The Game Gear Micro is portable console as performance art.
Coming off the back of the excellent Genesis Mini, Sega had two choices when it came to reviving the Game Gear, its contemporaneous 8-bit handheld system. It could produce another generous, accessible device that plays well and looks great on a modern screen. Or it could do something else.
Sega being Sega, it did something else. The Japan-exclusive Game Gear Micro is not one console but four, each including four games. Each model has a screen the size of a postage stamp. And while Sega does provide a convenient option to let you play with a literal magnifying glass, the only way to get it is to buy all four consoles for around $200.
This is, obviously, a preposterous consumer proposition. But nostalgic Sega fans in 2020 are not normal consumers. If you’re the kind of person who bought non-functioning plastic 32X and Sega CD add-ons for your Genesis Mini, you will love the Game Gear Micro. It’s a delightfully daft product that has been designed with passion.
The Game Gear Micro has one job, and that is to scream “Sega” out loud using four small plastic gadgets as a megaphone. Most people probably don’t want to hear that. But it does do the job well.
The Game Gear Micro takes the idea of a mini retro console in the most extreme direction yet. At 80 x 43mm, it’s about the size of a Matchbox car. A huge chunk of the device’s volume is taken up by the two AAA batteries that power it — though, thankfully, they last somewhat longer than the original device.
The attention to detail is impressive, with accurate inscriptions and colors across all four models, and Sega even managed to find room for a headphone jack so you can experience Game Gear audio in glorious stereo. There’s also a Micro USB port to let you play without batteries and a dial to adjust the volume of the mono speaker, which gets quite loud.
I would not consider the Game Gear Micro to be the world’s greatest video game input device, but considering the circular D-pad is smaller than a dime, it’s remarkably usable. The 1 and 2 action buttons are a little wobbly, but they’re so small that it’s hard not to press them with precision.
The screen is surprisingly good for something the size of a cornflake. At 1.15 inches across and 240 x 180 resolution, pixel density is very sharp; this isn’t exactly the same resolution as the original Game Gear, but the scaling looks fine. It’s very bright, and contrast and viewing angles are also more than solid, not that it’d really be practical for more than one person to see the screen at once.
Games aren’t unplayable on the tiny display — I actually found it a lot easier than I expected to see what was going on — but it’s still more comfortable with Sega’s micro-sized resurrection of its old Game Gear clip-on magnification accessory, the Big Window. The resulting image remains smaller than what you’d get with Nintendo’s already-tiny Game Boy Micro, but every little bit does help. It’s unfortunate that Sega isn’t selling the Big Window Micro separately, but the company views it as more of a bonus than an essential accessory.
Would I have preferred a mini Game Gear with a bigger screen and all 16 games preloaded on one unit? Well, yeah. I guess so. But I can see why Sega did things this way. The $50-ish individual units make some sense as a curiosity or an impulse purchase, while the full set will appeal to collectors and is presumably what will justify the project in the first place. I doubt Sega could charge much more than $50 for a single Game Gear Micro, however many games it included.
The Game Gear was not a very successful system. It was one of many challengers that got obliterated by the Game Boy, and its library is pretty limited. There are lots of ways to play Game Gear games if you really want to, whether it’s through the 3DS Virtual Console or less official means like the countless open-source emulator handhelds out there. Unfortunately, there probably wouldn’t be much of a market for a conventional mini Game Gear.
Personally, I like what Sega has done here. It’s such a weird, unbelievable product that I can see hardcore Sega fans at least wanting to pick one of them up. The question is which to go for.
- The black model is the most mainstream of the four, coming in the most common Game Gear colorway and including three classic games, along with Royal Stone, a strategy RPG that was never released in English. But Sonic the Hedgehog, OutRun, and Puyo Puyo 2 are all easily playable for importers and represent some of Sega’s biggest franchises of the era. This model is almost worth getting just to hear the Game Gear version of the OutRun soundtrack.
- The blue model is my personal favorite. It has Sonic & Tails (Sonic Chaos outside Japan), which is one of the better Game Gear Sonic titles, as well as the amazing 8-bit port of Treasure’s Gunstar Heroes. I love the original, but I’d never played this version, and it was a blast to see how it was crammed into the Game Gear hardware. If anything, seeing it on the Micro made it even more impressive. There’s also Baku Baku Animal, a fun Puyo Puyo-style puzzle game about lining up food for animals to eat, and Sylvan Tale, a Zelda-style action-adventure that might be challenging to play without Japanese language ability.
- I will admit that I haven’t spent a ton of time with the yellow model. Three of its games are from the Shining Force tactical RPG series, which would be a dense proposition even in English on a screen like this. The last is a Japan-exclusive puzzle / RPG hybrid called Nazo Puyo Arle no Roux. It’s a shame because I do like the color scheme, but it’s hard to imagine anyone but extremely dedicated Shining Force fans sinking hours into this one.
- The red model also has some games that won’t be very accessible for most importers, namely two Last Bible spinoffs from the Megami Tensei RPG series. But you also get the technically impressive (and extremely difficult) Game Gear version of Shinobi, as well as classic block-busting puzzler Columns. And the red hardware is awesome.
If you’re going to go to the trouble of importing one, I think most players outside Japan would be best off getting the black or blue models. Or maybe the red one if they’re really good at Shinobi.
The system software is very simple. There’s a Game Gear splash screen when you turn it on, a home screen with four game icons, and an options menu that contains little more than staff credits, open-source licensing information, and the ability to reset system data. The only data there is to reset is your save state files, which you can use by holding down the start button in-game.
