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AOC’s Among Us livestream hints at Twitch’s political power

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Just before 9 p.m. on October 20, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went on Twitch to play the hottest game in America: Among Us. “Hi, everyone! This is crazy!” she began, urging viewers to make a plan for how they will vote with I Will Vote, an outreach program funded by the Democratic National Committee. 

After a few technical difficulties, Ocasio-Cortez spent three and a half hours playing the game with popular Twitch streamers as well as fellow Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar .

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reacts to being named the game’s “imposter.”

At one point Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitch stream attracted about 430,000 viewers, making her the third most popular streamer on the site ever. Not bad for your first go.

More important, the event offered a glimpse at the future of political campaigning. In the waning weeks of 2020’s volatile American election campaign, Democrats are increasingly turning to Twitch streams of popular video games to reach out to young voters and urge every last one of them to show up and vote. (Politicians are prohibited from using Twitch to fundraise, run ads, or monetize channels, according to a Twitch spokesperson.)

And you don’t get much more popular than Among Us. In September, it was downloaded nearly 84 million times on iOS and Android. And it’s been the most downloaded game on Steam, Apple, and Android since September, gaining nearly 200,000 players in the past few weeks alone.

The game itself is pretty simple. You play as a blob locked in a rocket ship with several other (differently colored) blobs. One of you—maybe you?—is a murderer, an “imposter.” The others, “crewmates,” have one mission: figure out who the imposter is before being “killed” by that imposter. You do this by running around the rocket ship, solving easy puzzles, and keeping an eye on any “sus” (suspicious) activity.

Among Us’s simplicity is reminiscent of Animal Crossing, which similarly has a fervent fan base dating back to the early days of the pandemic, when its explosion in popularity led to a worldwide shortage of Nintendo Switches. That game—you cultivate a deserted island populated by cute animals, build a house, and till the land to create a home—also had a fan in Ocasio-Cortez, who took to Twitter to open her DMs and offer codes to a lucky few who could then visit her virtual island. 

It’s not only Ocasio-Cortez. Just last week, in Animal Crossing, the Biden campaign launched its own island, Biden HQ, featuring a Biden avatar in aviators who only says “No malarkey!” along with a shop and voting area—with text codes for players to sign up to vote and buy in-game merchandise benefiting the campaign. Biden HQ’s launch was streamed to hundreds of thousands live on Twitch. 

Credit: Biden for President

Republicans are on Twitch too-—kind of. The Republican Convention streamed on the platform a couple of months ago, and President Donald Trump has an account, mostly used to stream favorable news segments or air campaign videos.

But the Republican Party has scoffed at the Democrats’ activities. “This explains everything. Not only does Joe Biden think he’s campaigning for president of Animal Crossing from his basement, his handlers are keeping him busy with video games while they stash him away to avoid talking about the bombshell reports of his corruption,” deputy national press secretary Samantha Zager said in a statement when asked about the launch of Biden HQ.

That sentiment may miss the potential of Twitch streams as a voter outreach tool. Nearly 140 million people were streaming on Twitch monthly as of July, and the number has grown exponentially during the pandemic. 

Twitch’s video-game streams are far more nuanced than they at first appear, and the Amazon-backed company is arguably evolving into a social-media platform in itself, putting it in a position to become a political player alongside Facebook and Twitter.

The power of social media as a way to reach younger American voters was first identified in 2008, when Barack Obama’s Facebook-heavy grassroots campaign showed that this demographic could be encouraged to turn out in droves. That narrative was turned on its head in 2016, when Russian disinformation worked to target millennials’ parents and grandparents in a multipronged, sophisticated digital effort to ramp up support for Trump. 

“We understand that the strategies in 2016 didn’t cut it,” says Briana Megid, the deputy national press secretary for NextGen, a progressive group focusing on youth outreach. “Poll-tested messaging, traditional spokespersons, and interviews with the political elite aren’t as appealing to your average unregistered voter as they may have been in the past.”

So far, unlike Facebook and Twitter, Twitch hasn’t had a massive disinformation problem or issues with content moderation. With a user group drawn almost entirely from millennials and Gen Z, it has become America’s pandemic-era alternative to TV, where a person can watch celebrities play games and engage in the type of side chats you might enjoy at a bar. 

Democrats have recognized its value. 

