Atari CEO touts future of blockchain in gaming

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Game makers are innovating with blockchain to address the risks involved with online purchasing and to create new use cases.

Blockchain technology on blue background

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Whether you’ve spent your quarantine mastering online poker or you’re on the 500th hour of Animal Crossing, you and gamers across the spectrum now rely on in-game currency to wager bets or make virtual purchases. 

Yet, from security threats posed by hackers to lacking custodial services, there are numerous risks involved when it comes to online purchasing through video games. Chairman and CEO of Atari Frédéric Chesnais believes blockchain is the answer to some of these issues and can become a source of innovation for game platforms.

“We’ve been playing with in-game currency for so long so we are used to creating and managing currencies because this is the basic function of any free-to-play game. We are very familiar with the mechanics, the tokenomics and all that deals with blockchain,” Chesnais said.

 

“Atari created the video game industry, and we see blockchain from two different angles. The first one is the vision from the gamer. So as a gamer you want to be able to buy games and use games on the blockchain. There is going to be a big business in grinding and selling avatars. It’s already big, but it is going to be much, much bigger. We are trying to help our users by using the blockchain and playing on the blockchain or playing or buying on the blockchain as an individual. That’s why we’re creating the Atari Token.”

SEE: Guide to Becoming a Digital Transformation Champion (TechRepublic Premium)

Last month, Chesnais and Atari announced that the company was teaming up with blockchain application creator Arkane Network to support the Atari Token, so developers can use it as in-game currency for buying, selling, and trading assets.

Chesnais explained that the partnership with Arkane is “another significant step toward broad adoption of blockchain initiatives across interactive entertainment,” and that the deal will allow the Atari Token cryptocurrency to be used as a secure means to buy, sell, and trade digital assets. 

Despite gaming’s long standing use of currency, the incorporation of blockchain technology is relatively new. The trend started with one of the internet’s favorite topics—cats. A game called CryptoKitties, which allowed users to breed and sell cats using blockchain, is one of the earliest examples of the technology being fused with gaming. 

CryptoKitties was so popular after its debut in December 2017 that it clogged Ethereum’s underlying blockchain network, causing a sixfold increase in pending transactions.

Since then, game makers have made it a priority to explore the ways blockchain can be used to make games, simpler, safer and more secure. 

“I believe that you’re going to have a lot of companies in the gaming space that are going to use blockchain, not only for games but also because if you look at a game like Rollercoaster Tycoon, the studio is in Montreal, there is a tester in India, someone doing animations in Thailand, someone doing 3D drawings in Vietnam, someone doing the environment from South Korea,” Chesnais said. 

“As companies we will use blockchain more and more to buy services from other people. You have to look at it not only from a gaming perspective, like how do I buy assets in a game, but also as professionals. How do I pay for services, or how do I protect my properties using the blockchain to trace assets and compensate people for that.”

Use cases

Fabio Canesin, CEO and co-founder of decentralized financial services platform Nash, listed off a number of blockchain-related use cases for gamers ranging from the tokenization of non-fungible physical assets to security for gambling games. 

Canesin added that blockchain can better secure and offer more efficient collectible in-game digital currencies for online and console games such as Overwatch or Fortnite 

“Blockchain is a way to attach trust, freedom, and liquidity to assets. If your game is a gambling game or card game, some component of the game itself requires trust. Every poker game has a card shuffling feature and it’s in the interest of the players that the shuffling of this card deck is fair, that it isn’t being gamed for someone on the table,” Canesin said.

Games need a source of randomness that is trusted. Anything tied to financial assets could be run by the blockchain and probably should be run by the blockchain.”

Canesin said that with games like Fortnight and its in-game currency called V-Bucks, the makers could have eschewed the complications related to creating their own infrastructure and run a token on the blockchain, something that is far simpler. 

Game makers can even take it a step further, using blockchain to manage in-game assets like weapons, armor, and other things to make them digitized in a way that is transferable, potentially to other games. 

Tim Dierckxsens, co-founder and CSO of Arkane Network, said games like Fortnite, Hearthstone or League of Legends are free-to-play games generating millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars in revenue. 

“In just a few years, this monetization model has taken the gaming industry by storm. These games are more than games, they are a social platform. The thing is we only hear about the success stories such as Pokemon Go or Fortnite,” Dierckxsens said, explaining that in addition to helping big game makers like Atari, blockchain can be useful for smaller ones, too. 

