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WorldMap-War

While iOS games started out as either simple physics or casual simulation titles when the platform launched about five years ago, the bar has gotten steadily higher and more hard-core. Midcore studios like Kabam started to rise in prominence.

Now the iOS platform might be seeing is most hardcore title to date – a very, very massive multi-player title from YC- and Menlo Ventures-backed Machine Zone.

The company, which started out doing text-based RPGs a couple years ago like iMob, is launching Game of War: Fire Age. It’s a title where players build and grow empires, train massive armies, forge alliances with other players to win kingdoms.

The game can handle hundreds of thousands of players concurrently in the same universe, which is not an easy technical feat. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, in contrast, typically handles a few thousand players simultaneously in a single realm. All movement on the game’s map is visible to everyone else.

“We wanted to take the company to the next level and be really ambitious,” said Machine Zone CEO Gabriel Leydon. “We decided to build some things that had never been done before. We had the capital to do it and the willpower.”

Leydon didn’t hire just typical game designers to build the title. He also found people who had experience in scaling massive systems. The game’s user interface is in HTML5 and is rendered natively, allowing the company to handle different screen sizes.

The other really cool thing about the game’s social capabilities is that there is a mechanical turk-like translation system where the players themselves translate chat in exchange for virtual currency rewards. That helps Game of War have really interactive play with a proper critical mass of users who can talk to each other, even if they don’t speak the same language. The in-game chat system helps Game of War get manage slang and gamer speak, which a third-party translation system probably wouldn’t handle correctly. If say, 50 players translate the same words in the same way, then the game will start using that translation automatically.

“It’s like a highly structured Facebook,” Leydon said. “My goal as a game designer was to create a feeling of what it would be to be a king, where you’d have a lot of people under you. You’d have to subjects, wealth and land.”

Assuming say, the game grows to 1 million players, there might only be 20 kings in the game. To reach that level, players have to woo others to form alliances with them. Within those alliances, there are ranks for different officers.

“This is a very hardcore game. This is not Candy Crush,” he said. “This is a complex system with a lot of potential trees of outcomes. If you’re the type of person that’s fascinated by systems like this, then this is for you.”

Machine Zone used to be known as Addmired, and rebranded last year when it took $8 million in funding from Menlo Ventures. Leydon said this is what the company took the round for, even though its older titles like Original Gangstaz and iMob 2 were pretty lucrative early on.


wallet-gmail

In May, Google announced that its online and mobile payments solution Google Wallet would be integrated within Gmail in the coming months, but no exact time frame for the rollout was given. Now, it appears as if more users are gaining access to the Google Wallet in Gmail feature, as invitations are hitting Gmail inboxes.

These invites are arriving in Gmail’s new “Updates” tab. (Update: Originally, we were hearing they were arriving in the main inbox, but Google informs us this is not the case.)

Anyway, below is the example of what the invite looks like:

For those unfamiliar, Google Wallet is the company’s payments platform and answer to PayPal, which allows users to store their debit and credit cards in a secure service for easy access. Wallet can be used when shopping online, including on e-commerce websites, and within Android applications where virtual goods, in-app purchases, and even physical goods and services, are sold. On Android, an NFC-based Google Wallet mobile app allows for transactions at supported point-of-sale and other NFC-based terminals, but adoption there is limited due to mobile operators’ restrictions enacted because they invest in their own competitor called Isis. (Greed is why we can’t have nice things, folks).

With the announcement in May, Google informed us that it would soon offer another way for the payments service to be used – that is, within Gmail. A new dollar sign icon in Gmail will appear, allowing you to “attach money” to your message. The icon sits near the attachment paperclip icon and Google Drive icon for attaching files from the cloud in the new “Compose” experience in Gmail.

Since early beta testers could invite others to Google Wallet for Gmail by sending money, some came up with ingenious ways to invite others by sending small amounts – like a penny – to those who asked. But most of us simply waited for Google to send the invitation after registering our interest. These invites are arriving first to Google Wallet’s early adopters, before the feature is more broadly rolled out to all of Gmail’s user base.

After clicking on the “Get started” button in the invite, or heading directly to wallet.google.com/p2pAccess, you’ll have to confirm your identify in order to comply with U.S. financial regulations before being able to use Google Wallet in Gmail. This will involve providing your date of birth and last four of your Social Security Number, Google explains.

This verification process takes only a second or two, and then the new “attach money” icon will appear when you return to Gmail. (Note that users who have declined to upgrade to the new “Compose” interface in Gmail won’t have the option to send money until they make that switch.)

