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8 investors discuss social gaming’s biggest opportunities

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The gaming industry has had plenty of watershed moments in 2020 as consumer entertainment habits have shifted in response to the pandemic. One trend has been the crystallization of MMOs as social entertainment hubs that serve more needs for users than ever before.

Following my survey of gaming-focused investors on trends in the AR/VR world several months ago, I pinged a handful of investors to tap their thoughts on the shifting trends and opportunities in social gaming.

One thing that most investors expressed excitement around was the widening entertainment ambitions of social platforms, as concerts and movie screenings find homes on gaming platforms like Fortnite.

While evolving free-to-play mechanics continue to elevate the experience of single-player titles into something more living and breathing, platforms like Roblox have found areas for growth that seem more unique, developing into destinations for users to communicate and share.

“It’s where culture is created,” Madrona’s Daniel Li told TechCrunch.

Not all of the respondents shared the belief that a gaming platform like Fortnite would grow to become the next Facebook. General Catalyst’s Niko Bonatsos pointed to adjacent platforms like Discord or Twitch as the constants that would remain as consumers cycled through different platform ecosystems. Other pointed to the the still-disjointed experience switching between mobile and desktop experiences as a yet-to-be-solved stumbling block.

Building the metaverse and building a popular casual mobile game are two different things. Most investors I talked with emphasized how much the pace of scaling has accelerated across categories though with breakout hits rising faster than ever while disasters seem to grow evident just as quickly.

“I think that you look at Among Us, and Cyberpunk on the other side, anything can happen much faster and more extreme than it used to be just because of distribution,” Rogue VC’s Alice Lloyd George told TechCrunch.

Read below for the full answers; some responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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Hope Cochran and Daniel Li, Madrona Venture Group

The idea that the next big social network will be an MMO seems to be a trendy take in the VC world, what are the roadblocks to this actually happening?

Daniel Li: Hope and I were trading some notes and part of our thesis is that gaming is the future of social and for Gen Z, gaming is replacing not just old games, but it’s replacing TV and Netflix. So instead of going to watch music videos on YouTube, you’re going to a concert in Roblox and that’s a social experience with your friend … instead of going to the mall, now you’re in Roblox. It’s where kids are hanging out and it’s where culture is created.

Hope Cochran: And in COVID, it’s the only place where they can hang out and I think the gaming industry has done a really fabulous job creating another social engagement that we need right now. I don’t want to focus too much on kids, but parents are becoming more accepting of their kids in the games because there is this social engagement and, for instance, I can see that my child is upstairs connecting with his four best friends. They log in together and they play. They normally might be out on a soccer field but they can’t right now so I think parents are becoming a little more comfortable saying, “Oh, he’s playing with his friends.”

Gaming has seemingly become a more “mainstream” area for investment, as someone who has been in the space a bit, what’s different about investing in the gaming sector?

HC: It’s very hard to find that balance between creative or understanding what might become a hit and a real business mind. So my experience has been that when you look into a gaming company as an investor, it’s actually more driven by math, stats and analytics, and then you have a core team who has the creative juices, so I try to look for that kind of dynamic.

So, who is developing what the users will love and who is analyzing it and how are they responding to what the users are loving. I do think there’s a point where a team develops a game and it’s mostly a creative process but then you have to kind of toggle to the analytics. It’s where the mathematicians meet the magicians and there needs to be a combination of that within every game.

What’s different about how popular games and MMOs are scaling these days? Have you seen any interesting growth hacks or strategies that seem promising?

DL: I think there are more and more of these cultural memes that just seem to come out of nowhere, like Among Us kind of just sat there for two years and streamers started picking it up and now it’s super popular. I’d say for nearly all of those, they’re going to be a social category of games, you don’t see a game like Cyberpunk come out of nowhere without any marketing dollars behind it.

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So I do think one of those new channels is getting influencers to talk about your games, and typically I think for those it’s not actually the big influencers picking it up, it’s a whole bunch of small influencers all starting to play a game and have it start to build up steam that way. It’s more likely the Call of Duty’s that can hire the big streamers and pay them millions of bucks to play a new game, but I don’t think there’s a new to go-to-market for smaller studios around that.

How can MMOs, which feel like fundamentally active experiences, provide a better passive experience for users that may be more interested in the community than playing a first-person shooter or battle royale? How do games become more approachable to a wider audience?

DL: A lot of people are saying these single-player games aren’t really fun games anymore, they’re just like cinematic experiences. Like playing Cyberpunk for 60 hours versus binge-watching three TV series, it’s definitely a different experience. The thing that’s actually more interesting here is the virtual events that are happening inside these games. Thinking about what the next Twitch looks like, it’s probably some kind of experience where you’re inside the game doing something more passive.

Niko Bonatsos, General Catalyst

TechCrunch

NEWS

Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

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But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

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One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

[embedded content]

Searchenginejournal.com

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