“It’s built political will,” says Jordan Uhl, who manages Twitch streaming for the progressive organization MoveOn. “It’s more an engagement platform than a streaming one.”

Animal Crossing was a crucial way for Democrats to test whether voter outreach through video games actually worked. “It’s both more strategic and less strategic than you think,” says Megid. “Sure, we want to reach out to young people and mobilize them to get out and vote. However, we need to find a sufficiently inclusive game, so that anyone can join, and one with a pseudo-chat feature so that we can attempt to bring up certain topics.” Animal Crossing was perfect for these reasons.

And Uhl says Twitch streams of Among Us have opened up ways for candidates to speak to socially distant, isolated voters. MoveOn is trying out chat prompts that pop up automatically with get-out-the-vote messages and screen overlays that show deadlines for voting by mail, he says. 

But does Twitch streaming actually translate into votes? There’s no hard data either way. “There’s a recognition that these platforms are successful because they’re not built for traditional voter outreach,” Megid says. “We can’t give a head count, so we can’t say ‘Yes, this worked’ or ‘No, it didn’t [work].’ We can certainly say, however, that we reached new people in new ways, and that moves the needle when it comes to persuading young people to get out the vote.”

Benjamin Chicka agrees. He is a lecturer in philosophy at Curry College who is writing an upcoming book about how philosophy and ethics intersect with video-game culture. “Even if in-person events go back to what they used to be, meeting people where they are rather than asking them to come to you and giving them [voters] the platform makes sense,” he says. “There’s something about that little affirmation that seems small, but it manifests in real, meaningful action in the real world.”

At midnight, Ocasio-Cortez— who did not respond to multiple requests for comment—said her goodbyes to her fellow streamers before addressing the audience, which stood at over 300,000. She told viewers she would come back. “Don’t forget to vote!” she urged one last time before turning to her monitor. “Okay, now I’ve gotta figure out how to turn this off,” she mumbled.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Eat Just to sell lab-grown meat in Singapore after gaining “world first” regulatory approval

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Eat Just will start offering lab-grown chicken meat in Singapore after gaining regulatory approval from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). The cell-cultured chicken will eventually be produced under Eat Just’s new GOOD Meat brand through partnerships with local manufacturers and go on sale to restaurants before it is available to consumers.

No chickens were killed to obtain the cell line used to produce Eat Just’s cultured meat, global head of communications Andrew Noyes told TechCrunch. Instead, the process starts with cell isolation, where cells are sourced through methods that can include a biopsy from a live animal. After the cells are cultured, they are transferred into a bioreactor, fed with a proprietary mix of proteins, amino acids, minerals, sugars, salts and other nutrients and then harvested after they achieve enough density.

While there are plenty of other companies working on lab-grown meats using various techniques, Eat Just describes the Singapore government’s review and regulatory approval as a “world first.” The company said that during the approval process, it went through 20 productions runs of cell-cultured chicken in 1,200-liter bioreactors to prove the consistency of its manufacturing process. Eat Just also said no antibiotics were used and that its cultured chicken has an “extremely low and significantly cleaner microbiological content than conventional chicken.”

Noyes said the company is already working with a restaurant to add its GOOD Meat chicken to their menu, and hopes to announce a launch date soon.

In Eat Just’s announcement today, chief executive officer Josh Tetrick said, “Singapore has long been a leader in innovation of all kinds, from information technology to biologics to now leading the world in building a healthier, safer food system.”

The government is currently engaged in an initiative, called “30 by 30,” to produce 30% of the country’s food supply locally by 2030. Spearheaded by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), the initiative was prompted because Singapore currently imports over 90% of its food, which makes it vulnerable to export bans or the logistics issues highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact. As part of “30 by 30,” the SFA and Agency for Science, Technology and Research has made $144 million SGD in research funding available.

Eat Just, whose other products include a plant-based egg substitute, announced last month it is partnering with Proterra Investment Partners Asia to launch a new Asian subsidiary. The partnership includes a factory in Singapore that received support from the government’s Economic Development board.

There are several factors driving demand for cultured meat and plant-based protein in Asian markets. The first is concerns about the safety of meat from slaughterhouses that gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic also highlighted vulnerabilities in the production and supply chain that can be potentially be avoided with lab-produced meat and meat alternatives.