We reached out to Google to ask for more details as to the progress of the rollout itself, and the company explains that the invites arriving now are going to those who had previously signed up to receive the next version of Wallet at http://www.google.com/wallet.

It also appears that several users have been excited enough to post about their invitation’s arrival on Twitter. (I’m about to do the same.)


Google Wallet has hit some hurdles in recent months, following the departure of Google Wallet head Osama Bedier. Google also scrapped plans to launch its physical Google-branded payment card which had been tested as an alternative to NFC, but found to not be up to par by CEO Larry Page.

Wallet in Gmail gives the maligned service another way to grow – by tapping into a user base of some 425 million plus email users. However, Wallet for Gmail is only available to those over 18 and in the United States for now. Expansions to other parts of the world have yet to be announced.

mozilla_logo

Mozilla is working on a project that would make the browser a central repository for a list of all of your interests. Today, the nonprofit behind Firefox argues, many websites offer personalized experiences, “but too often, users unknowingly trade their personal information for this better experience.” Instead of sharing your interest graph with lots of vendors online, Firefox could divine your hobbies and interests by simply looking at your browsing history.

The organization has played with this idea before, and today’s proposal comes at a time when Mozilla is involved in a long-standing argument with the advertising industry over how it should treat cookies and Do Not Track.

The idea behind the proposal is that users should be able to explicitly and transparently share their interests with the websites they visit. These sites then would be able to tailor your experience according to your preferences without having to create their own profile of your interests. This way, a site can be personalized even if you’re visiting for the first time.

“We want to give individuals more participation in their Web interactions so they can more easily get what they want, in a clearly defined way,” Mozilla’s senior VP of business and legal affairs Harvey Anderson writes today. “Our goal with UP (User Personalization) and other innovations in this area is to increase the quality of the user experience. In order to accomplish this, interactions must provide consumers with options on how much and which types of information to disclose in order to get the most relevant content and services on the Web.”

Mozilla is currently experimenting with these ideas, but it doesn’t look as if we’ll see any real implementations of them in the near future. When Mozilla first talked about this idea, however, it noted that websites would be required not to track the information you share with them (though it’s hard to see how this could be controlled) and at the time, the idea was to give users fine-grained control over how much information about themselves they want to share.

For the time being, though, Mozilla just wants to get the conversation started – something that should be pretty easy to do, given that the advertising industry is closely watching the organization’s every move.

Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 5.48.16 AM

At TechCrunch Disrupt NYC back in April, former Facebook exec-turned-venture capitalist, Chamath Palihapitiya delivered a deflating critique of the tech industry – in particular, the quality of its startups. Had he been issuing a report card, the Tech World would have gotten an “F,” with an extra side of “shame.” His frustration seemed to emanate principally from the fact that “Big Ideas” are few and far between in the industry today. Rather than aiming high, he intoned, entrepreneurs seem content to reach for low-hanging fruit despite the diminishing returns inherent to that approach.

While Big Ideas may not be at all-time high, today’s news brings some assurance that they are still alive and well in the tech industry – and that there’s even capital to support them, for-profit or not. Watsi, a Y Combinator-backed healthcare crowdfunding platform, is tackling one of the biggest: That more than one billion people can’t afford (or don’t have access to) adequate medical services. Even Chamath would likely agree that falls in the “Big Idea” camp.

Today, the non-profit crowdfunding platform announced that it has raised $1.2 million in what is its first round of financing, or “philanthropic seed round,” as the startup is calling it. Granted, if Watsi is setting its sights high, than $1.2 million will only be a drop in the bucket compared to the capital and resources it will need if it truly hopes to make a difference at scale.

A good start, to be sure, especially when considering the impressive roster of names contributing to its first financing, which includes institutional investors, like China’s largest Internet services portal, Tencent, Y Combinator partners – including personal investments from founder Paul Graham and YC Partner Geoff Ralston – along with the “godfather of angel investing” and owner of the most pristine coiffure in the Valley, Ron Conway, Sun Microsystems and Khosla Ventures co-founder, Vinod Khosla, venture philanthropy fund (and Kiva investor), The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation and Flixter founder and Rotten Tomatoes CEO, Joe Greenstein – to name a few.

While the list is impressive, it’s not a group of investors one would typically find contributing to a non-profit fundraiser. Watsi founder Chase Adam explains that the reason the company opted for this approach is that the traditional mechanisms for non-profit fundraising sometimes act as a counterproductive force by undermining the social movements they’re trying to support. Instead of devoting themselves to their “Big Idea,” socially-minded entrepreneurs often spend their time entering online voting competitions and hosting banquets to raise money to support their operations.

