UK police arrest 7 people in connection with Lapsus$ hacks

Police in the United Kingdom have arrested seven people over suspected connections to the Lapsus$ hacking group, which has in recent weeks targeted tech giants including Samsung, Nvidia, Microsoft and Okta.

In a statement given to TechCrunch, Detective Inspector Michael O’Sullivan from the City of London Police said: “The City of London Police has been conducting an investigation with its partners into members of a hacking group. Seven people between the ages of 16 and 21 have been arrested in connection with this investigation and have all been released under investigation. Our enquiries remain ongoing.”

News of the arrests comes just hours after a Bloomberg report revealed a teenager based in Oxford, U.K. is suspected of being the mastermind of the now-prolific Lapsus$ hacking group. Four researchers investigating the gang’s recent hacks said they believed the 16-year-old, who uses the online moniker “White” or Breachbase,” was a leading figure in Lapsus$, and Bloomberg was able to track down the suspected hacker after his personal information was leaked online by rival hackers.

According to security reporter Brian Krebs, the teenager purchased Doxbin last year, a site where people can share or find personal information on others, before giving up control of the website in January and leaking the entire Doxbin data set to Telegram. The Doxbin community retaliated by releasing personal information on him, including his home address, social media photos, and details about his parents.

TechCrunch has seen a copy of the the suspected hacker’s leaked personal information, which we are not sharing; but it matches Bloomberg’s reporting.

City of London Police, which primarily focuses on financial crimes, did not say if the 16-year-old was among those arrested.

At least one member of Lapsus$ was also apparently involved with a recent data breach at Electronic Arts, according to Krebs, and another is suspected to be a teenager residing in Brazil. The latter is said to be so capable of hacking that researchers first believed that the activity they were witnessing was automated.

Researchers’ ability to track the suspected Lapsus$ members may be because the group, which now has more than 45,000 subscribers to its Telegram channel where it frequently recruits insiders and leaks victims’ data, does little to cover its tracks. In a blog post this week, Microsoft said the group uses brazen tactics to gain initial access to a target organization, which has included publicly recruiting company insiders. As reported by Bloomberg this week, the group has even gone as far as to join the Zoom calls of companies they’ve breached to they have taunted employees trying to clean up their hack.

The Lapsus$ hacking group first came to light in December 2021, when it mainly focused on targeting organizations in the U.K. and South Africa. Earlier this week, its latest victim was confirmed as Otka, which on Wednesday admitted that around 366 corporate customers were affected by the breach.

Game Product Managers Get Ready For Mobile Phones

The next big market for games will be on mobile phones
The next big market for games will be on mobile phones
Image Credit: Vain Shame

At the end of a long day, many people like to go home and spend the evening losing themselves in playing video games on their home entertainment systems. Games for these systems have grown into a big business. In the past, when these people were away from home, they couldn’t play their games. However, that is now starting to change. Videogame product managers are starting extend their product development definition and bring more of their complex, graphics-intense hits for consoles and high-end computers to mobile devices. How can game product managers be successful doing this?

The New Growth Area For Games Is Mobile

One of the largest makers of digital games, Activision Blizzard, launched a new mobile version of its “Call of Duty” series last October and is working on mobile iterations of its popular “Diablo” and “Crash Bandicoot” franchises for mobile platforms. Product managers at Electronic Arts are doing the same for its “Apex Legends,” the company’s breakout PC-and-console hit released last year. Riot Games product managers are getting ready to launch a mobile version of its more than 10 years old computer game “League of Legends.”

This trend comes at a time when demand for interactive entertainment is especially robust due to everyone staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. It also shows how game product managers are looking to grow their businesses by reaching people who may have never played their biggest titles or have only experienced them on dedicated gaming hardware like the PlayStation or the Xbox. Mobile has proven to be a great business opportunity for the game product managers. Right now mobile is their largest platform in terms of monthly active users.

The games making their way onto mobile devices are taking advantage of advances in graphics and development software as well as memory storage. In some cases they are able to replicate their console and PC counterparts, only with touch-screen controls. Others feature different styles of play and shorter play sessions designed so that people can play during idle moments. Another distinction is that most mobile games are free to download and play, with publishers relying on both advertising and sales of digital perks such as weapons and costumes to eventually generate revenue. This is in contrast to console and PC games where games can cost at least $60 up front.

