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Study says US Twitch streamers raked in roughly $87 million in 2017 – TechCrunch

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A new study estimates that revenue-earning American Twitch streamers grew to nearly 9,800 in 2017 (a 59 percent increase from 2016) and made an estimated $87.1 million (representing a 30 percent YOY increase).

Twitch is one of the fastest-growing platforms for American content creators. In terms of year over year growth in number of creators themselves, Twitch falls just behind Instagram and YouTube, and ranks second behind Instagram in YOY revenue growth for those creators. (Fun Fact: Instagram’s creator-based revenue growth grew nearly 50 percent from 2016 to 2017 to $460 million, according to the study.)

Recreate Coalition says these numbers are very conservative based on the methodology of the study and the fact that it’s limited to the U.S.

The growth of Twitch is predicated on a few obvious trends, as well as a very nuanced relationship between a streamer and his or her respective audience.

In the case of the former, “live” digital experiences continue to be a fascination for startups and consumers alike. While Twitch and YouTube have offered live broadcasts for a while, social media companies have followed along with their own live-streaming products. In fact, Betaworks dedicated a season of its accelerator program to “live” startups, calling the program LiveCamp.

With regards to the latter, things get more interesting. The relationship between a viewer and a streamer is similar to our relationships with other famous celebrities, artists and athletes, but puts the viewer far closer to the action.

Streamers don’t just pop up briefly in articles, TV interviews or on Twitter or Instagram. They spend hours and hours each day just sitting there, doing whatever it is they do on stream and chatting with their viewers. You can get to know their personality, talk to them and they talk back to you!

It’s a bizarre combination that has proven financially fruitful for these streamers, especially at a time when the gaming industry itself is growing by double-digit percentages YOY for the past two years.

A tier of elite, hyper-popular streamers such as Shroud, DrDisrespect, Dakotaz and of course Ninja are leading the way for others as they continue to gain followers. In fact, Ninja just partnered with Wicked Cool Toys to introduce to the market a line of actual toys. Ninja himself made nearly $10 million in 2018.

But as the gaming world explores new genres and esports grow, there seems to be plenty of room for streamers to make a name (and a pretty penny) for themselves.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post included a few too many zeroes, stating that U.S. Twitch streamers made $87 billion instead of $87 million. It has been corrected for accuracy with my apologies.

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MS Flight Simulator on consoles: Finally, a next-gen game for Xbox Series X/S

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When I think of the history of game consoles, I think of flight simulators.

Nintendo in particular has leveraged the “Pilotwings” name not once, not twice, but thrice to show off brand-new tech over various generations. I have long loved that approach. Pilotwings games err on the side of minimal challenge and maximum relaxation, arguably to let players calmly absorb the newest 3D-rendering tricks of each era.

I think about that strategy now because Microsoft Flight Simulator is launching on Xbox Series X/S this week. Since it’s roughly eight months out from those consoles’ launches, it doesn’t count as a “launch” game. But Microsoft Flight Simulator is honestly the first true “next-gen” first-party console game in Xbox’s latest era. Part of that next-gen quality is because this game, unlike other first-party fare, has no “backwards compatibility” path to the older Xbox One family.

It doesn’t take long to realize why. After a tremendous launch on PCs last year, MSFS has now emerged as a living room game with an emphasis on relaxed, Pilotwings-like trips across the entire globe. In good news, it sets a new bar for 3D rendering performance on consoles, and it stands head and shoulders above all other console games at this time. But its PC heritage lingers in the form of some clunkiness. Flight-sim novices—particularly those who claim the game as part of their Game Pass subscriptions—should brace themselves for control- and interface-related turbulence.

Getting up to speed—and that’s a lot of knots

If you’re unfamiliar with MSFS‘s latest incarnation, my report on its reveal nearly two years ago is a good starting point. Much of what I said then (and what I said in a follow-up look at its 2020 beta) is still true. MSFS 2020 combines Bing’s world-mapping data, Azure’s data-processing centers, and some fantastic rendering engine technology to open the entire Earth to unfettered flight. That dev team, lead by the French studio Asobo, employs a lot of clever procedural generation to turn blurry map data into convincing cities, forests, oceans, and valleys for you to fly over.

Since the game’s launch on PC, Asobo has been vocal and transparent about its efforts to spruce up and fine-tune its plane physics simulations, which account for air pressure, heat, and other weather variables. The results have been generally well received by the flight-sim community, and the trade-off for so much beauty and world detail by default is milder physics realism and fewer customization options than rival PC flight sims like X-Plane 11 or Prepar3D. Still, this version of MSFS is Microsoft’s most competent flyer yet.