“The truth is that 9,999 out of 10,000 apps fail to monetize and aren’t generating enough revenue. Plenty free-to-play games are forced to shut down their servers, leaving gamers out in the cold with their hours spent building their characters and sometimes spending a fortune within the virtual game. Blockchain is now shifting the gaming industry once more from a free-to-play model into a play-to-earn model where game assets can be owned by the player and can also be used or sold outside of the game.”

Dierckxsens added that blockchain can make gamers “partners in growing the game as a social platform.”

According to Canesin, several games are already using blockchain and there are also platforms like Enjin that create blockchain-based tokens which can be used across a number of different games. 

He said one day a company like Microsoft could have a digital currency for games, where a player could ostensibly use the same currency from a title like Halo in other games like Call of Duty. 

This also bleeds into another use case Canesin cited concerning licensing. Game players have long crowed about being locked into one device or platform’s universe. 

Canesin mused about a future world where using blockchain, game players could move their favorite games in between various consoles and platforms.

“You could just take your license and do a blockchain transfer to someone and they would have that license. It’s like you could have the same experience of lending your game to someone else but online,” Canesin said.

Dierckxsens and Chesnais explained that the recently announced partnership would see the Arkane integrate Atari’s crypto-currency in its offering, support the Atari Token, and bolster the game maker’s strategic objective to boost the adoption of the Atari Token throughout the interactive entertainment ecosystem.

“Atari has always been a pioneer in the video game industry and it is great to see how they understand blockchain technology’s increasing role in the development of the economic landscape within video games and entertainment. With this partnership, we will bring game developers, the gaming community, and the Atari brand together to embrace blockchain technology as a solution to record digital assets and value transactions,” Dierckxsens said.

“I regularly compare blockchain technology with cloud technology. At first people wouldn’t believe that we’d ever trade on-premise infrastructure with the cloud but it’s like Peter Diamandis wrote in his book: “The Future Is Faster Than You Think.”

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Gender Decoder and blind resumes: How to remove bias in your hiring process

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HR leaders use language analysis to rewrite job descriptions and an interview scorecard to level the playing field for all candidates.

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Companies are using text analysis and a revamped interview process to attract a broad set of job candidates and diversify the tech workforce. Human resources leaders use Textio, Gender Decoder, and Ongig to spot gender and racial bias in job descriptions. Independent analysis helps spot unconscious bias that can influence a company’s image as well as who applies for open positions and who doesn’t.

Candace Bridges, senior manager of diversity and inclusion and employer brand at Schneider Electric, said that job descriptions are often a candidate’s first interaction with a company, and using inclusive language will increase the diversity of applicants. 

“Avoid gender-coded words such as ‘aggressive,’ ‘ninja,’ or ‘dominate,'” she said. 

Kristen Hayward, the head of people at Superhuman, an email platform company, said that her company uses Gender Decoder to check for gender bias in job postings. Research has shown that language can discourage candidates from applying for jobs. 

SEE: Virtual hiring tips for job seekers and recruiters (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“For example, if the job description makes more use of more masculine-coded words than feminine-coded words, the job may receive fewer applications from women,” she said.

This tool uses the original list of gender-coded words from the research paper by Danielle Gaucher, Justin Friesen, and Aaron C. Kay, “Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality,” which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in July 2011.

Emily Couey, the senior vice president of people at Illumio, said that the big picture goal is to make sure the language in job descriptions is inclusive so that people of different ages, abilities, races, ethnicities, and gender identities will be able to see themselves doing the jobs. 

She pays close attention to language when crafting a job description to make sure the role will appeal to a broad group of candidates.

“Sometimes it’s hard to recognize bias in our own writing, so you can use tools like Textio and Ongig to help you identify exclusive language,” she said. “Tools like these are also useful in learning how to be more inclusive with our language throughout the entire hiring process and even in the office.” 

She also recommends checking job descriptions for jargon, corporate-speak, acronyms, pop-culture references, or gender-coded words and replacing them with more inclusive language. 

Couey’s other piece of advice is to stick to the facts when writing a job description. 

“Instead of including your laundry list of ‘nice-to-have’ qualifications, only put down the ‘must-haves,'” she said. “This will help you make sure your ideal candidate doesn’t self-select out of your hiring process.”  

Hayward recommended this approach as well.

“Finding this appropriate balance between using gender-neutral language and clarity within the role itself helps ensure the candidate experience is positive,” Hayward said.

