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Protests across the U.S. over police violence and systemic racism against Black Americans have sparked gaming companies like Electronic Arts, Epic Games and Sony Interactive Entertainment/PlayStation to publish statements of their support and make donations to relevant advocacy organizations.

These are positive actions, but the most impactful thing game companies can do is take action internally. Racial bias is baked, usually unintentionally, into games by those who develop them. This creates a recurring pattern of Black and Latinx characters being stereotyped or completely absent in games, which is invalidating and demeaning.

There are 2.5 billion gamers in the world, a group that includes consumers across every ethnicity and age (especially in mobile gaming, the largest market segment). Quartz has noted that “57% of video game players in the U.S. between the ages of 6 and 29 will be people of color in less than 10 years.” Black and Latinx youth in the US spend more time per day, on average, on both mobile games and console games than white youth. For hundreds of millions of gamers globally — particularly in demographics driving the industry’s rapid growth — there are very few games whose stories center on characters like them. That is also a missed business opportunity.

“Telling these stories isn’t as niche as people think it is. Look at [the Marvel movie] Black Panther,” says Rashad Redic, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Brass Lion Entertainment, “The content is defined by whether it’s entertaining, period.”

Beyond characters’ skin color, there are subtle aspects of game development that contribute to underrepresentation or misrepresentation. The consistent view among gaming executives and researchers I interviewed for this article is that the lack of diversity among employees at leading gaming companies results in leadership remaining largely oblivious to this.

Raising this simple critique isn’t always welcome. Games industry journalist Gita Jackson, for example, has described the criticism she gets anytime she mentions the race of characters within a game. “I think the presence of more video game characters who are women of color is good … These should not be controversial statements — I’m simply stating something I appreciate, something that’s relevant to me,” she wrote last year, “and yet some readers responded as if I’d suggested that all gamers should amputate their pinky toes.”

Character representation

One of the most extensive studies of racial representation in games was a 2009 study that analyzed 150 of the most popular titles. Black characters comprised 10.7% of characters, roughly on parity with the then-most recent census data that 12.3% of Americans are Black, and only 2.7% of characters were Latinx (relative to 12.5% representation in the U.S. population). But Dmitri Williams, a professor at the University of Southern California and the lead author of that study, says that Black representation is even lower if you only look at primary characters and that in any case “athletes in sports games account for most of the Black characters in those games.”

Kishonna Gray, a professor at the University of Illinois—Chicago, highlights that merely tracking the number of Black characters present in games misses the point of how they are represented. “In film, there have historically been three roles you see Black characters in: Black as violent, Black as the sidekick, Black as the help. This has also been true in video games.”

Furthermore, she argues that “sports games should be removed from those analyses since they are just copying real people from the real world” and mask the statistics that would show how infrequently Black characters arise from the creative process at most game studios.

Casting specific demographics in a certain light in any form of media has an impact on consumers’ perception of those demographics in the real world. At least one academic study found that white participants were more likely to associate Black faces with negative words after playing a violent video game as a Black character than after playing a violent video game as a white character.

When the only option to experience the fantasy worlds of many games is through white characters, it internalizes in many gamers that those fantasy worlds weren’t designed for them. “Anything is possible in games,” Gray told me in reference to her passion for the industry, “But anything is only possible for white characters. When they add Black characters to a game they root them only in their real world context … why can’t Black characters ride dragons?”

Game developer demographics

Data has shown that the representation of different races within games correlates to the racial makeup of the game development community. According to Williams. “It was pretty much a one-for-one representation.”

The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) found in the 2019 edition of its annual survey that among game developers worldwide:

  • 81% identify as “white/Caucasian/European”
  • 7% identify as “Hispanic/Latinx”
  • 2% identify as “Black/African-American/African/Afro-Caribbean”

“People draw their inspiration from their experience,” explained Gray, “that’s why we still have a problem with representation.” Redic said that during his career — which includes roles at top gaming companies like Bethesda and Crytek — he has frequently been “the only — or one of very few — Black guy among hundreds of game devs at a company.”