Next Steps For Mobile Games

In adapting more of their hits for mobile devices, game publishers are targeting a growing portion of gaming industry sales. Since 2017, people have spent nearly as much on smartphone and tablet games annually as they have on their console and PC games combined. It is forecasted that consumer spending on mobile games will reach $77.2 billion this year, compared with $45.2 billion for console games and $36.9 billion for PC games. That kind of spending would represent increases from last year of roughly 13%, 6.8% and 4.8%, respectively. Growth like that would look good on anyone’s product manager resume.

Product managers believe that the mobile market’s growth potential is greater than that of other videogame platforms because game makers may be able to attract many younger consumers who can’t afford consoles. It is also possible that a positive first-time experience with a franchise on a mobile device could drive some consumers to play it on a console or PC. Bringing blockbusters initially designed for large screens to mobile devices can be challenging for product managers to do. In addition to screen-dimension constraints, smartphones and tablets don’t typically come with peripheral equipment like controllers and keyboards. However, advances in software for developing mobile games have made the transition easier.

Ultimately, just about all console and PC games could make their way onto mobile devices thanks to the arrival of cloud gaming. The technology enables games to be streamed to players over any internet-connected device, including smartphones and tablets. Fans of Riot Games’ “League of Legends” have expressed a desire to be able to play the battle-arena game on a mobile device while away from a computer. The coming mobile version of the game will have a smaller map and shorter matches than the original but will maintain the overall look and feel of the “League of Legends” universe.

What All Of This Means For You

If there is one job that seems like a good one to have right now, it would be if you were a game product manager. Video games have been popular for years ever since the Xbox and the Playstation started to arrive in people’s homes. However, a major new market is starting to open up for these product manages: mobile gaming. How can they use their product manager job description to capitalize on it?

Activision, Electronic Arts, and Riot Games are all in the process of moving games that they have released for home systems onto mobile platforms. There are new mobile game markets as more people are staying home. People who have never played games may be new customers going forward. When popular games get moved to mobile devices, how the player interacts with them has to be modified. Product managers are looking at a growing mobile game market. They also believe that they can reach customers who can’t afford more expensive gaming consoles. New technologies, such as the cloud, have made mobile gaming possible.

Product managers always get excited when new markets open up for them. The gaming product managers are discovering that there is an untapped mobile market for them to explore. They believe that through this market they may be able to reach more customers than they ever have been able to before. The challenge for these product managers is going to be to find ways to make the mobile versions of their games as addictive as the console versions have proved to be. If the can accomplish this, then they have a chance to capture a large new market.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What parts of a game do you think should not be changed when it is moved to a mobile platform?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you were a product manager at Walmart’s Sam’s Club, there is one thing that would keep you up at night: Costco. You’d know that your product development definition was broken because the customers that you wanted to come into your Sam’s Club stores all too often were heading over to shop at Costco. The people that you needed to be shopping in your store were well-to-do shoppers who would be willing to spend a lot at your store. However, the people that you were getting were the Walmart customers who traditionally were seeking bargains. This is not going to look good on anyone’s product manager resume. The well-to-do shoppers were all heading over to Costco. What’s a product manager to do?

The post Game Product Managers Get Ready For Mobile Phones appeared first on The Accidental Product Manager.

Netflix acquires Next Games in Finland, publisher of Stranger Things and Walking Dead games, for $72M

As Finland mulls joining Nato in the wake of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, another bit of M&A is going down in the country. Today Netflix announced that it would be acquiring Next Games, a developer of mobile games in the country for a total value of €65 million ($72 million). Next Games is listed on the public markets in Helsinki, and the deal is being done as an all-cash share purchase at €2.10 in case per share. The board of the gaming company has already approved the deal and is recommending it to shareholders although it has yet to be completed but is expected to close in Q2 2022.

The deal is part of Neflix’s bigger strategy to build out its gaming content as a complement to its video catalogue and Next Games is a perfect fit. THE free-to-play mobile games publisher already has developed titles related to some of Netflix’s biggest draws, such as Stranger Things and The Walking Dead — meaning the two companies already had a strong relationship. This deal will cement that, and improve Netflix’s margins beyond simply licensing the brands, by bringing Next Games’ IP, talent, and existing business selling in-app purchases, in house.

