Walmart Could Be Diving Into The World Of Gaming

Retail giant Walmart is in talks of developing its own video game streaming service, according to reporting from US Gamer.

The service is set to compete with Google’s latest streaming release, Stadia.

Walmart has had an interesting history in attempting to build out its business with technology. In November, the company started using virtual reality headsets to train its employees.

Walmart has also toyed with the idea of a video-streaming service but has since tabled its discussions, according to reports from CNBC. Walmart began focusing on Vudu, a video streaming property it acquired in 2010 after distancing itself from its other streaming plans.

Walmart Labs — the Silicon Valley-based developer branch of the company — works to improve the company’s digital presence. Walmart has also constructed data centers in Missouri.

Walmart’s former chief technology officer Jeremy King led the labs for eight years before moving to Pinterest to serve as head of engineering ahead of its IPO.

As big tech firms and other businesses insert themselves into gaming — the trends may open more doors for minority game developers. According to a report by the International Game Developers Association, 84 percent of respondents felt that diversity in the game industry was very important.

 

Paris Wants To Tax Bike And Scooter-Share Companies

E-scooters and bike-sharing docks are now amongst the many things tourists can see on the streets of Paris. According to city officials, there are about 15,000 free-floating modes of transportation in Paris. Now, the city is looking to tax operators like Lime and Bird.

“If these new modes of mobility are of interest – less pollution, non-noisy – they are not without posing real difficulties,” the Paris City Council said on its website.

There are 40,000 more vehicles set to arrive in the city and Paris officials are gearing up to push legislation that will solidify the tax on scooter and bike-sharing companies.

“The rise of cycling in the capital is a key issue for sustainable mobility, but it can not be done at the expense of sharing the harmonious public space,”  Paris City Council said in another post.

Paris is also set to create new legislation around parking e-scooters. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is currently pressuring the Prime Minister to create new regulations on the scooters, while the city is currently deploying parking lots for the scooters as a way to protect pedestrians on sidewalks.

Free-floating scooters and bikes have been an issue for Paris officials for quite some time. In August, the City Council highlighted issues and benefits with free-floating scooters and docked biking stations. The Council said that docked stations would merit tariffs and territorial network that meets public service requirements.

The Council warned that dockless bikes could cause crowding in public spaces.

“From this point of view, it is indeed imperative to ensure the comfort of pedestrians and in particular to fight against the clutter sidewalks,” the Paris City Council said in its August post. “Cycling, in general, should not be an obstacle, let alone a danger. ”

As of yet, there are no city taxes on e-scooters and bike-shares in the United States; however, Trump Administration tariffs on the Chinese government had adverse impacts on the booming e-scooter industry back in August.

It seems like Bike and Lime have recovered considering companies like Lyft and Uber have looked to acquire them in recent months. There have been no updates on the talks since Lyft and Uber have moved closer to their IPOs.

Report: Video Streaming Services Hit An All Time High In 2018, Beating Cable For The First Time

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) just announced its annual theme report detailing how streaming services are shifting trends in the film industry.

Video streaming surpassed cable subscriptions for the first time in 2018. Subscriptions to streaming services reached 613 million, a 27 percent increase from the previous year.

Services like Netflix and Amazon made their mark at this year’s Oscars with nominations and wins. Netflix Original “Roma” walked away with three wins including best director, best cinematography and best foreign language film. The company also won an Oscar for its documentary “Period. End of Sentence.” With four Oscars in 2019, Netflix tied with Fox, Disney and Universal for the most studio wins.

Netflix is also getting more strategic with its content. In February, the service released “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” an interactive film that allowed viewers to make choices for the main character. According to a GDPR request, the company recorded the decisions of each viewer, making it easier for Netflix to tailor future content to trends and users.

The company’s success can also be ascribed to its Black and brown viewers. A November report by Cowen Insights said that Netflix is outperforming other streaming services because of its minority-focused initiatives like Strong Black Lead on Twitter and its diverse content.

Earlier in 2019, Netflix joined MPAA highlighting its efforts to be taken more seriously in the film industry. Although the company is now a member of MPAA, its stats were not included in the study which used numbers from 2018.

Disney and Fox completed a $71.3 billion merger this week, putting Hollywood on edge for what is to come. Disney has already begun to remove its shows and movies from Netflix, gearing up for its own streaming service.

Cable subscriptions decreased in 2018 by 2 percent to 556 million; however, cable remained the leading revenue generator for video platforms, according to the MPAA. Cable television brought in $118 billion in revenue for 2018.

Other companies like Apple and Google are attempting to put their hats in the ring to compete in streaming; however, it seems like Netflix has a stronghold for the top position for years to come.

 

Amplify Acquired by Nigerian Fintech Startup OneFi

OneFi, the Nigeria – based company helping customers secure loans from their mobile devices, just acquired another fin-tech company, Amplify.

Amplify provides online payment solutions, giving customers a “bank secure” way to complete, accept and manage digital transactions. Users fill in their debit or credit card information into Amplify. Then — once the transaction is complete — customers and businesses receive notification of the payment. After, the payment is sent to the business’ corporate bank accounts.