Bridges also recommends evaluating job descriptions for socioeconomic bias. 

“Requirements related to educational background, for example, could be biased against individuals who have relevant professional experience but could not afford a college education,” she said. “Ask the hard question of what is really required for the job versus nice to have.” 

Consider these guidelines when reviewing a job description for potential bias:

  • Use “you” or “they/them” instead of “him/her” when talking about the ideal candidate to reduce gender identity bias 
  • Take out cultural references that candidates might not understand

  • Highlight benefits that would be interesting to people from all backgrounds and at every stage of life 

  • Ask for feedback on the job description from people of different backgrounds, ages, and genders

Bridges also recommended that companies use job descriptions to share the company’s commitment to inclusive benefits like parental leave and employee resource groups so that candidates know they are welcome even before they apply.

Reorganizing the interview process 

Another way to make the hiring process more equitable is to create a more structured interview format that evaluates candidates on the same questions. Instead of a free-flowing conversation that is different with each person, use one set of questions for everyone and a scorecard to rate each person’s answers. The hiring manager should grade candidates on each question and then compare the scores.

Adding a skills test is another way to even out the playing field. Ask candidates to solve problems directly related to the open position. Focusing on the quality of a person’s work can lower the chances of unconsciously judging the individual on age, gender, or appearance. 

Finally, look into software that creates a blind resume review process. By removing the names of candidates, the hiring team will be able to look at qualifications only and not be influenced by gender or other factors. 

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A COVID-19 data block lets organizations make sense of ever-changing data

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Data discovery company Looker says the block helps structure data about the pandemic and makes it accessible and easy to use so decisions can be made.

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Making sense of big data is often a challenging process and with this in mind, data discovery company Looker has developed a COVID-19 Data Block–prebuilt pieces of code that the company said simplifies data complexity.

 

It joins other Looker Blocks the company has developed and is free for people to explore. It is designed to be understandable to any employee, even those in a non-technical role, across different verticals, the company said.  

Looker was acquired by Google in February and its Data Block has been added to Google Maps Mobility Data, which presents data by location and highlights the percent change in visits to places like grocery stores and parks within a geographic area, the company said.  

 

Looker’s mission was to make data actionable. CEO Frank Bien “realized that people had questions the data could answer, but they didn’t have the tools to answer those questions because most people can’t write SQL,” to structure the data and figure out how to convert it to address business metrics, explained Looker’s Chief Data Evangelist, Daniel Mintz.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

 

Translation from raw data to business metrics is already contained in Looker’s Analytic Blocks, Mintz said, adding that he was an early customer while working in the publishing industry. Mintz said he and his colleagues wanted to perform analysis on certain data to glean information such as which articles were performing well.

 

Looker gave them the ability to drill down and get more useful information from its dashboard, Mintz said. Looker works with wherever a customer stores its data and can be customized, he said. The company works to understand how data is structured and can build a block that knows how to interpret all the fields in use. “Our blocks will get you 90% of the way there and you customize the last 10%.”

 

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, “We watched like everyone else in horror and …  realized that there were amazing things happening with data,” especially real-time data on testing and infection rates, for example.

 

“We were watching various entities do data collection and put out reports every day and what you want is to put disparate data sets in one place and then harmonize them–make them all have same basic structure and make them homogeneous so people can reason with the data” for whatever purpose they have, Mintz said.

 

Looker’s COVID-19 Data Block makes public datasets easy to integrate into existing data, he said. It contains pre-built dashboards and provides links to data from places like the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering and The New York Times.

 

Data Block is being used in impacted verticals like retail, so grocers that are seeing major spikes in sales both online and in stores are using this data to provide insights into what to order and have in stock, Looker said.

Hospitals, labs, and insurers are using data to understand how to prepare their business and save lives, including Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA), which is utilizing Looker’s capabilities to guide and monitor delivery of critical aid to its members and patients during the pandemic.

Academic institutions such as Oklahoma State are using data to plan so they can mitigate the impacts of COVID on their citizens. The university is also using the Data Block to create a state-wide symptom tracker.   

Restaurant chains can benefit by using the data to determine which locations to reopen as restrictions ease and how to re-engage their employees, the company said. And meteorologists can use the Looker Weather Block on top of the Google Mobility Data to align climate with people gatherings, the company said. 

The data in the Data Block is not static, Mintz said, and that as additional relevant data sources are made available, it will be updated to incorporate that information.

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