“Next Games has a seasoned management team, strong track record with mobile games based on entertainment franchises, and solid operational capabilities,” said Michael Verdu, VP of games at Netflix, in a statement. “We are excited for Next Games to join Netflix as a core studio in a strategic region and key talent market, expanding our internal game studio capabilities. While we’re just getting started in games, I am confident that together with Next Games we will be able to build a portfolio of world class games that will delight our members around the world.”

Next Games had 120 employees at the end of 2021 and its last annual results showed €27.2 million in revenues 2020. Some 95% of its sales came from in-game (in-app) purchases that year. Now it will have more investment to double down on existing titles and build out more on Netflix’s catalogue.

Teemu Huuhtanen, who founded Next Games in 2013 and is its CEO, is an alum of Finland’s extensive gaming ecosystem, which has played a big role in breaking new ground in gaming over the years. Right before Next Games, he was an exec at Rovio, the Angry Birds publisher (this was at a time when it was still a formidable presence on app stores). Before that he was at Sulake for about a decade. spent almost a decade at Sulake, a trailblazer in the online virtual worlds category with the creation of Habbo Hotel (now called Habbo, having weathered many a controversy in intervening years).

“We have had an unwavering focus to execute on our vision: to become the partner of choice for global entertainment businesses and craft authentic and long-lasting interactive entertainment based on the world’s most beloved franchises,” said Huuhtanen in a statement. “Joining forces with the world’s largest streaming service, Netflix, presents an opportunity for a logical and exciting continuation of our strategy to craft interactive experiences for the world to enjoy. Our close collaboration with Netflix on Stranger Things: Puzzle Tales has already proven that together we create a strong partnership. This is a unique opportunity to level-up the studio on all fronts and continue on our mission together.”

For all its size, Netflix has only made a handful of acquisitions over the years — five in all according to CrunchBase data. Next Games is its first specifically in gaming, although the others include a visual effects studio, two interactive content makers for younger audiences, an anime comics publisher and the Roald Dahl estate, so arguably, there’s been a gaming angle in its M&A strategy all along.

And at a time when companies like Disney can continue to pull the rug from under Netflix’s by yanking away key video content to improve the selection on their own streaming video platforms, this is also one way for Netflix to fertilize its own walled garden. Buying something like Next Games underscores a strategy to produce or buy in its own exclusive work, and now build out bigger franchises based on it across multiple screens and experiences.

Yahaha Studios, a platform for building no-code, immersive games, raised $50M in 3 rounds ahead of its launch this year

The success of Roblox and other user-created gaming experiences like Overwolf have democratized the concept of making games and have taken it into the mainstream. Now, a startup founded by veterans from Unity, Microsoft and EA that is building a new platform for creators to build immersive games, and related communities around like-minded people, is gearing up to launch later this year. Ahead of that, it is disclosing a healthy $50 million in funding.

Yahaha Studios, an Espoo, Finland-based startup with R&D based in Shanghai, has yet to launch a commercial product. But it describes what it is building as a no-code “metaverse for games”, where people can come together in communities to build and play games combing virtual and real-world elements.

The $50 million that it has raised, to be clear, is not new funding: it was pulled together in a period of six months, across three rounds, nearly two years ago, all in 2020.

The company tells me that “round 1” was led by 5Y Capital; “round 2” was led by HillHouse, and “round 3” was led by Coatue. Early investors participated in subsequent rounds, and other backers include ZhenFund, Bertelsmann Asia Investments, BiliBili and Xiaomi. The funding, we’ve confirmed, values Yahaha in the range of $300 million to $500 million (“few hundred millions” is the phrase that was used when we asked).

While Yahaha Studios may still be months from launch, in the meantime it has been quietly running a Discord community with a small group (around 220) of early users. The company tells me that an alpha version of the product will be launching in Q2 of this year. It is not planning to raise any more funding ahead of that, a spokesperson tells me.

“Metaverse” has very quickly become a very over-used word, and a number of companies claim to be blazing trails into this nebulous space, with its promises of combining augmented and virtual reality technologies to create entirely new kinds of digital experiences, gaming and otherwise. It looks like Yahaha has managed to stand apart from the crowd, and found investor attention early on, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, there are the company’s founders — Chris Zhu (CEO), Pengfei Zhang (COO) and Hao Min (CTO) — who all worked together as engineers at cross-platform gaming engine Unity, and have years of experience behind them.

Zhang has been living in Finland for the last 15 years, and this is how the company got started there, but that is not the only reason for basing Yahaha in Espoo: with companies like Supercell also originating in the Helsinki suburb, there is a strong ecosystem in the region for building teams and tapping into new gaming innovations.