Tanya DePass, founder of the non-profit I Need Diverse Games, makes the point that for companies wanting to improve diversity in their content, “the biggest thing is diverse staff, and diverse staff at leadership level.” Moreover, her advice to game studios is to hire outside experts who can review their development plans and give feedback on where their content may stereotype or misrepresent an ethnic group: “Bring in diversity consultants in the beginning, not a month before launch, and treat it seriously.”

One company that uses consultants is Niantic, the studio behind Pokémon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. It has also implemented “Diversity and Inclusion check-ins through a game’s concept, preproduction and postproduction phases,” according Trinidad Hermida, the company’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion. “These check-ins look at everything from character design to evaluating whether the internal Niantic team working the product is diverse,” she explained, “Every new game we publish must go through this process to launch.”

Good intentions, slow progress

That IGDA survey last year also found that 87% of game developers said “diversity in game content” is “very important” or “somewhat important,” which offers optimism that representation can improve as developers are pushed to think of diversity less in the abstract and more in the context of the specific games they work on.

The number of Black or Latinx characters across popular games is indeed growing, even if that progress is quite slow relative to the pace at which the demographic makeup of the gaming community is diversifying. Examples can be found in Moby Games’ list of games with Black protagonists through 2017 and the list of Black video game characters on Wikipedia.

Giving users lots of options to customize their avatar’s appearance goes a long way in helping different demographics of gamers feel welcomed and emotionally attached to a game. This is increasingly common in games, but there are often more limited options for Black avatars, like the ability to choose natural hair styles. DePass says that game developers “are often not thinking about the fact that there are other people who also want to see themselves [in creating their avatar].” And when they do, the homogeneity of their team can lead to foreseeable mistakes. For example, DePass expressed that “If Black hair is available at all, it looks bad. Sometimes there’s 5 inches between braids; or Afros look like steel wool. It’s like, ‘Have you ever met a Black person or seen photos of black hairstyles?’”

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a big issue in games, MMOs in particular, and in their efforts to combat it, gaming executives should recognize that both female gamers and Black and Latinx founders are particularly targeted with abuse, often denigrated with slurs and racist jokes.

A small but important step that developers can take, according to Gray, is giving players the option to mark racist behavior as the reason for submitting a complaint against another user. Many games have added the ability to mark a complaint as being due to gender discrimination, she notes, but the lack of a similar option for racism permits game studios to remain ignorant about how often racism occurs on their platform. Collecting data on a problem allows for more measurement of that problem and more effective action to address it.

Building for an underserved market

As DePass noted in our call, “There aren’t a lot of Black creators of games, but there are a lot of Black buyers of games.” There is business opportunity in creating content that better speaks to often-overlooked segments of the gamer community.

The natural question here is: If making games with narratives that center on Black or Latinx characters is a compelling business opportunity, why hasn’t it already been tapped? Leadership at established gaming companies “have a sense of who is a gamer, and who isn’t, that is very archaic” says Glow Up Games CEO Mitu Khandaker, whose studio is developing a mobile game leveraging IP from the HBO show “Insecure.”

Likewise, she explains, entrepreneurs who found their own studios with this thesis quickly find that the major funding sources (publishers and venture capitalists) are composed of ethnically homogenous teams who are quick to judge such games as niche.

As a result, the game developers focused on building games that speak to Black and Latinx audiences remain stuck in the indie games space, lacking the resources or industry credibility to develop a AAA title.

There’s a long list of societal problems that contribute to the disproportionately small number of Black software engineers entering the games industry or in leadership roles in the industry, from less access to high-quality STEM education in K-12 to employers devaluing degrees from historically Black colleges and universities to the well-researched pattern of resumes with white-sounding names receiving dramatically more job interviews.

Khandaker noted that the perceived lack of representation and role models for Black engineers looking at the gaming industry causes many to avoid the sector altogether, and many who enter the industry leave it in frustration.

Taking responsibility

On our recent call, Williams shared his memory of speaking on a panel about racial bias in games at the DICE Conference for game executives: “In the few minutes of transition between the prior session and my panel, roughly 90% of the audience left.”

