Hammer & Chisel pivots to voice comm app for multiplayer mobile games

Discord's creators Jason Citron and Eros Resmini of Hammer & Chisel.


Hammer & Chisel didn’t have much luck with its pioneering iPad game, Fates Forever. It launched last year as a mobile version of the popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games. It won a lot of praise, but it didn’t get traction with players.

So Jason Citron, the founder of Hammer & Chisel, made the tough choice of shutting the free-to-play game down and pivoting to something new. It was an emotional time, but the team came through with something new, he said. The result is Discord, a new free voice communication chat app for multiplayer mobile games.

The app is in alpha testing now, and it is getting a lot of traction from players who want a reliable way to talk to team members during a game. Citron hopes it will make a splash in the $ 1.7 billion voice chat market, which is growing within the larger esports professional gaming market.

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“We think it’s a necessary, missing piece for the esports movement,” Citron said in an interview with GamesBeat.

Citron said investors have been supportive, in part because Discord is taking off, even though it’s still in alpha testing.

Citron’s Hammer & Chisel went through YouWeb’s 9+ incubator, which provided initial funding. Early investors included Accel, TWI, and IDG. Then the company raised another round of funding earlier this year from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Benchmark Capital and Chinese Internet gaming company Tencent. Citron in particular got a lot of attention for his new startup because he built Aurora Feint, later called OpenFeint, in the early days of the Apple App Store and then sold it to Gree in 2011 for $ 104 million. That was an extraordinary, fast-moving experience for an entrepreneur who had a big pay day at the age of 26.

Discord voice and text chat for mobile games.

Above: Discord voice and text chat for mobile games.

Image Credit: Hammer & Chisel

But with Hammer & Chisel, his first move wasn’t a success.

“We were very careful in spending our money,” Citron said. “We are an experienced team. We’ve done this before. We spent enough to get Fates Forever out. It was clear it wasn’t going to be a big business. We didn’t burn a lot of money on marketing.”

Fates Forever had a lot of critical acclaim as a pioneering MOBA on mobile. It had a lot of attention from Apple, which featured it prominently.

“We could theorize about why a game didn’t work, but at the end of the day, it didn’t work,” he said. “Making games is challenging. It’s a combination of novelty, pop culture, and operations. It was a very emotionally difficult time. We all love games. A lot of the most important relationships with my wife and best friends are built around games. A lot of our best memories we have are about playing games together. That’s what motivates me. I want to make things that help people become closer together through games.”

During the process of creating Fates Forever, the team noticed that voice and text chat for mobile hadn’t advanced. Over the past decade, there hadn’t been much progress as voice chat moved from the PC to mobile. So the team started experimenting.

Fates Forever

Above: Fates Forever

Image Credit: Hammer & Chisel

“Out of that, we built Discord,” Citron said.

Others have devised ways to handle game communication, such as Curse, Skype, C3, Hipchat, and Teamspeak. But Eros Resmini, who handles business operations at Hammer & Chisel, said that none of them are that satisfying. In fact, you can think of Discord as a mashup of two useful tools.

“If you think Skype and Teamspeak had a baby and it hand all sorts of super powers that is parents didn’t have,” Citron said. “What was basically a skunkworks project appears to be the most promising product we’ve built.”

Citron said that Discord became popular because it has low-latency communication, or minimal delays between when someone says something and another person hears it.

For much of this year, the company has been working on Discord. The networking infrastructure is built in Erlang, a technology that AT&T created in the 1980s for telecommunications. The system is spread across nine data centers around the world. The company has done tests to make sure that the latency is good.

Resmini also noted that esports competitors — or professional gamers who play games for money prizes — were worried about security. With Skype, it’s easy to get somebody else’s personal internet protocol (IP) address because the communication happens peer-to-peer. Citron said that Discord works through server infrastructure, so it’s impossible for anyone to obtain another player’s IP address. If a voice server in the distributed cloud gets attacked by flooding it with data, it shifts the communication to another server.

“We have special hardware on our endpoints that does distributed denial of service (DDoS) protection,” Citron said.

Discord for mobile game chat.

Above: Discord for mobile game chat.

Image Credit: Hammer & Chisel

Discord runs in a browser or as an app. So getting into the chat is easy, as all you have to do is share a link and type in your user name.

“That’s the magic moment,” Citron said. “It’s really easy to get people into a chat.”

Early reaction has been favorable for Discord. The company hasn’t spent money on user acquisition, but it is spreading via word of mouth.

“We’ve thought about doing esports sponsorship deals, but it’s growing so fast on its own that we haven’t yet,” Resmini said.

Over time, Hammer & Chisel hopes to introduce ways to monetize Discord. Those options include offering paid customization to players, who can pay for special “emoji” text chat or other kinds of stickers or decals.