The company has confirmed that the Yahaha platform was built in partnership with Unity, a link that in turn will help onboard more creators and more cross-platform gameplay and communities.

Second of all, there is the concept behind Yahaha itself, which focuses on two popular themes in tech at the moment: user-generated content and no-code development. UGC has been a popular part of online entertainment for decades at this point, but platforms like TikTok and Instagram have really given rise to a new focus on “creators”, people building huge audiences and businesses around the content that they are generating.

While platforms like Twitch and Discord have made celebrities out of game players, we haven’t really yet had much in the way of platforms that make it easy for creators to build massive communities around actual games (Roblox partly addresses this but doesn’t feel like a social platform). This is what Yahaha seems to hope to become, and if it works, it could be on to something very interesting.

Building the platform on a “no-code” framework, meanwhile, is what will help make Yahaha potentially used by more people. While a lot of the application of no-code has been in the area of enterprise IT (where people can, for example, easily build integrations between CRMs and accounting software), it’s interesting to see more of it making its way into consumer-focused services, specifically to serve creator communities.

“Achieving an investment of $50 million is incredibly exciting for us,” said CEO Chris Zhu in a statement. “Yahaha Studios has a key part to play in ushering in the next generation of entertainment as the metaverse continues to grow. Connecting users around the world through virtual entertainment, YAHAHA offers a unique creative and social experience to game developers and gamers alike. Through YAHAHA we are empowering creators at all levels, from established developers to those making their first game. Everyone can be a creator in our virtual world. We’re really looking forward to fully launching this year, growing our team and bringing the first stage of our vision for the future of content creation to life.”

Video Game Product Managers Struggle With Pricing

How much to charge and how to charge for it are video game questions
How much to charge and how to charge for it are video game questions
Image Credit: Thomas Hawk

Can anyone besides me remember back in the day when you wanted to play a video game and you’d stuff your pockets with quarters and head on down to the video parlor? Those days are now long gone and you can play great games almost anywhere without spending a penny. However, although you might not pay to play anymore, getting that game into your house can end up costing you a pretty penny. Just exactly how are video game product managers going about pricing their products?

How Much Should A Video Game Cost?

The global videogame industry has evolved, adding incredible 3-D graphics and previously impossible social interactions. Video games have become more and more expensive as the game product managers used their product development definition to come up with new ways to extract money from you. Sony Corp’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft Corp’s Xbox Series X are slated to arrive by the holidays, bringing faster download speeds, enhanced graphics and other types of upgrades. That has prompted some product managers to charge even more than the typical US$60 for new titles that have been optimized for those machines. Gamers need to realize that it doesn’t cost anything to play the likes of “Fortnite,” but you could easily go broke on digital perks such as character costumes and dance moves.

From the free-to-play and subscriptions to season passes and upfront fees, grasping the true cost of interactive entertainment has never been more challenging. More and more customers are asking themselves why are some games so expensive? Every fall, the industry’s top publishers typically introduce their biggest games for consoles and computers, complete with glitzy marketing campaigns. These games cost a premium because developers invest increasingly large amounts of money to make them—tens of millions of dollars—and it shows.

While $60 had been the going rate for blockbuster games, product managers at Activision Blizzard Inc. and Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. recently announced $10 boosts for the newest installments of their hit franchises Call of Duty and NBA 2K, respectively—but only for editions compatible with the newest consoles. Versions for earlier consoles will still cost $60. If they can pull this off, it may end up looking good on their product manager resume. This brings up the question that gamers have to ask themselves: what if I don’t want to pay that much? Then they will have to wait a bit, as publishers often lower prices for their fall releases come Black Friday or soon after. It’s also likely the new consoles will come bundled with some big-budget games at a combined discount, as in the past.

Shopping For The Best Video Game Prices

Not all games are becoming more expensive. One outlier coming up is Electronic Arts Inc.’s next holiday release, “Star Wars: Squadrons.” It’s a piloting game for current-generation consoles and PCs that will cost just $40. The reason for the lower price is because the game isn’t as beefy as titles EA normally puts out around this time, hence the discount. Also, EA isn’t planning to release a version optimized for the new consoles, though Sony and Microsoft have said their machines will run many previous-generation games.