One point of community contention, however, is MSFS‘s notoriously uneven performance across a variety of PCs. Performance hitches and stutters are more often the rule rather than the exception, while massive download requirements for various patches haven’t necessarily curried favor with PC players. MS and Asobo have promised PC version optimization as far back as the game’s July 2020 beta period, yet to this day, the PC version pulls powerful CPUs and GPUs to their knees at even “mid-high” settings, let alone with unnecessarily maxed graphics sliders.

In terms of CPU optimization, we’re now in “better late than never” territory, because the Xbox Series X/S ports are clearly running on an updated, focused version of the engine. Holy cow, are the results tremendous.

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Zombies rise, terrorize a town in trailer for SyFy’s Day of the Dead series

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At this year’s Comic-Con@home, SyFy dropped the first trailer for its new series, Day of the Dead—the ultimate love letter to the godfather of zombies, George A. Romero.

Somehow I missed the news last February that SyFy had greenlit a TV reboot of George A. Romero’s classic 1985 zombie horror film, Day of the Dead—just before the widespread onset of a deadly global pandemic, no less. And somehow the series managed to get into production despite all the shutdowns. SyFy dropped the official trailer for the ten-episode series during a panel at Comic-Con@home, with a planned premiere date this October, just in time for Halloween. You can watch the full 45-minute panel here.

The original Day of the Dead was the third in a trilogy of films that launched a franchise, preceded by Night of the Living the Dead (1968) and its sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978). Romero originally envisioned Day of the Dead as the Gone With the Wind of zombie movies, but disagreements with the studio over a proposed R-rating—Romero wanted the film to be unrated—meant that the director ended up with half his original budget (about $4 million). He was forced to scale back his vision substantially, so much of the film takes place in a secure underground bunker in the Everglades, where tensions rise between the scientists and soldiers on-site.

Romero has said that Day of the Dead is his favorite within the franchise, although it has the lowest “fresh” rating (83 percent) on Rotten Tomatoes of the initial trilogy. It only grossed $34 million worldwide (mostly from VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray releases), but it still left its mark on popular culture. The pseudo-civilized zombie “Bub” made a cameo on a S4 episode of The Walking Dead as one of the “walkers” encountered in a railroad tunnel. And in Stranger Things S3 (set in 1985), the teens all sneak into a mall theater to watch an early screening of Day of the Dead. Three more films in the franchise were released in 2005, 2007, and 2009, and Night of the Living Dead II is currently in production, slated for a 2022 release. Three of the original cast members from Day of the Dead will reprise their roles in that film.

Back when the SyFy project was announced, the official logline for the Day of the Dead TV series described it as “the intense story of six strangers trying to survive the first 24 hours of an undead invasion.” It was always intended as an ode to Romero, who pretty much pioneered the entire genre. “Night of the Living Dead was in 1968, and we’re still, every time zombies come up, we talk about Romero,” co-showrunner (with Jed Elinoff) Scott Thomas said during the panel. “He established what we know as the modern zombie… and he did it in a way that also added social commentary. Every single zombie movie or TV show or graphic novel owes Romero for his legacy.”

Judging from the trailer, we’ll get our share of zombie-fueled gore: limbs torn off, disembowelment, and of course, the consumption of tasty brains. There will also be Easter eggs scattered throughout the series for eagle-eyed fans, per Thomas. Personally, I’m hoping to see Bub again (with his mocking salute), and maybe even makeup/special effects master Tom Savini, a crew member on the original trilogy. (Savini made surprise cameo appearances as an actor in last year’s NOS4A2 and Locke and Key.)

That said, the series will also depart significantly from those classic Romero movies. For instance, it looks like there be a lot more humor. And while the show will feature the classic Romero “slow” zombies, Thomas said that the zombie invasion will not be the result of an outbreak that starts turning everyone into zombies. Rather, it will be a scenario where the dead start coming back to life and eating the residents of the small town in which the story takes place. (In that respect, it resembles the premise of 2019’s The Dead Don’t Die.) And the zombies cannot be killed as easily by a simple shot to the head, according to Thomas, which should up the stakes even more.

Day of the Dead premieres on SyFy in October 2021. The cast includes Natalie Malaika as Lauren Howell, Keenan Tracey as Cam McDermott, Daniel Doheny as Luke Bowman, Morgan Holmstrom as Sarah Blackwood, Miranda Frigon as Paula Bowman, Deejan Loyola as Jai Fisher, Kristy Dawn Dinsmore as Amy, Christopher Russell as Trey Bowman, Matty Finochio as Bobby Hart, Kevin O’Grady as Rhodes, Lucia Walters as Logan, Stefanie von Pfetten as Cindy, Darryl Scheelar as Magnum, Trezzo Mahoro as Trent, Caitlin Stryker as Nicole, and Marci T. House as Captain Pike. One assumes a few of those cast members will end up as zombie food.

 

Listing image by YouTube/SYFY

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Dread Pirate Roberts escaped development hell: Making Silk Road work as a film

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Trailer for Silk Road.