A repeated sentiment among several of those I interviewed for this post was that the problem is not gaming executives with harmful intent so much as gaming executives lacking the interest or empathy to treat diversity as an issue that they personally should dedicate time to address. Discussion of diversity, whether at conferences or otherwise, is still too often treated as a token matter for purposes of political correctness, not a pressing business problem to solve.

If the current news cycle is helping change that attitude and energize executives in the industry to step up, the most impactful action they can take is to approach diversity as a product development priority not as a PR issue.


TechCrunch

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. This week, we have several heavy-hitting rumors swirling around, from Huawei’s chips for cars to Tencent’s potential buyout of its video rival iQiyi.

China tech at home

Huawei’s foray into autos

Huawei might be bringing the technology behind its Kirin smartphone processor into cars. According to Chinese tech publication 36Kr, Huawei has signed a strategic deal with domestic electric car giant BYD, which would be using the Kirin chips to digitize the “cockpits” (generally refer to the drivers’ cabins) in its cars.

The Kirin chips are developed by Huawei’s semiconductor subsidiary HiSilicon to hedge against U.S. sanctions and become self-sufficient in core smartphone technologies. What’s noticeable is that BYD, backed by Warren Buffet, had previously announced to adopt Qualcomm’s Snapdragon automotive chips in its electric vehicles, a partnership that was set to begin in 2019. Could the potential collaboration with Huawei be part of BYD’s move to decrease reliance on imported technologies?

BYD said it “does not have information to disclose at the moment,” while Huawei declines to comment on the rumor.

The potential alliance would not be all that surprising given the duo has already been working together closely. In March 2019, the companies, both Shenzhen-based, unveiled a strategic partnership to apply Huawei’s AI and 5G technologies in BYD’s alternative energy vehicles and monorails.

Automotive independence

More big moves from BYD — the automaker is rushing to become self-sufficient in the production of electric vehicles. After raising a 1.9 billion yuan ($ 270 million) Series A in late May, its chipmaking subsidiary BYD Semiconductor completed another 800 million yuan ($ 113 million) Series A+ round this week, apparently due to investors’ immense interest in getting involved in the only Chinese company capable of making the core chip part of electric cars called insulated gate bipolar transistors, or IGBTs.

ByteDance encroaches on Tencent’s turf

ByteDance just paid 1.1 billion yuan ($ 160 million) for a big plot of land to build offices in the heart of Shenzhen’s Nanshan district, according to public information disclosed by the government. Shenzhen is home to multiple Chinese tech heavyweights, including Tencent, Huawei and DJI. It also houses the China offices of foreign retail giants such as Lazada and Shopify, given the city’s rich manufacturing and logistics resources.

That gives ByteDance, the parent of TikTok, a significant presence in Tencent’s backyard. ByteDance is known to have aggressively lured talents from the entrenched tech trio of Baidu, Alibaba and Baidu by offering lucrative packages. Being in Shenzhen will no doubt give the company more access to Tencent’s talent pool.

This may help it in its push into video gaming, an area that has long been dominated by Tencent, the world’s biggest games publisher. Meanwhile, the world’s second-largest games company — NetEase — is right next door in Guangzhou, an hour’s drive away from central Shenzhen.

Shakeup in video streaming

Reuters reported this week that Tencent has approached Baidu to become the biggest shareholder in iQiyi, the video streaming giant controlled by Baidu. Tencent’s video platform competes neck to neck with iQiyi to churn out variety shows and dramas that will convince Chinese audiences to pay for online content.

Both companies are bleeding money on video production. IQiyi, which shed from Baidu to list on Nasdaq, widened its net loss to 2.9 billion yuan ($ 406.0 million) in Q1 this year, up from 1.8 billion yuan the year before. Selling iQiyi to deep-pocketed Tencent may further ease the financial burden on Baidu, which is busy coping with ByteDance’s threat to its core advertising business. Both Tencent and iQiyi declined to comment on the report.