What gamers need to keep in mind is that what you pay at the cash register might be just the beginning, as many games sell digital add-ons. It can be tempting to occasionally buy a funky outfit for, say, 99 cents, but that can add up over time. This, of course, leads to the question are free-to-play games really free? Yes, it is possible to play some games for years on end without paying a cent—and not just the kind on your smartphone or tablet. These games are increasingly showing up on consoles and PCs, too, and include hits such as “Fortnite” and “Apex Legends.” They generate revenue in most cases by selling digital perks, showing ads or both. Some reward players for watching video ads by giving them in-game items that would otherwise cost money.

The logic behind the free-to-play model for product managers is that people are more likely to try a game if they don’t have to pay. And while only a fraction of players make in-game purchases, those who do open their wallets tend to spend enough to make free games profitable. It can be easy to justify purchasing those add-ons when a game is free to play. An alternative approach are season passes and subscriptions. In some cases, a more affordable way to acquire digital goods—aside from earning them at no cost through gameplay—is to purchase what’s called a season pass. These are packages of items that cost less in bulk. In many cases, they also include exclusives you can’t get otherwise. As their name implies, they are usually available for a limited time. You can also save on your gaming habit by subscribing to a service like Apple Arcade, EA Play and Xbox Game Pass. These work like Netflix by offering access to a large number of games in a variety of genres for a recurring fee as low as $5 a month. Some subscription services let you buy in-game items.

What All Of This Means For You

The market for video games is very large and continues to grow. Video game product managers are looking at their product manager job description to find ways to boost the revenue that they can generate based on each game that is released. In order to make this happen, they are having to get creative in how they get more money out of their end customers.

A modern video game will typically cost roughly US$60. However with the arrival of new game playing consoles, product managers are considering boosting their prices in order to charge more for games that have been optimized for the new hardware. Video games are costing more and more money to develop and so their prices have been going up in order to recoup their development costs. Customers who are willing to wait can often see the initial high costs of new games go down over time. Some games that have not been optimized for the new platforms will not cost that much. Free-to-play games are often not free: in game purchases can quickly add up. An alternative to these payment methods are season passes and subscription models. For a one-time payment, customers get access to games for a period of time.

There is no doubt about the popularity of modern video games. Many hours have been lost as players have immersed themselves in countless titles. However, how much to charge for the experience of playing these games is what is confronting video game product managers. They realize that they can maximize their revenue when a game first comes out; however, they end up having to discount their games over time. New subscription models may provide product managers with a way to normalize their revenues over time. Pricing for videos games is a game in of itself and we’ll have to see who wins this round.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that video game product managers should allow ads to be placed in their games?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Product managers who are responsible for selling alcohol are in a bit of a bind these days. For some reason, perhaps because of everyone’s health kick, sales of alcohol have been declining over the past few years. Today’s millennials are just not buying as much beer, wine, and hard liquor as their parents once did. This news is sad for alcohol product managers. However, there is some good news for them. It turns out that some of the fastest growing alcohol drinks in the U.S. are called “alcopops”. The product development definition for these drinks defines a strong, sugary alcoholic soda that is targeted towards younger drinkers. Could these be the products that alcohol product managers need to save their market?

The post Video Game Product Managers Struggle With Pricing appeared first on The Accidental Product Manager.

Nvidia expands its GeForce Now game streaming ecosystem

At CES, Nvidia today put a strong emphasis on its GeForce Now game streaming service, its competitor to the likes of Google’s Stadia (that’s still around, right?), Amazon’s Luna and Microsoft’s increasingly popular Xbox Cloud Gaming service. All of these use a different business model, with GeForce Now making it easy for players to bring games they bought elsewhere to the service, with Nvidia offering a restricted free tier and then charging a membership fee for access to its servers, starting at $10 per month.

Today, the company announced a number of new partnerships, as well as the news that Electronic Arts Battlefield 4 from 2013 and Battlefield V from 2018 are now available for streaming on the service. Not exactly Day One releases, but nice to have, I guess.

What’s maybe more important is that Nvidia continues to expand the overall GeForce Now ecosystem. In this case, that means a deal with AT&T, with will give its customers on a 5G device on a 5G “unlimited” plan a free six-month GeForce Now priority membership. Nvidia says the two companies are “teaming up as 5G technical innovation collaborators,” but we’re basically talking about a marketing deal here. The whole promise of 5G is low latency after all.