Amplify is set to be a major player as OneFi looks to rev up its financial product offerings. The company currently has PayLater, an app that lets users take out loans, budget and invest all in one place.

“We’re not a bank but we’re offering more banking services…Customers are now coming to us not just for loans but for cheaper funds transfer, more convenient bill payment, and to know their credit scores,” OneFi CEO Chijioke Dozie told TechCrunch.

OneFi has also partnered with Visa to offer virtual wallets, and it is building out a payment tool that will let social media users send and receive payments through apps like WhatsApp, according to TechCrunch.

As more companies tackle financial inclusion in Africa — Nigeria is becoming a hotspot for fintech startups, and OneFi’s recent move highlights founders’ strategic moves in the space. In February, TeamApt, a platform helping facilitate transactions with Nigeria’s largest banks, secured $5 million in funding for expansion.

Epic Games Is Giving $100M In Grants To Developers For Its Unreal Engine

Epic Games — the makers of Fortnite — just announced its newest grant program to help fund developers, entrepreneurs, and educators who use its Unreal Engine.

The grant could be a great chance for black game developers and techies to get their names out there. According to a Nielsen study, more than 70 percent of African Americans are likely to start gaming. However, this group is has a dismal population in the developer community.

Another study by the International Game Developers Association said that the game development industry isn’t necessarily a welcoming a place and more than half said they witnessed or experience inequality on the job.

Epic Games is extending the grants to a wide variety of professionals in an effort to enhance various industries.

“There are many ways to build something incredible in or around the UE4 and 3D graphics universe,” Epic Games said. “For example, 3D digital creation tools, and learning materials about UE4 such as books, lesson plans, and videos are examples of eligible projects.”

The Epic MegaGrants total $100 million with award amounts ranging from $5,000 to $500,000 in funding. Awardees can also continue with their own IPs and publish whenever they want.

The projects don’t have to be Unreal Engine specific  — the grants are open to those working on developments within other engines or toolsets.

Epic MegaGrants is a larger version of its old initiative Unreal Dev Grants, which only totaled $5 million.

“Simply put, we succeed when you succeed. We’re incredibly proud of the UE4 community and want to do what we can to grow that community,” Epic Games said on its website. “Epic wants to help you focus more on creation and worry less about keeping the lights on.”

Award recipients will receive the funds to assist in game development, enterprise, media and entertainment, students and educational uses, and software tool development.

Apply here. 

Women In Tech Don’t Think Their Companies Are Prioritizing Gender Diversity, Research Reveals

The tech industry knows it has some work to do when it comes to gender and racial diversity. It seems like every week there’s a new diversity and inclusion officer appointed to help reshape a company’s demographics and workplace cultures.

According to a recent report by Booking.com, 52 percent of women currently working in tech say that their companies are not prioritizing gender diversity. However, the same percentage of women say the tech industry is making gender diversity a big deal overall.

Re-entry into the tech sector was also a major issue according to results. More than 60 percent of women respondents said that taking a break from the industry can be important to an individual’s growth. Another 69 percent said that the tech industry needs to do more to help women re-enter the field and make the process easier.

Big tech firms like Amazon, Apple, and Google have recently created initiatives to promote and encourage women in the tech space. Amazon U.K. announced Amazon Women in Innovation Bursary, a grant funding 24 startups founded by women overseas. The program is part of the company’s Amazon Amplify initiative which is aimed at hiring and retaining more women.

Although Amazon has created programs to help women in and outside of the company, some of its female workers want more. There’s currently a group of 1,800 moms within the company that is pushing for daycare benefits.

The Bookings report said that 90 percent of women think that increasing gender diversity within tech companies could have a huge impact on the flexibility with HR benefits.

In January, Apple launched its first app program to serve women-developers and entrepreneurs. Google recently gained attention when it found that it paid some men less than women for the same job, a move that could create a bigger trend of closing the wage gap in tech firms.

 

 

 

Peloton Is In Legal Trouble For Using Music Without Permission

Peleton, the in-home exercising equipment that hosts virtual classes for users, is now in big legal trouble. National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) members are suing the company for using artists’ music without permission.

If Peloton loses the case, the company could be out of $150 million.

“It is frankly unimaginable that a company of this size and sophistication would think it could exploit music in this way without the proper licenses for this long, and we look forward to getting music creators what they deserve,” NMPA President & CEO David Israelite said in a press release.

Rihanna, Wiz Khalifa, Bruno Mars, Drake and dozens of more artists are named in the lawsuit, alleging copyright infringement.

“While the fitness technology company has licensed with some of the music publishing industry, it has failed to do so with a significant number of publishers, leaving a great deal of income lost to songwriters,” Israelite said.

Peloton gained popularity as it used video workouts that utilize popular music on its treadmills and cycling equipment. Peloton also offers a mobile app that guides subscribers’ workouts on-the-go. The company currently has a cycle and tread studios in New York, one of the top exercising locations in the nation.

A spokesperson for Peloton tells Afrotech that the company is currently evaluating the lawsuit.