Robotics startup Geek+ raises $ 200 million 

Geek+, a startup that specializes in making logistics robots that are analogous to those of Amazon’s Kiva machines, just closed a substantial Series C round. The company is one to watch as retail companies in China and North America are increasingly looking to automate their warehouses.

China tech abroad

China’s gay dating app Blued goes public on Nasdaq

Despite limited support for LGBTQ communities in China, Blued, a Chinese app used by millions of gay individuals, has been quietly blossoming over the past few years and is eyeing to raise $ 50 million from a U.S. initial public offering.

JD.com goes public in Hong Kong

JD’s long-awaited secondary listing is here. The online retailer’s shares rose 5.7% to HK$ 239 ($ 30.8) on its first day of trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Several U.S.-listed Chinese companies have filed to list in Hong Kong because of a new bill that will impose more scrutiny on Chinese firms trading on the U.S. stock markets.


TechCrunch

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.

Which startups investors are actually first to backing the best companies? If you know this information before fundraising, you can avoid pitching investors who were always going to tell you that you’re “too early” anyway. The problem is that everyone claims credit for success, and by the time you pick through databases, investor sites, blogs, tweets and news clippings, you have no real idea who made what call when.

That’s why our solution is to just ask founders about who really made it happen. Our new product, The TechCrunch List, will feature the investors who wrote the first checks, to help any founder find the help they need when they need it. Here’s more, from Arman Tabatabai and Danny Crichton:

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be collecting data around which individual investors are actually willing to write the proverbial “first check” into a startup’s fundraising round and help catalyze deals for founders — whether it be seed, Series A or otherwise (i.e. out of your Series A investors, the first person who was willing to write the check and get the ball rolling with other investors). Once we’ve collected, cleaned and analyzed the data, we’ll publish lists of the most recommended “first check” investors across different verticals, investment stages and geographies, so founders can see which investors are potentially the best fit for their company….

In all, The TechCrunch List will publish the most recommended “first check” writers across 22 different categories, ranging from D2C & e-commerce brands to space, and everything in between. Through some data analysis around total investments in each space, we believe our 22 categories should cover the entirety or majority of the venture activity today.

To make this project a success and create a useful resource for founders, we need your help. We want to hear from company builders and we want to hear from them directly. We will be collecting endorsements submitted by founders through the form linked here.

(Photo by Steven Damron used under Creative Commons).

Valley dealflow has continued through the pandemic

Despite much discussion about investors pulling back en masse from startup investing, a new survey out from Silicon Valley tech law firm Fenwick & West about activity in the region over April says that valuations went up, markdown rounds did not grow as a percentage of deals, and the overall pace of deals actually increased. The catch, Connie Loizos writes for TechCrunch, is that much of this was due to later-stage rounds, and of course, it is generalized across industries that have been variously propelled or pummeled by the pandemic.

Alex Wilhelm then looks at a couple additional reports for Extra Crunch, from Docsend and NFX. They appear to show ongoing investor activity growth since April, as well as growing founder optimism — but early stage did in fact appear to be more turbulent, as, ahem, one might expect if one has experience in early-stage fundraising. He separately notes that the latest tracking data sources appear to show a decline in startup layoffs. Both are, by the way, written as part of The Exchange, his new daily column about the latest trends in the startup world for EC subscribers (use code EXCHANGE to get 25% off a subscription).

Image Credits: Klaud Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

Beyond Valley dealflow (and its problems)

Juneteenth has been celebrated since 1866 to mark the end of slavery after the American Civil War. But this year, it is being taken up by tech companies as an official holiday to help show their concern for structural discrimination in the wake of the George Floyd killing and ensuing global protests. What does it really mean though? Here’s Megan Rose Dickey for TechCrunch:

Recognition of such a historic day is good. But the way these companies are publicly announcing their plans, seeking press as they do, suggests their need for some affirmative pat on the back. It’s perfectly acceptable to do the right thing and not get credit for it. It shows humility. It shows that a company is more interested in doing right by its workers than it is in saving face….