Instead, Adams hopes that the collection of VC, angel and institutional donations represents a move toward a new future of non-profit fundraising. Granted, Watsi is in the unusual (and fortunate) position to have been the first non-profit startup to be accepted into Y Combinator and to have had the vocal support of Y Combinator’s founder, Paul Graham, who also recently accepted a seat on the startup’s board – the first time he’s done so for a YC incubation.

In reference to this question, Graham suggested to Watsi that they call this raise a “Series N” (non-profit and n=variable).

On the flip side, Adams tells us that he set a three-month deadline for fundraising, deciding to go after industry leaders and big names in the angel and venture world, regardless of whether or not the efforts proved to be successful. By doing so, the Watsi founder hopes that this might help encourage other social businesses to consider forgoing traditional sources of fundraising.

Ben Rattray, the founder and CEO of social action platform Change.org and I recently spoke on this very subject after the socially-minded for-profit company closed its own $15 million round of funding. As a for-profit business, there’s more pressure for Change.org to raise institutional or venture capital.

As a non-profit, Watsi would likely be more attractive to investors, whereas Big Idea-based, for-profit companies have traditionally found it difficult to raise money from these types of investors. However, both Adams and Rattray share similar goals, as the Change.org founder that would enable them to remain independent without having to constantly be looking for a one-time liquidity event.

“These kind of social enterprise businesses are working over the long-term, 15 to 20 year windows, which is beyond the scope of most venture capitalists,” Rattray said at the time. However, he believes that it’s going to change: “I have no doubt this is going to change – that eventually more investors are going to start backing socially-conscious businesses,” Rattray says. And it’s for that very reason that I think the juxtaposition of Watsi and Change.org is worthwhile. Although perhaps idealistic – and, admittedly, Watsi is a non-profit, perhaps the startup’s funding is the first sign that it is, in fact, beginning to change.

Nonetheless, for Watsi, this raise is an important validation of its own ambitious, “Big Idea” goals. Of course, eliminating poverty or fixing global healthcare and covering the uncovered, don’t happen over night and aren’t solved by one person or one founder. That’s why Watsi is leveraging the “many hands” approach of crowdfunding to let anyone contribute to the funding of low-cost, high-impact medical treatments for those in need.

Furthermore, the platform automatically creates profiles for those in search of financial support for treatments or surgeries and makes it easy to make direct donations. Furthermore, these profiles, besides providing critical transparency into how your donation will be used and actually help someone, it also works towards attaching actual, human faces to global poverty – which sounds cheesy but is critical to conditions or problems like this that are so huge that providing real faces, one-by-one, can help discourage, say, just ignoring it and hanging for a lower-hanging fruit.

To further incentivize donations, Watsi offers 100 percent of the donations it collects from the crowd to those in need. Graham also says that the startup is paying “all their operational costs from their own funding, and none from your donations,” and in turn, even stomach credit card processing fees. A noble gesture in its own right.

The startup hosts the profiles of people in need but who can’t afford them, allowing donors to peruse profiles, donate as little as $5
, Watsi hosts profiles of people in dire need of medical care, but who can’t afford it. Donors can browse the profiles and donate as little as $5 to help someone get well. 100% of donations go to the sick, and Watsi funds its operations and even pays credit card processing fees on donations out of its own pocket. We name

nsahq

The National Security Agency has lost the political support it needs to maintain its controversial Internet and phone dragnet spying operation. Yesterday, July 24th, the House of Representatives nearly ratified the most brazen amendment to completely cut off funds for any broad NSA spying program (failing 205-217). With more time to build grassroots momentum and craft a less brute-force law curtailing NSA spy powers, the next bill will likely have enough support to win the day.

With only a few days to prepare, Representative Justin Amash managed to gain traction for an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would deny the NSA the ability to use funds toward programs that broadly spied on Americans. The surprise was that a majority of Democrats bucked their own leader, President Obama, in support of the Amendment, 111-83.

Just seen how close the Amash amendment vote was (217-205). Amazing shift in momentum on NSA surveillance among lawmakers.

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James Ball (@jamesrbuk) July 25, 2013

Since the revelation that the NSA was collecting phone records and Internet browsing behavior en masse, supporters of the the Domestic spying program have worried that the laws would not be renewed. Specifically, the NSA gets its legal authority from section 215 of the 9/11-era Patriot Act.

Section 215 expires at the end of 2015,” Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, told his colleagues during a Congressional hearing this month. “Unless you realize you’ve got a problem, that is not going to be renewed. There are not the votes in the House of Representatives to renew Section 215 . In other words, come 2015, Congress will be unlikely to renew the law that permits the NSA’s controversial program.