Image Credits: Nvidia

For the living room, Nvidia is teaming up with Samsung to bring its game streaming platform to that company’s smart TVs after already offering its app on 2021 LG WebOS TVs as a beta last year.

“Our cloud gaming service will be added to the Samsung Gaming Hub, a new game-streaming discovery platform that bridges hardware and software to provide a better player experience,” Nvidia writes in today’s announcement. It’ll have more to share about this deal in the second quarter of this year.

Read more about CES 2022 on TechCrunch

What Netflix’s move into gaming means for developers

Netflix sees gaming as a big part of its future in the battle for consumer attention. In July, the company hired Mike Verdu to head a new gaming division, signaling just how serious it is about moving into this new territory.

Verdu has a lot of gaming cred. He most recently served as vice president of augmented reality and virtual reality content at Facebook, and he was also the former head of Electronic Arts’ mobile gaming division. He has had stints at other game developers including Zynga, Kabam, Atari and Legend Entertainment, and he was a game developer himself. In short, Verdu knows this world inside and out, which is a good thing because his decisions could have a profound impact on the future of game development.

Verdu recently hinted at the company’s future plans. On September 28, Netflix announced its acquisition of Night School Studio, bringing some developer talent in house. It’s also been speculated that Netflix will pursue licensing deals with other gaming studios to quickly grow its offerings.

It makes one wonder how Netflix’s plans will influence game developers and studios around the world. More importantly, how will developers respond to Netflix’s entry into the space?

There will likely be some fallout over the next few years as Netflix finds its footing, but ultimately, the company’s move into gaming will push game development further.

Options: A model shakeup

Netflix’s existing audience of over 209 million subscribers translates into a lot of free marketing impressions and low player acquisition costs, giving it an immediate advantage over small studios and independent game developers who often struggle to gain attention for their games. Additionally, Netflix’s gaming division could spell trouble for the huge numbers of mobile game developers who rely on in-app purchases or advertising to make money — Netflix’s subscription model means it controls the user experience and doesn’t have to rely on ads or in-app purchases for its revenue stream.

At first blush, this could seem like a terrible blow to game developers, but it also opens new opportunities. If Netflix starts to gain traction in the gaming market (still a big if), developers will be spurred to innovate to stay a step ahead. This could be in terms of how games are designed and marketed, the actual player experience or how they are monetized. Innovation is good and necessary if developers want to continue attracting players.

It’s fair to say we could see some new models and experiences entering the gaming landscape. Netflix’s move into gaming is an inflection point, as it validates the work that developers have done thus far in capturing the mindshare of billions of players throughout the world. Gaming has gone mainstream, and Netflix will likely force it to evolve even more. This could be the moment gaming grows up.

Google Cloud’s BigQuery Omni is now generally available

Google first revealed BigQuery Omni, its Anthos-based multi-cloud data analytics solution, last summer. Today, at its annual Cloud Next event, the company announced that BigQuery Omni is generally available. What makes Omni different from similar services is that it allows its users to use the standard BigQuery interface they know to query data that sits on other clouds, including Microsoft’s Azure and AWS — all without having to move copies of their data between these clouds.

“Everyone knows a data silo is bad, but the reality is that right now, we are building data silos, just in different clouds,” Gerrit Kazmaier, Google’s VP & GM for Databases, Analytics & Looker, told me. “There is a new generation of data silos and we recognize that most of the companies in the world live in a multi-cloud reality, and with BigQuery Omni, we basically give them the possibility to do analytics across them — cross-cloud analytics, which I think is the ultimate in simplicity, because you don’t need to think anymore about where do I move my data and all of the repetition and redundancy in governing it. The single pane of glass and that single processing framework — it’s a feat of engineering that the team basically took BigQuery and brought many parts of it to other clouds.”

Image Credits: Google

A number of Google Cloud customers are already making good use of these capabilities. Kazmaier noted that Johnson & Johnson, for example, uses it to combine its data in Google Cloud with S3 data on AWS, while Electronic Arts uses it to combine advertising data with in-game purchases.

Talking about data silos, Google also today noted that Dataplex, a tool that allows enterprises to manage, monitor and govern their data across data lakes and warehouses, will also be generally available later this year. It is currently in preview.