Instead, as Hustle Crew founder Abadesi Osunsade has said, tech companies need to go beyond one-off actions and form habits around racial justice work. Forming habits around hiring Black people, promoting Black employees, paying Black employees fairly, funding Black founders and making room for Black people in leadership positions is what will lead to concrete change in this industry.

Meanwhile, given the ongoing issues in fundraising, Delali Dzirasa of Fearless writes about other resources Black entrepreneurs can use to get their companies off the ground, including equity crowdfunding, mentor programs, 8(a) programs, SBA resources, and your local commercial banker.

Image Credits: PipeCandy

Online winners and also-rans during the pandemic

Two marketing experts shared fresh data on what categories are winning and losing during the pandemic for Extra Crunch this week, perhaps revealing where some of the founder and investor enthusiasm is coming from? First, here’s Ethan Smith of Graphite, who provides an overview of how money is being spent online during the pandemic using data from Branch through mid-May:

The good news for vendors overall is that people are still shopping online, but they’re buying different things and in different volumes than they used to. Kid/pet-oriented mobile activity and associated purchases have skyrocketed. We’ve also seen spikes in the purchase of activewear, fashion items, shoes and arts and crafts items, as people wait out the lockdown and prepare for what they hope will be a summer of freedom.

To dig into the direct-to-consumer category in more detail, here’s Ashwin Ramasamy of PipeCandy, who uses a mix of data sources to look at subcategory trends versus what the year might have looked like without a pandemic:

Kids, cookware and kitchen tools, apparel, fine jewelry, fashion, women’s health, mattresses, furniture and skincare actually deviated negatively from the forecast. This is not to say that these categories declined. We are actually saying that these categories didn’t keep up with the growth trends they orchestrated in 2019. That said, the devil is in the details. For instance, within furniture, there is a category of D2C brands that sell shelves and office furniture. Consumers did invest in them heavily, presumably to allow participants in the Zoom call to absorb more the titles of the books stacked in those shelves than from the calls themselves. Wine/spirits, grocery, fitness, baby care, pets and nutraceuticals did better than anticipated. Basically, anything that helped numb the reality (alcohol), sweeten the reality (food), distract from the reality (baby care and pets), survive the reality (fitness) or hallucinate an alternative reality (nutraceuticals) did well. I will leave you with another interesting conclusion we arrived at, through further research that is currently underway: The spotlight category in e-commerce is not direct to consumer — it is the mid-market and large pure-play e-commerce companies. It is one segment where the compounded quarterly growth rate of active companies is better than the 2019 average.

Around TechCrunch

Founders can reap long-term benefits after exhibiting in Disrupt’s Startup Alley

Extra Crunch Live: Join Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra for a live discussion of email, SaaS and buzzy businesses

Learn how to give your brand a distinct voice from Slack’s Head of Brand Communications Anna Pickard at TC Early Stage

New sessions announced at TC Early Stage from Dell, Perkins Coie and SVB

HappyFunCorp’s Ben Schippers and Jon Evans will talk tech stacks at TC Early Stage

Across the week

TechCrunch:

Where are all the robots?

Despite pandemic setbacks, the clean energy future is underway

TikTok explains how the recommendation system behind its ‘For You’ feed works

Chris Sacca advises new fund managers to strike right now

Extra Crunch:

What’s next for space tech? 9 VCs look to the future

How Liberty Mutual shifted 44,000 workers from office to home

Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra says recession is the ‘perfect time’ to be aggressive for well-capitalized startups

Investors based in San Francisco? That’s so 2019

How Reliance Jio Platforms became India’s biggest telecom network

4 months into lockdown, Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz sees ‘exciting signs of recovery’

#EquityPod

From Alex:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Your humble Equity team is pretty tired but in good spirits, as there was a lot to talk about this week…

  • Epic Games is looking to raise a huge stack of cash (BloombergVentureBeat) at a new, higher valuation. We were curious about how its lower-cut store could help it gain inroads with developers big and small. That part of the chat, the take-rate of the Fortnite parent company on the work of others was very cogent to the other main topic of the day:
  • Apple vs. DHH. So Hey launched this week, and the new spin on email quickly overshadowed its product launch by getting into a spat with Apple about whether it needs to add the ability to sign up for the paid service on iOS, thus giving Apple a cut of its revenue. DHH and crew do not agree. Apple is under fire for anti-competitive practices at home and abroad — of varying intensity, and from different sources — making this all the more spicy.
  • Upgrade raises $ 40 million for its credit-focused neobank.
  • Degreed raises $ 32 million for its upskilling platform.
  • And, at the end, our take on the current health of the startup market. There have been a sheaf of reports lately about what is going on in startup land. We gave our take.