Over the past month, there have been a few laws proposed to limit the NSA’s ability to spy on Americans. Representative Steve Cohen’s FISA Accountability Act, for instance, would require both Congress and the Supreme Court justices to appoint new judges to the court that approves NSA spying request (FISA), rather than give conservative Chief Justice John Roberts the authority to appoint them himself. The FISA Court approves nearly every single NSA spying request, and this would, in theory, appoint judges who are more 4th-Amendment friendly (currently, there are 10 Republican judges and 1 Democrat, according to Wonkblog).

Unfortunately for NSA critics, none of the proposals came up to a full vote, so House members never had to declare whether they were for or against the status quo.

Now, we have definitive evidence that nearly half Democrats and Republicans support a radical reduction in NSA surveillance capabilities. A much greater percentage probably agree that there should be some change.

At the very least, it’s unlikely that the legal basis of the NSA dragnet will make it past the Patriot Act’s 2015 renewal date. In anticipation of this loss, the intelligence agencies will likely have to find some kind of compromise that will pass congress, rather than risk losing all of their powers.

Those who voted against Amash’s amendment today should be very (very) worried about the angry mobs they will face back home. The American populace has a particular talent for making life difficult for members when they hold town halls. Below is a video of the some of the angry town halls that House members faced during the 2009 health-care debate:


Yesterday, we published a list of representatives who voted down Amash’s amendment. Expect these representatives to feel the heat. The momentum is on the side of change, which means that NSA’s golden age of spying will likely be coming to an end.

2013-07-25_09h56_43

The market awarded Facebook a 25 percent share price spike today, following a strong earnings report that showed off the company’s ability to retain mind share among youths, build its total global usership, and monetize mobile traffic better than nearly any other company. Period.

The firm pop in its shares has pushed Facebook’s valuation past the $80 billion mark, where it currently rests at $80.21 billion. Not a bad day’s work, but that number is somewhat shadowed by the fact that, as a company, Facebook has torched tens of billions of dollars of shareholder equity since it first went public.

We draw two conclusions from that fact: Given that Facebook is now a tremendously stronger company than it was a year ago, and yet it is valued under its former price, a pox on our own house for overpaying for the company’s shares; and, naturally, that Facebook is more than another strong quarter away from being simply flat.

Here’s TechCrunch’s Josh Constine and Kim-Mai Cutler the day before the fateful, and botched, IPO:

Facebook shares will start trading at $38 tomorrow, the company confirmed in a release, giving it a valuation of $104.12 billion. Facebook and its early shareholders will raise just over $16 billion in tomorrow’s much anticipated IPO.

At a $104 billion valuation, Facebook is worth more than any other tech IPO candidate at the time of its offering. It also perfectly matches what Facebook shares have been trading at in secondary markets over the last several months. Google was worth $23 billion at the time of its very unusual Dutch auction IPO back in 2004. As of tomorrow Facebook will be worth about half of what Google is worth now.

The implicit point in the second paragraph is that if Google managed to so greatly grow its valuation compared to its IPO price, to what heights might Facebook race? Despite general market furor, Facebook popped but a nibble to $42 a share on its first day, and then declined rapidly enough that its banking partners held the line at its initially offered price.

To illustrate just how off the market was concerning the pricing and sale of Facebook stock, here’s the same set of TechCrunch writers during its first day as a public company:

While the price is going to fluctuate a lot today, there’s a crowdsourced bet from Twitter users on FacebookIPOClosingPrice.com that the company will close at a $54 price and a $135.7 billion valuation.

Nope, Twitter users, that wasn’t the case. In fact, those shorting Facebook made out the best.

The gap between $104 billion and roughly $80 billion is $24 billion. But that’s not even the least-kind way we could describe Facebook’s total decline from former heights. Facebook opened on its first day at $42.05, meaning that it was worth more than $104 billion; those who bought in at that price would have enjoyed a far heavier decline in the value of their stock if they held onto it.

But, in effect, this is our fault. The Facebook IPO price, as noted in the first blocked quote above, matched secondary market interest. The market bore Facebook at a $38-per-share price; the IPO went off, hitches aside.

Christopher Hitchens once said that the ironies of history occur most pungently to those that don’t believe in them, and that applies greatly to us in the technology industry. We have undergone a number of periods in which valuations of technology companies have gotten far ahead of their earnings. Again and again we have bought into our own hype only to watch the money of the average Joe evaporate as founders and investors pocket cash at IPO prices. That’s fine. It’s simple market capitalism. But you’d think we would have learned a bit by now.