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Apple releases its ‘Best of 2020’ App Store winners and most downloaded apps of the year

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Apple today released its highly anticipated annual list of the best apps and games of 2020. As in previous years, App Store editors selected the winners based on factors like the app’s quality, creative design, usability and use of Apple technology, among other things. The “Best of 2020” winners this year include a number of apps that helped people transition to a life spent at home. For example, home workout app Wakeout! won iPhone App of the Year, while Zoom snagged the top spot as the iPad App of the Year.

Disney+, which helped families keep kids entertained during coronavirus lockdowns, won for Apple TV App of the Year. The streaming service had just won “best app” in Google Play’s User Choice category, announced on Tuesday alongside its other Play Store winners.

Image Credits: Wakeout!

Top games of the year highlighted our collective need for escapism, often to fantasy worlds. This year, the list of game winners included Genshin Impact (also a Play Store “best game” winner) for iPhone Game of the Year; Legends of Runeterra as iPad Game of the Year; Disco Elysium as Mac Game of the Year; Dandara Trials of Fear as Apple TV Game of the Year; and Sneaky Sasquatch as the Apple Arcade Game of the Year.

Image Credits: Fantastical

Meanwhile, productivity app Fantastical won as Apple’s Mac App of the Year, a reflection of our new work-from-home lifestyles.

A relaxation and sleep app, Endel, won Apple Watch App of the Year.

Image Credits: Endel

It’s not surprising to see another relaxation app win a top app of the year accolade. Google just awarded sleep app, Loóna, the title of best app of 2020 on Tuesday, as well.

2020 has been a tough year filled with stressful events, including not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but Trump’s impeachment and November’s contentious U.S. presidential elections, the biggest stock market crash since ’87, protests and riots over racial injustice, wildfires in Australia and the U.S. West, the Weinstein verdict, Brexit, the deadly Beirut explosion, violence in Delhi, the Hong Kong protests, locust swarms in East Africa and deaths of prominent figures like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kobe Bryant Chadwick Boseman and others.

As Apple explained in its announcement, apps are a reflection of culture. And this year, they reflected people’s focus on self-care and mental health, remote work and learning, staying connected with family and friends, interactive and social gaming, and more.

Image Credits: Pokémon GO

Apple selected a handful of apps to reflect these “app trends,” including self-care app Shine, remote learning app Explain Everything Whiteboard, family messaging app Caribu, charitable giving app SharetheMeal and the revamped Pokémon GO, which shifted to support indoor gaming.

“This year, more than ever before, some of our most creative and connected moments happened in apps. This was thanks to the amazing work of developers who introduced fresh, helpful app experiences throughout the year,” said Phil Schiller, Apple Fellow, in a statement. “Around the world, we saw remarkable efforts from so many developers, and these Best of 2020 winners are 15 outstanding examples of that innovation,” he added.

Image Credits: Apple

This year’s “Best of” winners will receive the first-ever physical App Store Best of 2020 award, featuring the App Store logo set into 100% recycled aluminum, with the winner’s name on the side.

Apple also unveiled the most downloaded apps and games of the year, which, unlike its “best of” editorial selections, are a showcase of real consumer demand.

Not surprisingly, these lists included remote work must-haves like Zoom and Gmail; a number of escapist games and, not coincidentally, pandemic simulator Plague, Inc.; the viral hit Among Us! ,which even AOC live-streamed; kids’ “metaverse” platforms like Minecraft and Roblox; and the usual set of top social apps — this year led by TikTok, not a Facebook-owned app.

The most-downloaded apps and games of 2020 were, as follows:

Top Free iPhone Apps

  1. ZOOM Cloud Meetings
  2. TikTok
  3. Disney+
  4. YouTube
  5. Instagram
  6. Facebook
  7. Snapchat
  8. Messenger
  9. Gmail
  10. Cash App

Top Paid iPhone Apps

  1. TouchRetouch
  2. Procreate Pocket
  3. Dark Sky Weather
  4. Facetune
  5. HotSchedules
  6. AutoSleep Track Sleep
  7. The Wonder Weeks
  8. SkyView
  9. Shadowrocket
  10. Sky Guide

Top Free iPhone Games

  1. Among Us!
  2. Call of Duty: Mobile
  3. Roblox
  4. Subway Surfers
  5. Ink Inc. – Tattoo Drawing
  6. Magic Tiles 3: Piano Game
  7. Brain Test: Tricky Puzzles
  8. Brain Out
  9. Coin Master
  10. Cube Surfer!