“Peloton has great respect for songwriters and artists. In fact, we have partnered with each of the major music publishers, record labels and performing rights organizations, and many leading independents,” the spokesperson said to AfroTech. “We have also invested heavily to build a best-in-breed reporting and licensing system to support our partners and provide our members with a world-class fitness experience.”

 

Report: SnapChat Is Set To Unveil An In-App Gaming Platform

SnapChat may be ready to reveal in-app games in April, according to reporting from Cheddar.

The company has been rolling out huge updates including original shows produced by big TV names, augmented reality filters and building out its Discover page. Third-party games have used the platform, but SnapChat’s expected move could prove lucrative for advertisers.

SnapChat’s gaming platform is set to have an augmented reality element to it, which emphasizes its November move to connect AR creators with brands.

SnapChat has been making incremental steps into the gaming industry. Since the start of 2018, Snap Inc. bought PlayCanvas and invested in Fruit Ninja’s developer Prettygreat.

Bigger tech companies like Google are also taking a stab in the gaming industry. Google’s console Yeti is currently in beta and is set to use cloud features to provide games to users.

SnapChat’s gaming features may be another way to boost ad revenue streams. The company has already boosted its revenue using money from ads posted between Stories and on its Discover page. In its latest earnings report, SnapChat Inc. said revenues jumped 36 percent in the last year.

TicketRX Wants To Help Streamline The Legal Process For Ticketed Drivers

No one wants to get pulled over while they’re on the clock, but for commercial drivers, getting a ticket could mean big trouble for their licenses.

TicketRX, a platform that works to keep drivers out of court, just got acquired by Multi Service Technology Solutions (MSTS). TicketRX will now function under the MSTS subsidiary Open Road Drivers Plan — formerly known as ORDP — to make tickets a lot less stressful for drivers and their spouses.

TicketRX founder Bryan Shannon tells Afrotech that his company’s technology will give ORDP a “facelift” so that ORDP powered by TicketRX can function.

“This will ultimately revolutionize the way traffic tickets and compliance-related issues in the CDL industry are handled on a massive scale,” Shannon told AfroTech.

Open Road Drivers Plan used to be a legal service provider before taking over TicketRX, and ticketed drivers could call the company’s customer service line to find local lawyers to handle their cases.

TicketRX provided a similar service; however, users could take a picture of their ticket to get paired with a local attorney. Now the two companies have combined their methodologies. ORDP powered by TicketRX now uses artificial intelligence and other automation tools to match ticketed drivers with lawyers who will get tickets dismissed or reduced to infractions.

TicketRX’s first product was a chatbot that processes drivers’ information and pairs them with attorneys in the region. Lawyers subscribed to the platform would receive notifications about clients who need their services.

ORDP will cover all of the legal fees when drivers get citations or other tickets while on the road. Commercial and owner-operators can utilize the platform to find local attorneys.

ORDP costs $38.95 a month. The membership also covers spouses and provides other family benefits for travel expenses. ORDP offers other perks including bonding services for members and their spouses and drivers’ rewards for safe habits on the road.

Shannon, the founder and CEO of TicketRX now serves as the managing director for ORDP powered by TicketRX.

This South African Startup Just Partnered With Uber Mexico And Reached $1.2 Million in Funding

Flex Club wants to be the middleman between Uber drivers and investors. The South Africa-based company just reached $1.2 million in funding and plans to expand its teams and products, according to TechCrunch.

Flex Club also has a new partnership with Uber Mexico that lets investors buy cars rented out to Uber drivers. Drivers can “link their gig accounts” to Flex Club, which uses drivers’ Uber stats to determine payment option.

“Our goal is to make this completely passive… where investors can invest in different kinds of assets on our platform, login to a dash, and see this is how my five cars in South Africa are doing, my vans in Mexico, my motorbikes in Indonesia — with a diversified portfolio around the world,” Flex Club Co-founder and CEO Tinashe Ruzane said to TechCrunch.

Flex Club drivers can pay as little as $160 a week for their cars, while investors use the platform to track how their cars across the world are doing. There’s also no obligation for drivers to buy the vehicles that they rent; however, they do have the option to purchase the cars after using Flex Club for 12 months.

With Flex Club, there are no financing agreements or “rigid repayment plans,” according to Ruzane.

“Drivers Club members essentially rent the vehicles until they can afford to buy them,” Ruzane said.

Before starting his own company, Ruzane worked as head of vehicle solutions for Uber Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). In this position Ruzane, worked closely with car financers and rental companies to increase access to Uber driver partners.

After contracts are signed by investors, Flex Club can manage insurance, maintenance, payment and bad debts costs of the investor’s vehicles. Flex Club partners with local dealerships to provide cars to drivers. The company has previously teamed up with Uber Fleet partners.

Flex Club does not vet investors before letting them on the platform. However, Flex Club does provide vehicle inspections before renting them to drivers.

“We currently don’t run any background checks on investors club members, not dissimilar to how anyone can host their property on Airbnb without a criminal background check,” Ruzane said to AfroTech.

The startup currently operates in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, with plans to launch in Guadalajara and Mexican cities, as part of its partnership with Uber Mexico. It hopes to expand its offering with its new funding and is set to start matching investors with cars in April.