Facebook as a financial entity is much stronger than it was during the quarter it went public. Let’s do a little comparison for fun [Facebook Q2 2012 financial data versus Q2 2013 financial data]:

  • Revenue, Q2 2012: $1.18 billion
  • Revenue, Q2 2013: $1.81 billion
  • Net income, Q2 2012: -$157 million
  • Net income, Q2 2013: $333 million

Aside from higher expenses and a lower operating margin, it’s hard to find a metric by which Facebook is worse off than it was a year ago. And yet we the market public value the firm at $24 billion less than on its first day.

We were out of our skulls in 2012, and we are still paying for it. That said, Facebook is damn killing it recently, and is slowly growing into the valuation that its bankers and investors found palatable four quarters ago.

New question: Is Facebook overvalued at its current $80 billion price? The comments are yours.

Top Image Credit: Steve Snodgrass

fitBarkVisual

Bored of quantifying your self already? Why not quantify your pet instead? FitBark is a Fitbit style health tracker for your under-walked canine companion. We’ve covered this (frankly) barking mad gizmo before, back in May, when its creators were exhibiting at Hardware Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt NY but they’ve now taken to Kickstarter to raise funds to get the device out in the wild. Again.

It’s actually FitBark’s second attempt at Kickstarting the gizmo. As Gigaom points out, its creators pulled an earlier attempt at crowdfunding the device in order to rethink the business model, scrapping the monthly subscription fee and opting for a fixed price-tag of $69 via Kickstarter or $99 for general retail.

FitBark are after $35,000 to cover manufacturing costs this time around, and are more than half-way to achieving the target with 32 days left to run on the campaign – so crazy or otherwise, this is one hardware startup that’s pretty much a dead cert for its first manufacturing run-around-the-park at least.

Now I say barking mad but that’s mostly tongue-in-cheek, being as FitBark is not the only health tracker angling for pet owners’ cash. Whistle, a startup backed by $6 million in Series A funding, launched a $99 wearable activity tracker for dogs only last month. There’s also Tagg, which combines activity and location tracking by including GPS in its device. So underestimate the pet-owning dollar at your peril.

So what does FitBark actually do? Attach it to your dog’s collar and it tracks daily’s activity levels, sending the data back to FitBack’s servers when your smartphone is in range, or throughout the day if you purchase a dedicated FitBark base station (and keep you pet penned up at home while you’re out). The latter scenario would allow owners to keep remote tabs on their pet’s activity levels when they’re not at home, but unless you own a mansion (or employ a dog walker) your dog isn’t going to be able to do a whole lot of running around without you. FitBark then crunches all the activity data, offering customisable daily activity goals, and delivering the results back to you via an app. So far, so kinda sane.

At its more barking mad fringe, the FitBark also lets pet owners compare – well, they say “unify” – their own fitness with their dog’s fitness/activity. So yeah, boasting that you are fitter than Fido is apparently a thing now…

FitBark is also the first platform that leverages existing APIs of human fitness trackers to bring you a unified view of your fitness level and that of your dog. From the outset, FitBark will seamlessly receive input from your Nike Fuelband, Fitbit, Withings Pulse, or Bodymedia Fit. We’ll look to expand the list as we learn about new open APIs or partnership opportunities. If you’re not only a devoted dog parent but are also serious about tracking your own fitness, you’ll love this.

Joor-logo

JOOR, an online wholesale fashion marketplace, has raised $15 million in Series B funding, according to an SEC filing from today. The round was led by Canaan Partners and joined by Advance Publications and previous investors, including Battery Ventures, Lerer Ventures, Great Oaks Venture Capital, Landis Capital and Forerunner Ventures. This brings JOOR’s total funding to $20.5 million.

Launched in 2010, JOOR provides a digital platform for B2B transactions between retailers and designers. CEO Mona Bijoor tells me the funding will be used to scale the company’s tech and sales teams. With offices in New York, Los Angeles and Milan, Bijoor says the funding will also go to opening new offices across Europe and Asia.

“We’re rapidly expanding our global footprint, and we want to keep up our pace,” Bijoor tells me. “It’s not just about the number of brands you have, but the number of retailers, because they are using it. We’re a B2B platform, it’s all about adoption.”

The company has more than 40,000 retailers and 600 brands using the site, including Diane von Furstenberg, Rag & Bone and Zappos. Bijoor tells me JOOR added 10,000 retailers in the last three months alone. That’s a big jump from when we last reported on the company in 2011. Back then, JOOR was working with 250 brands and about 7,500 boutiques.

Note: A previous version of this post said the company has over 30,000 retailers and 500 brands. That has been changed after clarifying user numbers with Bijoor.

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