In the last decade or so of Ars, two pre-COVID news stories stand out to me as the “biggest”—the kind of stuff that captivates a general audience in the moment and will attract the eyes of Hollywood eventually. The first one happened back in 2013, when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified documents that showed the US had a secret surveillance program up and running that even monitored US citizens. To make the saga even juicier, Snowden ultimately had to flee the country for fear of legal retribution.

The second story largely unfolded in that same year. A young libertarian named Ross Ulbricht pondered why in the United States you couldn’t purchase drugs freely and openly on the Internet through some kind of one-stop repository like Amazon. Eventually, his Silk Road website sprung up and captivated the world… until federal authorities finally closed in on Ulbricht in a San Francisco library in October 2013. The arrest led to an eye-opening trial and a life sentence for the pseudonymous Dread Pirate Roberts.

Snowden’s story ultimately got the Hollywood treatment, via the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour in 2014 and a fictionalized account starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt two years later. And though it took a bit longer (unless we’re counting a made-for-TV documentary), the Silk Road odyssey has finally made its feature film debut, too.

After years of rumors and vetted projects, Silk Road had a February VOD run and arrived on Hulu this month. Previous attempts to get a film in the can included industry royalty as big as the Coen brothers (that one would have been based on coverage by our Condé brethren Wired.). But time and again, these initiatives sputtered out during some stage of “development hell”—scripts that weren’t quite right, issues with casting and budget, etc. What actually got the job done was paring down rather than expanding the scope of this complex crypto crime thriller.

“There’s a long history of attempts to get this movie made—there were many competing projects at one time, I think there were four or five,” says Duncan Montgomery of High Frequency Entertainment, the production company that helped get Silk Road (based on this Rolling Stone piece) done. “[When we were finally brought on], we started giving our opinion directly to everyone: it needs to be a smaller film.

“[Screenwriter/director] Tiller Russell had interesting elements—the cat-and-mouse detective stuff that gets out of the box and has some entertaining aspects. But this was never going to be a $30 to $40 million-budget film,” he told Ars this spring. “So when Imagine Entertainment’s deal with the other producer expired, we stepped in and got the rights. And I think Imagine was OK with that, because by then they understood it wasn’t going to be a fit for the kind and size of films they like to make.”

How to make a Silk Road film, step one: narrow it

Anyone who followed even a tiny amount of the Silk Road news coverage can probably close their eyes and imagine how a studio might see this as a globetrotting blockbuster. It’s the Stefon of source material: the Silk Road had everything. Worldwide reach with major happenings in San Francisco, Austin, and DC. Bleeding-edge technology leveraged for lucrative crime. Drugs galore. An alleged murder-for-hire scheme. Dirty cops capable of major schemes and good cops capable of intricate investigation. And at the center of it all stood a stubbornly ideological kingpin who ultimately turned out to be more bluster and brains than brawn.

All that drama happens long before you even get to the tense arrest attempts and courtroom fireworks. But taking this huge story and translating it into a film that could be successful at the (before times) box office while keeping a normal runtime isn’t simple. Montgomery says the team started by identifying then tackling two core challenges: the scope and the screens.

“To this day, there’s so much we had to leave out. Really, what this needs is a six-hour limited series,” he tells Ars. “So that was really hard, and it had to find a balance. Do we just tell Ross’ story? Do we even have enough time? Then we ultimately had a DEA agent who’s really an amalgamation of real people. We didn’t feel comfortable from a legal standpoint telling Carl Force’s story or using another guy, so we made a combination of several.”

To maintain this narrow focus, Silk Road unfolds in parallel storylines. On one side, the film follows Ulbricht, played by Nick Robinson (Jurassic World). Montgomery has lived in Austin, Texas, since the ’90s, and he remembers having friends that put him a degree of separation away from a young Ulbricht. But despite how captivating the team found Ulbricht’s backstory while working through the research, the film ultimately skips the Silk Road founder’s upbringing and college years, and it halts before the courtroom drama.

What’s covered, however, is extremely loyal to reality. Silk Road had Ulbricht’s former girlfriend Julia Vie as a consultant who also optioned her story rights. The film shows Ulbricht problem-solving early marketing and technical hiccups until he increasingly loses his grip on reality. He goes from philosophically driven entrepreneur with a life to man whose site is his sole focus. And as nefarious as some of his choices and motivations ultimately become, Silk Road does sympathize with this character—a stubborn but personable young adult driven to a dangerous obsession that wipes out his humanity.

“On Ross’ side, that portion of the story is very, very accurate,” Montgomery says. “[Vie] lived with him during that time, so she more than anyone else—even more than his family, his friends—knew. We don’t always tell our parents everything. But it’s much harder to hide it from her, so he was very open with her story… The FBI had interviewed Vie and decided she was not a suspect, so she felt very free to talk with us. They had a relationship we could explore, and we could share their intimacy.”

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