And that’s that. Have a lovely weekend and catch up on some sleep.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.


TechCrunch

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $ 120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $ 544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, one story completely took over the news cycle: Hey vs. Apple. An App Store developer dispute made headlines not because Apple was necessarily in the wrong, per its existing rules, but because of a growing swell of developer resentment against those rules. We’re giving extra bandwidth to this story this week, before jumping into the other headlines.

Also this week we look at what’s expected to arrive at next week’s WWDC20, the TikTok clone Zynn getting banned from both app stores (which is totally fine, I guess!), Facebook’s failed attempts to get its Gaming app approved by Apple, as well as some notable Android updates and other app industry trends.

Main Story: Hey vs. Apple

One story dominated this week’s app news. Unless you were living under the proverbial rock, there’s no way you missed it. After Basecamp received App Store approval for its new email app called Hey, the founders, David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried, turned to Twitter to explain how Apple had now rejected the app’s further updates. Apple told Basecamp it had to offer in-app purchases (IAP) for its full email service within the app, in addition to offering it on the company website. They were not happy, to say the least.

This issue came to a head at a time when regulators are taking a closer look at Apple’s business. The company is facing antitrust investigations in both the U.S. and the E.U. which, in part, will attempt to determine if Apple is abusing its market power to unfairly dominate its competitors. In Hey’s case, the subscription-based app competes with Apple’s built-in free Mail app, which could put this case directly in the regulators’ crosshairs.

But it also brings up the larger concerns over how Apple’s App Store rules have evolved to become a confusing mess which developers — and apparently even Apple’s own App Store reviewers — don’t fully understand. (Apple reportedly told Basecamp that Hey should have never been approved in the first place without IAP.)

Apple has carved out a number of conditions where apps don’t have to implement IAP, by making exceptions for enterprise apps that may have per-seat licensing plans for users and for a set of apps that more directly compete with Apple’s own. These, Apple calls “reader” apps, as they were originally directed making an exception for Amazon’s Kindle. But now this rule offers exceptions to the IAP rule for apps focused on magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video, VoIP, access to professional databases, cloud storage, and more.

That leaves other digital service providers wondering why their apps have to pay when others don’t.

Apple didn’t help its argument, when earlier in the week it released a report that detailed how its App Store facilitated $ 519B in commerce last year. The company had aimed to prove how much business flows through the App Store without Apple taking a 30% commission, positioning the portion of the market Apple profits from as a tiny sliver. But after the Hey debacle, this report only drives home how Apple has singled out one type of app-based business — digital services — as the one that makes the App Store its money.

Apple’s decision to squander its goodwill with the developer community the week before WWDC is an odd one. Heinemeier Hansson, a content marketing expert, easily bested the $ 1.5 trillion dollar company by using Apple’s hesitance to speak publicly against it. He set the discussion on fire, posted App Store review email screenshots to serve as Apple’s voice, and let the community vent.

Amid the Twitter outrage, large publishers’ antitrust commentary added further fuel to the fire, including those from Spotify, Match, and Epic Games.