Like so many of Google Cloud’s other announcements today, both of these services recognize that virtually every enterprise now operates in a multi-cloud environment — and almost by default, that means that a lot of valuable data is spread across systems. Using multiple systems to manage this data is cumbersome and error-prone, but most importantly, it’s hard (and often expensive) to combine all of this data in a single system. Google’s approach here is to just bring all of its own services to these various clouds and then manage them from GCP. That’s the approach it took with Anthos to manage Kubernetes clusters and, unsurprisingly, that now also allow it to run some core GCP services outside of its own cloud, too.

Electronic Arts buys mobile game studio Playdemic for $1.4 billion

Video game giant Electronic Arts is continuing to make M&A moves as it looks to bulk up its presence in the mobile gaming world.

Fresh off the $2.4 billion acquisition of Glu Mobile this past April, their biggest purchase to date, Electronic Arts announced Wednesday that they are buying Warner Bros. Games’ mobile gaming studio Playdemic for $1.4 billion in an all-cash deal. The Manchester studio is best known for its release “Golf Clash” which the studio boasts has more than 80 million downloads globally.

The rather ominously-named startup is being jettisoned to its new home ahead of the $43 billion WarnerMedia-Discovery deal where the rest of the Warner Bros. Games division will live post-merger.

Electronic Arts is the second-largest Western video games company with a market cap around $40 billion. Their success has largely come from desktop and console titles including titles in their most popular franchises like Battlefield, Star Wars and Titanfall. Mobile dominance hasn’t come easy to the company which has spent much of the past decade or so trying to keep pace with competitors like Activision Blizzard which struck gold with its 2016 King acquisition. 

Electronic Arts has been on a studio buying spree as of late — in 2021 they’ve announced three major acquisitions worth some $5 billion combined.

Women-led sports media startup The GIST raises $1M to challenge sports reporting norms

The three co-founders of The GIST are all themselves sports fans, but realized in 2018 that sports media in general left a lot to be desired when it comes to catering to audiences outside of the traditional, male-dominated stereoptyical sports audience. So they started a new kind of sports media enterprise, taking a risk on a very different kind of careers vs. their background in financial services in Toronto.

On the back of impressive 350% audience through 2020, c-founders Jacie DeHoop, Ellen Hyslop and Roslyn McLarty have now raises an initial $1 million round of seed funding, form investors including 3GP Capital, JDS Sports, August Group, Even Odds Investments, and Bettor Capital. The company also just got approved for a $350,000 loan from the Business Development Bank of Canada, bringing its total new funding across venture and state-backed credit incentives to $1.35 million.

“In the sports industry, as you probably are aware, less than 4% of coverage is on female athletes, and less than 14% of sports journalists are women,” explained McLarty, who is also The GIST’s head of finance, operations and growth. “It’s no wonder, as women, we don’t necessarily resonate with the the more traditional male-dominated sports media and the way that sports is represented. So we were finding it hard to be a part of that community sports can provide, and around the same time, we were seeing a trend of media companies developing these more authentic relationships with their audience, and building community and being built a little bit more ground up, and that being really effective.”

McLarty cites other media ventures including theSkimm, Morning Brew and The Hustle as examples of what her and her co-=foudners saw was working well in media. That approach, combined with what they saw as a massive potential untapped audience, led to the creation of The GIST, which because as a newsletter and has evolved into a news site, a podcast and more.

“We started with the purpose of making sports more accessible, inclusive, approachable and fun for a casual fan, or a female fan,” she said. “For anyone really, that hadn’t resonated with traditional sports media.”

I asked McLarty why her and her co-founders wanted to get into the media business specifically, given that their experience prior to that was on Bay Street, which is effectively Toronto’s equivalent of Wall Street. She admitted that it took the trio some time to find their footing, but that now the business has opened up a new and growing audience that basically wasn’t served previously, which is helping them win over advertisers and brand partnerships.

“I think we’ve discovered an audience that is really valuable, and there hasn’t really been a way for brand partners to engage with a female audience through sports,” she said. “So we’ve kind of found our niche, and have built really built things out and gotten to the point where we are today in a really lean lean way. The hard part was the initial investment in the audience to get it to the point where it is now, but once you hit that scale in the audience, the margins on the newsletter are obviously awesome for every additional person that we add on.”

The GIST’s partners include brands like the NBA, FanDuel, Red Bull and Adidas, to name a few, and it says its revenue is up over 1,000% this year vs. the year prior, on course to meet its goal of $1 million in total revenue for 2021. The company says it will be using the new funding to grow the team, including new hires on the content side, as well as additional headcount on the sales and operation teams, too.