking far-out concepts, and a third is working on the studio’s next game — which no one was ready to talk about.
PopCap was founded in Seattle in 2000 by Brian Fiete, John Vechey and Jason Kapalka, all of whom have since left the company to work on new projects and ventures.
The way games are developed and played has changed dramatically since the company was founded.
“It’s nice to be able to focus on the art and then partner with Ken’s organization so that we don’t have to worry about being masters of things like back-end services and digital platform and all the technology that we want to make games more social to give people a reason for playing games together,” Nutt said.
Nutt said PopCap has weathered a lot of change as a studio. In May 2017, it reduced its Seattle workforce by an unspecified number, and Nutt said in a memo to staff at the time the studio was “returning to our roots — smaller, leaner, pushing hard to build new things.”
With about 100 employees at PopCap now, Nutt said Friday that numbers are back to where they were and the studio is again hiring. He credited the studio’s survival in part to its acquisition by EA. Key to its continued viability will be its ability to find success in free-to-play mobile gaming, he said.
“There’s 3 billion smart devices worldwide. It’s a massive market for us,” Nutt said. “Our business used to look like putting games in boxes. In fact, the place that we just moved from, the first floor, we used to pack and ship ourselves. But, you know, success used to look like several hundred thousand boxes mostly to a Western audience. We now make games that reach hundreds of millions of players worldwide.”
Top venture capital firms are making an early bet on a new Seattle startup that is pushing the envelope with immersive games.
Leaftail Labs recently reeled in $1.25 million from investors including Shasta Ventures, Maveron, Vulcan Capital, micro-funds, and angels.
The year-old startup is led by Jessie Quinn and Eli Tayrien. The co-founders met at HBO’s Seattle engineering office, where Quinn was a senior interactive producer and Tayrien led engineering efforts.
Leaftail isn’t revealing details about its games yet, but Quinn told GeekWire that her company combines gaming technology with the real world. She said the experience is somewhat similar to Pokémon Go, but noted that “we are doing things very distinctly different.”
Bay Area-based Shasta, which has made other recent Seattle-area investments in startups such as Suplari, Skilljar, FlyHomes and Highspot, invested in Leaftail via its Camera Fund that supports startups developing AR/VR and computer vision applications.
“The team’s native camera-first approach to augmented reality and depth of creative product vision is incredibly compelling,” Jacob Mullins, partner at Shasta, told GeekWire. “I have no doubt that they will be driving to redefine the immersive gaming landscape with their work.”
Leaftail plans to grow its 5-person team with the fresh cash. Last month it hired Rich Werner, the original artist for the hit Plants vs. Zombies franchise, to be its art director.
We caught up with Quinn to learn more about Leaftail for this edition of GeekWire’s Startup Spotlight.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We’re building a new generation of immersive augmented reality video games that hinge on player routine, key places, and social experiences in the real world.
Inspiration hit us when: In our previous job Eli and I both had the opportunity to work with really exciting storytellers and some of the most cutting-edge immersive technology and hardware available. Spending those years being hands on with new tools and innovative content really pushed us into thinking about our industry differently. We started to see new opportunities everywhere and became fixated on being able to bring something new to life.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We ended up working with a mix of VCs, micro-funds and angels for our seed round. When we were considering the right path for fundraising, the most important thing was being able to find partners who were excited about the specific future that we see over the horizon, regardless of their investment size or structure.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: I think there are two critical ingredients. The first is on the product side: we think deeply about the player and the real world they live in as a razor for decision making. The second ingredient is internal to the team and our culture. We’re building individual accountability and an obsession with learning into the foundation of the company. We believe it encourages the non-traditional thinking that is required in order to innovate.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Talking to other founders, a lot. Each founder that you happen to know (or don’t know yet) is a wealth of super useful experiences that could mean the difference between making a great decision or stumbling through a difficult situation. We’ve been extremely lucky that our personal networks included a handful of awesome friend-founders who helped us tremendously at various stages of our development. Taking advantage of knowing these folks has been definitely a smart move for us. Even if you don’t happen to have any friend-founders in your network, joining an organization like the Female Founders Alliance (which I also did) or a similar group could give you that experienced sounding board you needed at the exact right moment.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Not starting our hiring process sooner. We were really focused on making improvements to our prototype, finding our new office space and closing out the fundraising round before starting the hiring process. If we could roll back time I think we would try to parallelize this process since it just takes so long to spin up and find awesome candidates. We’re extremely happy with the talent we have found now, but if I could snap my fingers and have them onboarded a couple months sooner I would 100 percent take that opportunity.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? I’d love to have Arlan Hamilton from Backstage Capital in our corner. I saw Arlan speak at last year’s Women @ Forbes event in Boston and her professional story was extremely inspirational to me. I had come to the larger event looking to connect with other founders and to start learning about the VC world, but I didn’t expect to see too many people like me in the crowds. Seeing her on stage and hearing about how she came to the venture side of the business and was able to do something new, different and totally on her own terms was really impactful. I felt much less afraid of jumping into our fundraising while still being my authentic self, which happens to be young, female and queer. I think in any capacity she’d be an amazing asset.