For more reading on this topic, here are some of the key articles:

  • TechCrunch’s exclusive interview with iOS App Store head, Phil Schiller. The exec said Apple’s position on the Hey app is unchanged and no changes to App Store rules are imminent. “You download the app and it doesn’t work, that’s not what we want on the store,” he argued. (Except of course, at those times when such an experience is totally fine with Apple, as in the case of “reader” apps.) Schiller also said Basecamp could have avoided the problems if Hey had offered a free version with paid upgrades, or if it offered IAP at a higher price than on its own website.
  • Daring Fireball’s comments on the “flimsiness” of Business vs. Consumer as a justification for Apple’s rejection of Hey. John Gruber points out that the line between what’s a business app and a consumer app is too blurred. Apple allows some business apps to forgo IAP if they sell enterprise plans (e.g. per seat plans) that often involve upgraded feature sets that aren’t even iOS-specific. But in this day and age, who’s to say that an email service doesn’t deserve the same ability to opt out of IAP in order to serve its own business user base? After all, what if it upgrades its paid service with web-only features — why should Apple get a cut of that business, too?
  • App Store policy criticism from The Verge. Nilay Patel sat down with Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Basecamp CTO David Heinemeier Hansson to discuss the plight of Hey for its The Vergecast podcast. Cicilline said Apple’s fees were “exorbitant” and amounted to “highway robbery, basically.” He said Apple bullied developers by charging 30% of their business for access to its market — a decision which crushes smaller developers. “If there were real competition in this marketplace, this wouldn’t happen,” he added. The Verge’s Dieter Bohn also argued that Apple’s interpretation and enforcement of its App Store policies is terrible.
  • Basecamp CEO’s take on Apple’s App Store payment policies: Basecamp, the makers of the Hey app, put out a company statement about the App Store rules. The statement doesn’t add anything new to the conversation that wasn’t already in the tweetstorm, except the Basecamp response to Schiller’s suggestions which was something along the lines of 😝. The bottom line is that Hey wants to make the choice for its own business whether it needs the benefit of being able to acquire its users through the App Store or not. One way requires IAP and the other does not.
  • Vox’s Recode examines the antitrust case against Apple. The article doesn’t reference Hey, but lays out some of the other antitrust arguments being leveraged against Apple, including its “sherlocking” behavior,

Headlines

Apple has denied Facebook’s Gaming app at least 5 times since February

The Hey debacle is only one of many examples of how Apple exerts its market power over rivals. It has also repeatedly denied Facebook’s Gaming app entry to its App Store, citing the rule (Apple Store Review Guidelines, section 4.7) about not allowing apps whose main purpose is to sell other app, The NYT revealed this week.

Facebook’s Gaming app, which launched on Android in April, isn’t just another app store, however. The app offers users a hub to watch streamers play live, social networking tools, and the ability to play casual games like Zynga’s Words with Friends or Chobolabs Thug Life, for example. The latter is the point of contention, as Apple wants all games sold directly on the App Store, where it’s able to take a cut of their revenues.

One of the iterations Facebook tried was a version that looked almost exactly like how Facebook games are presented within the main Facebook iOS app — a single, alphabetized, unsortable list. The fact that this format was rejected when Apple already allows it elsewhere is an indication that even Apple doesn’t play by its own rules.

Zynn gets kicked out of App Store

Image Credits: Zynn

Zynn, the TikTok clone that shot to the top of the app store charts in late May, was pulled from Apple’s App Store on Monday. Before its removal, Sensor Tower estimates Zynn was downloaded 5 million times on iOS and 700,000 times on Google Play.


TechCrunch

Apple today confirmed earlier rumors that it plans to shut down re-opened stores in four states.  Impacted locations include six stores in Arizona, two in Florida, another two in North Carolina and one in South Carolina.

“Due to current COVID-19 conditions in some of the communities we serve, we are temporarily closing stores in these areas. We take this step with an abundance of caution as we closely monitor the situation and we look forward to having our teams and customers back as soon as possible,” the company said in a statement to TechCrunch.

It’s been just over a month since the company began to reopen a handful of locations, as states began wider reopening efforts. The company implemented several safeguards, including mask requirements, temperature checks and enforced social distancing, as well as extended cleaning efforts.

“These are not decisions we rush into,” Retail SVP Deirdre O’Brien wrote at the time, “and a store opening in no way means that we won’t take the preventative step of closing it again should local conditions warrant.”

