FEED issue 31 Web

78 START-UP ALLEY Genvid

Words by Ann-Marie Corvin & Chelsea Fearnley

This month’s start-ups offer a way for fans to get closer to esports players, ‘deep fakes’ for human speech, better ways to do live volumetric video, and a platform for deep analysis of your customer data

GENVID

COUNTRY: US STARTED: 2016

Video games are built with players rather than spectators in mind, but as esports audiences grow – thanks to broadcast platforms such as Twitch, ESL and Faceit, – one US start-up wants to make the experience of watching live-streamed games more compelling. Genvid was founded four years ago by two cloud gaming entrepreneurs – Fabien Niñoles, now the firm’s CTO, and Jacob Navok, its CEO. Aimed primarily at games developers, esports leagues and streamers, the company offers an SDK middleware that claims to be flexible enough to run on any streaming platform and infrastructure that developers want to support. The company’s tools and SDK offer interactive viewing and multiple camera angles for live-streamed games. In terms of use cases, the firm’s COO Christopher Cataldi took FEED through a couple of live streams enhanced with Genvid’s technology. The first was a demo of a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament. Thanks to a ‘command centre’ feature developed with Twitch and other partners, viewers are able to watch from the first person perspective of the professional players (in this case, there are around ten to choose from). Viewers can also bring up maps to see where players are located and can click on the players’ avatars to bring up their info. It is also possible to ‘cheer ’ individual players by clicking on them (which releases a short blast of fire). “Competing players can’t see this overlay,” Cataldi explains, “but other

viewers can and so can the broadcaster – who can then create ‘fan favourites’ and spin a narrative around some of these real-time data points.” According to Cataldi, this will provide monetisation opportunities by offering viewers premium gamer perspectives and cheers, plus the chance to unlock emotes and badges. He adds that the tech also enables broadcasters, esports leagues and developers to offer in-stream purchases and unique branding opportunities. While Genvid provides the tools and SDK to let games developers overlay an element of interactivity, others have been designing games with viewer interactivity built in from the ground up. The second demo Cataldi plays – Retroit, from Helsinki developer Black Block – is an example of this. Similar to Grand Theft Auto, this mobile game takes a god’s eye view via a city’s traffic camera, and players control vehicles. Twitch viewers are able to jump in and temporarily affect the game by dropping an exploding piñata (which may contain good or bad gifts) or a cash truck, which hands out cash if hit by a car, but explodes after a certain number of hits. The idea is not to disrupt the players but to enable greater viewer activity. “The viewing element isn’t skill based,“ explains Cataldi. “It’s about jumping in and understanding what’s going on. Viewers don’t necessarily want to be players – but they do want to engage.” Cataldi reveals that Genvid is also in talks with Hollywood studios to explore

TECH TALK Most of Genvid’s team work in technical or engineer roles, across offices in North America, Germany and Japan

how they can create films and TV shows that give viewers similar agency to affect certain elements of a narrative. The SDK is offered free to developers while they are designing the game, with Genvid only taking a cut once the games deploying its tech are broadcasting commercially to a live audience. At this point, an active viewer royalty per month is sought. Genvid also asks for a revenue share of all in-stream purchases that make use of its technology. To date, the firm has amassed an eye-watering $53 million in funding, with investors including NTT Docomo Ventures, Samsung Ventures and Chinese games publisher Huya. According to Cataldi this amount of funding is needed to ensure that Genvid remains agnostic to platforms, infrastructure, games engines and broadcast tools. Most of the company’s 60 employees are working in technical and engineering roles, and the firm has offices in New York, Montreal, Southern California, Berlin and Tokyo. Cataldi recognises it may take some time before platforms using Genvid’s tech become revenue-generating. “But, if we want to do it right, then we have to invest in the best tech and approach it in a time-sensitive manner.”

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