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner? I’d choose Bill Gates. I think he and Melinda would have an interesting perspective to bring to the table about social responsibility, impact and a global world view. I think he’s had a long, mature and diverse career that has changed over time and I’m sure we’d have a ton to learn from him across a host of different topics.
Our favorite team-building activity is: Talking about things we’re really excited about as individuals and sharing that with the team. We intentionally ask teammates to tell us about the things they love doing outside of work and share their excitement with us. Topics range wildly, from in-depth gardening conversations, Magic the Gathering chats, Halloween décor tips, the best Drag shows in town, awesome books people are reading, newest board games to hilarious stories about people’s kiddos. We think people being different and excited about something is a big part of what makes being around each other energizing, so we actively try to cultivate that feeling in the office.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Self-awareness. Beyond the baseline skills someone needs to succeed in their role, self-awareness is the most important personal attribute. Work can be difficult, filled with hard decisions and conflicting opinions. Sometimes, a startup environment creates even more of these challenges. We’ve found that the more self-awareness a person has, the better equipped they are to learn, adapt and grow in the face of those moments. They’re more likely to lift the team up, or think about a problem from a different perspective, which we think is truly invaluable.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: I’d love to give two, one about process and one about self-care. Regarding process: build a prototype as soon as you can and don’t be too precious about showing it to people. We could have done this sooner, but the second we did, people understood our vision more quickly and had a deeper belief in our skills. If you had to choose, I’d take a prototype into a pitch over a fancy deck any day.
And, regarding self-care: make sure you have someone in the wings who understands your business – or at least what you’re trying to do – and will help you celebrate your small incremental wins. Ideally, this person is not your significant other. They’re great, of course, but you’ll overload them if you’re constantly leaning on them for detailed feedback and cheerleading. Finding another founder or someone who you’ve worked with in the past who can take on this support role will help tremendously. To be clear, this isn’t just a typical mentor: it’s someone whose goal is to actively help you recognize positive moments and draw your attention to them. It will mean a lot more if this comes from someone who knows your business or has also walked the path you’re on.
The Santa Monica, Calif., electric scooter share company plans to launch a fleet in the Tacoma, which neighbors Seattle to the south.
“We are thrilled to have been welcomed by the city as a new, environmentally friendly option for the people of Tacoma,” a Bird spokesperson said.
In September, the City of Tacoma launched a pilot program with Bird competitor Lime, allowing 250 scooters and 100 electric-assist bicycles to be deployed.
Tacoma is speeding ahead of Seattle in the race to adopt new mobility services. Seattle was a pioneer for bike sharing in the U.S. but the city’s Department of Transportation forbids rentable electric scooters, at least for now.
Bird has scaled up rapidly since launching a year ago, expanding to 100 communities. The company has raised a whopping $415 million and is one of several heavily-funded scooter share companies competing to dominate the new mobility market.