One imagines the company will approach re-re-opening the same way. However, several states have posted increases in COVID-19 cases since government began the process of reopening. Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Nevada, Oregon and Texas have all posted record high infection rates in the past week. Given the uncertain nature of the virus’s spread, it seems likely this won’t be the last time Apple and other retailers have to reverse course. 

 

The following locations will be closed, beginning tomorrow,

Florida
  • Waterside Shops
  • Coconut Point
North Carolina
  •  Southpark
  • Northlake Mall
South Carolina
  • Haywood Mall
Arizona
  • Chandler Fashion Center
  • Scottsdale Fashion Square
  • Arrowhead
  • SanTan Village
  • Scottsdale Quarter
  • La Encantada

More information on specific stores can be found on Apple’s site.


TechCrunch

Ford has changed the debut of its 2021 Bronco once again because its planned July 9 reveal falls on the birthday of O.J. Simpson, one of the iconic SUV’s most infamous passengers

The automaker tweeted Friday that it has moved the unveiling to July 13.

Here’s a short history lesson for those who might not understand why Simpson’s birthday and a Bronco are linked. In 1994, Simpson was charged in the double murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. He was involved in a slow speed chase as a passenger in a 1993 white Bronco driven by his friend after failing to turn himself in. The incident was broadcast on local and cable networks and the white Bronco became a pop culture moment. Simpson was acquitted.

Ford said that picking the debut date was coincidental.

The relaunch of the Bronco has been anticipated for years now. In 2017, Ford announced it was bringing back the Bronco after years of customer requests and speculation. The mid-size SUV that ended its 30-year production run in 1996 was supposed to debut in March. Then COVID-19 happened and well everything got cancelled, including numerous vehicle reveals.


TechCrunch

Meet Vivid, a new challenger bank launching in Germany that promises low fees and an integrated cashback program. The two co-founders Alexander Emeshev and Artem Yamanov previously worked as executives for Russian bank Tinkoff Bank.

Vivid doesn’t try to reinvent the wheels and is building its product on top of well-established players. It relies on solarisBank for the banking infrastructure, a German company with a banking license that provides banking services as APIs to other fintech companies. As for debit cards, Vivid is working with Visa.

If you live in Germany and want to sign up to Vivid, you can expect a lot of features that you can find in other challenger banks, such as N26, but with a few additional features. Vivid users get a current account and a debit card. They can then manage their money from the mobile app.

The physical Vivid card doesn’t feature any identifiable details — there’s no card number, expiry date and CVV. Just like Apple’s credit card in the U.S., you have to check the mobile app to see those details. Every time you make a purchase, you receive a notification. You can lock and unlock your card from the app. The card works in Google Pay but not yet in Apple Pay.

In order to make money management easier, Vivid lets you create pockets. Those are sub-accounts presented in a grid view, like on Lydia or N26 Spaces. You can move money between pockets by swiping your finger from one pocket to another. Each pocket has its own IBAN.

You can associate your card with any pocket. Soon, you’ll also be able to share a pocket with another Vivid user. Like on Revolut, you can exchange money to another currency. The company adds a small markup fee but doesn’t share more details.

As for the cashback feature, the startup focuses on a handful of partnerships. You can earn 5% on purchases at REWE, Lieferando, BoFrost, Eismann, HelloFresh and Too Good To Go, and 10% on online subscriptions, such as Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and Nintendo Switch Online. While it’s generous, you’re limited to €20 maximum in cashback per month.

Interestingly, Vivid also wants to bring back Foursquare-style mayorship. If you often go to the same bar or café and you spend more than any other Vivid user over a two-week window, you become the mayor and receive 10% cashback.

Vivid has two plans — a free plan and a Vivid Prime subscription for €9.90 per month. Prime users receive a metal card, more cashback on every day purchases and higher withdrawal limits.

The company plans to launch stock and ETF trading in the coming months. Vivid also plans to expand into other European countries this year.

Vivid is entering a crowded market but already offers a solid product if everything works as expected. It’s going to be interesting to see how the product evolves and if they can attract a large user base.


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