Top Paid iPhone Games

  1. Minecraft
  2. Plague Inc.
  3. Heads Up!
  4. Monopoly
  5. Bloons TD6
  6. Geometry Dash
  7. NBA 2K20
  8. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  9. The Game of Life
  10. True Skate

Top Free iPad Apps

  1. ZOOM Cloud Meetings
  2. Disney+
  3. YouTube
  4. Netflix
  5. Google Chrome
  6. TikTok
  7. Amazon Prime Video
  8. Gmail
  9. Hulu
  10. Google Classroom

Top Paid iPad Apps

  1. Procreate
  2. GoodNotes 5
  3. Notability
  4. Duet Display
  5. Teach Your Monster
  6. LumaFusion
  7. Affinity Designer
  8. Toca Hair Salon 3
    9: Toca Life: Hospital
  9. Toca Kitchen 2

Top Free iPad Games

  1. Among Us!
  2. Roblox
  3. Magic Tiles 3: Piano Game
  4. Ink Inc. – Tattoo Drawing
  5. Call of Duty: Mobile
  6. Subway Surfers
  7. Dancing Road: Color Ball Run!
  8. Tiles Hop – EDM Rush
  9. Mario Kart Tour
  10. Save The Girl!

Top Paid iPad Games

  1. Minecraft
  2. Monopoly
  3. Bloons TD 6
  4. Plague Inc.
  5. Geometry Dash
  6. The Game of Life
  7. Five Nights at Freddy’s
  8. Human: Fall Flat
  9. Stardew Valley
  10. Terraria

Top Arcade Games

  1. Sneaky Sasquatch
  2. Hot Lava
  3. Skate City
  4. Sonic Racing
  5. PAC-MAN Party Royale
  6. SpongeBob: Patty Pursuit
  7. Oceanhorn 2
  8. Crossy Road Castle
  9. WHAT THE GOLF?
  10. LEGO Brawls

 

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Extra Crunch membership now available to readers in Israel

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We’re excited to announce that Extra Crunch memberships are now available in Israel. That adds to our existing support in:

  • United States
  • Canada
  • Argentina, Brazil, Mexico
  • UK and select European countries
  • Australia

Sign up for Extra Crunch membership here.

Use the code ISRAEL122020 during checkout for an additional 25% off an annual or 2-year plan. The discount code expires on December 11, 2020.

Israel has always been of interest to TechCrunch. It’s home to one of the hottest startup scenes in the world with endless successful companies emerging from the region. From 2018 to 2019, over $1.4B in funding went to Israeli cybersecurity startups. Startups like Check Point, CyberX, and Illusive Networks have helped reimagine cybersecurity, while companies like Lemonade have disrupted the insurance industry. Whether it’s robotics or hardware startups, there’s no shortage of diverse interest with Israeli startups.

We’ve also had the pleasure of hosting several in-person events in Tel Aviv over the years, and we’ve loved meeting the talented startup founders and investors in the region. There are a number of reasons to be optimistic about the future of the startup scene here, but the passion and enthusiasm of the founders in Israel is near the top of the list. 

Thanks to everyone who voted on where to expand. If you’d like to see Extra Crunch memberships available in your country, let us know here.

Join Extra Crunch by heading here.

What is Extra Crunch?

Extra Crunch is a membership program from TechCrunch that helps you spot technology trends and opportunities, build better startups, and stay connected. It features thousands of articles, including weekly investor surveys, daily private market analysis, and expert interviews on fundraising, growth, monetization, and other work topics.

We’d love to have you join our growing community of founders, investors, and startup teams.

Committing to an annual and two-year plan will save you a few bucks on the membership price and unlock access to TechCrunch event discounts and Partner Perks. Extra Crunch annual membership gets you 20% off tickets to virtual events like TC Sessions: Space. The Partner Perks program features discounts and savings on services from DocSend, Crunchbase, AWS and more.

You can sign up or learn more about Extra Crunch here.

Don’t forget to use the code ISRAEL122020 during checkout for an extra 25% off an annual or 2-year plan. The discount code expires on December 11, 2020.

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