Citron founded Hammer & Chisel as a mobile-first game company in 2012. Eros Resmini, who also worked at OpenFeint, joined to help get Discord off the ground.

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Uber, Didi Kuaidi Race In China As Uber Pledges To Be In 100 More Cities In A Year

Uber doubled its promises of Chinese expansion when its CEO said Tuesday it will be in 100 new Chinese cities in a year. The U.S. ride-hailing giant is pushing forward in China despite intense — and capital-heavy — competition from Didi Kuaidi, the homegrown, newly-merged company that has raised Uber-sized funds to hold on to its lead in China.

Cloud Computing

Google Compute Engine adds bigger VMs, autoscaling

Google Compute Engine, the company’s IaaS cloud computing offering, got a face-lift today with the announcement that new autoscaling features and 32-core VMs would be available to the general public.

Autoscaler, according to an official blog post, is the same system that Google itself uses to dynamically scale the number of VMs being used by a given application based on load — users set utilization targets, and the autoscaling system spins up or shuts down VMs in order to keep, say, RAM utilization at 50 precent. The idea is to remove the need for extensive capacity planning and management, Google said.

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InfoWorld Cloud Computing


Everything Samsung announced today at IFA 2015

A man walks at the Samsung Electronics' headquarters in Seoul January 7, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

All eyes were on Samsung at consumer electronics exhibition IFA in Berlin today, though there weren’t any high expectations for major product launches.

If you missed the event, here’s the gist of what the company did announce.

SmartThings Hub

The Internet of Things featured prominently on the agenda, with the Korean tech giant launching a new SmartThings Hub to help manage all your connected home appliances.

The $ 99 hub was developed by SmartThings, a company Samsung acquired last year, and can be used to connect things like security cameras, smart thermostats, and other smarthome gadgets.



Feeding into this, Samsung also unveiled SleepSense, a smart sleep-tracker that connects to your home appliances.

The SleepSense is a contactless sensor that’s placed under your pillow to analyze your sleep patterns, and the ultimate goal is to improve your sleep. To do so, it connects up with your TV, air conditioning, music system, and other smart home contraptions — all managed through a mobile app.

It can turn off your TV when it senses you’re asleep, or turn your coffee machine on when it reckons you’re awake in the morning.


Above: SleepSense


Samsung unveiled a new washing machine at IFA today, but it’s no ordinary spinner.

The AddWash is touted as “the world’s first washing machine that allows consumers to add laundry at any point of the wash cycle.”

Say wha’? It really is quite genius — you can add items of clothing to the main cycle mid-wash. Press a button to stop the drum, and throw in those garments you forgot without having to drain the main compartment.

This is also a connected washing machine that can pair with your Android and iOS devices, letting you monitor and manage a washing load remotely, while receiving update alerts.


Above: AddWash


Related to the Internet of Things, Samsung revealed it was working to integrate SmartThings with BMW cars, with notifications from the SmartThings Hub displayed on the car dashboard. The SmartThings app will also let BMW drivers lock / unlock their car, and view the technical status of their vehicle.

Similarly, an integration between a new Car Mode for Galaxy app and Volkswagen will let drivers take calls, control music, and more using touch or their voice. This partnership will also see the Volkswagen Car-Net e-Remote app integrate with the Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch, letting drivers locate their parked car, or even turn the air-con on from their wrist.

HDMI 2.0

The new HDMI 2.0 specification, announced by HDMI Forum back in April, will be landing on Samsung’s SUHD and UHD TVs — the first on the market to support the standard.

The company said it will issue a firmware update shortly, letting viewers display a broader High Dynamic Range (HDR) from external devices. It basically means a higher level of contrast between the lights and darks to create a clearer picture.

First Ultra HD Blu-ray player

The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) gave the go-ahead to license a new Ultra HD Blu-ray format last month, and at IFA today, Samsung was one of the first companies to announce an Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

No details such as price or launch date yet, but it’s expected to arrive in early 2016.

Samsung at IFA

Above: Samsung at IFA

In related news..

This wasn’t revealed at IFA, but it’s relevant anyway. Samsung and Barnes & Noble launched the latest version of their tablet / e-reader combo.

Costing $ 400, the The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 Nook is available now in Barnes & Noble stores across the U.S., and online at Nook.com.

VB’s research team is studying web-personalization… Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.


Microsoft Azure welcomes R language, with more to come

Revolution R Enterprise (RRE), a version of the R statistics language produced by a company recently acquired by Microsoft, is making its way to Microsoft Azure in a technical preview.

Speculation has abounded regarding how Microsoft would handle Revolution and its associated products, post-acquisition. One likely scenario was to offer R as a service — a cloud-hosted resource for scientific and statistical number-crunching. Now both Microsoft and Revolution are a step closer to doing exactly that.

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