Emulation is handled by M2, the developer that Sega often works with on retro game projects like the Mega Drive Mini and the 3D Classics series for the Nintendo 3DS. The functionality is pretty bare-bones, but there are some neat touches like a variety of Sega-themed screens that pop up when the battery gets too low.
Some of the games themselves have been tweaked for the system. M2 was actually the developer behind Gunstar Heroes for the Game Gear, for example, and it added an Easter egg where you can activate a flickering technique that the team originally designed for the Game Gear’s blurry screen. Other games have had easy modes or cheat codes programmed in. M2 is one of the best studios in the world at reviving games and updating them in ways that don’t compromise the original experience, and the Game Gear Micro is another good example.
The Game Gear Micro is clearly an absurd product. But it’s also a charming and endearing celebration of Sega history. No one’s going to play through three full Shining Force games on this thing, but the point is that you could. The hardware is adorable, and the fact that games actually run well on it is almost a bonus.
But it’s also extremely niche, not to mention expensive and wasteful if you want the whole set. It is objectively silly to buy the same console four times to play 16 8-bit handheld games. I expect most casual Sega fans with an interest in exploring the Game Gear’s library will write the entire project off as a cynical cash grab, which would be understandable.
For something to be a cynical cash grab, though, it needs to be, well, cynical. The Game Gear Micro isn’t that. It’s a self-aware passion project developed with care and quality to a fault. Supporting Sega through history is like supporting a bad football team: relishing in perpetual failure is almost part of the appeal. And what could be more Sega-like than a lavishly undersized re-creation of a failed handheld system that was better known for eating batteries than playing good games?
The Game Gear Micro is peak Sega. It’s hard to imagine a less essential device. But if there is a place for Sega in your heart, you should consider getting your hands on one… or two.
Photography by Sam Byford / The Verge
Acapela, from the founder of Dubsmash, hopes ‘asynchronous meetings’ can end Zoom fatigue
Acapela, a new startup co-founded by Dubsmash founder Roland Grenke, is breaking cover today in a bid to re-imagine online meetings for remote teams.
Hoping to put an end to video meeting fatigue, the product is described as an “asynchronous meeting platform,” which Grenke and Acapela’s other co-founder, ex-Googler Heiki Riesenkampf (who has a deep learning computer science background), believe could be the key to unlock better and more efficient collaboration. In some ways the product can be thought of as the antithesis to Zoom and Slack’s real-time and attention-hogging downsides.
To launch, the Berlin-based and “remote friendly” company has raised €2.5 million in funding. The round is led by Visionaries Club with participation from various angel investors, including Christian Reber (founder of Pitch and Wunderlist) and Taavet Hinrikus (founder of TransferWise). I also understand Entrepreneur First is a backer and has assigned EF venture partner Benedict Evans to work on the problem. If you’ve seen the ex-Andreessen Horowitz analyst writing about a post-Zoom world lately, now you know why.
Specifically, Acapela says it will use the injection of cash to expand the core team, focusing on product, design and engineering as it continues to build out its offering.
“Our mission is to make remote teams work together more effectively by having fewer but better meetings,” Grenke tells me. “With Acapela, we aim to define a new category of team collaboration that provides more structure and personality than written messages (Slack or email) and more flexibility than video conferencing (Zoom or Google Meet)”.
Grenke believes some form of asynchronous meetings is the answer, where participants don’t have to interact in real-time but the meeting still has an agenda, goals, a deadline and — if successfully run — actionable outcomes.
“Instead of sitting through hours of video calls on a daily basis, users can connect their calendars and select meetings they would like to discuss asynchronously,” he says. “So, as an alternative to everyone being in the same call at the same time, team members contribute to conversations more flexibly over time. Like communication apps in the consumer space, Acapela allows rich media formats to be used to express your opinion with voice or video messages while integrating deeply with existing productivity tools (like GSuite, Atlassian, Asana, Trello, Notion, etc.)”.
In addition, Acapela will utilise what Grenke says is the latest machine learning techniques to help automate repetitive meeting tasks as well as to summarise the contents of a meeting and any decisions taken. If made to work, that in itself could be significant.
“Initially, we are targeting high-growth tech companies which have a high willingness to try out new tools while having an increasing need for better processes as their teams grow,” adds the Acapela founder. “In addition to that, they tend to have a technical global workforce across multiple time zones which makes synchronous communication much more costly. In the long run we see a great potential tapping into the space of SMEs and larger enterprises, since COVID has been a significant driver of the decentralization of work also in the more traditional industrial sectors. Those companies make up more than 90% of our European market and many of them have not switched to new communication tools yet”.
9 Zurich-area investors on Switzerland’s 2020 startup outlook
European entrepreneurs who want to launch startups could do worse than Switzerland.
In a report analyzing Europe’s general economic health, cost of doing business, business environment and labor force quality, analysts looked for highly educated populations, strong economies, healthy business environments and relatively low costs for conducting business. Switzerland ended up ranking third out of 31 European nations, according to Nimblefins. (Germany and the UK came out first and second, respectively).
According to official estimates, the number of new Swiss startups has skyrocketed by 700% since 1996. Zurich tends to take the lion’s share, as the city’s embrace of startups has jump-started development, although Geneva and Lausanne are also hotspots.
As well as traditional software engineering startups, Switzerland’s largest city boasts a startup culture that emphasizes life sciences, mechanical engineering and robotics. Compared to other European countries, Switzerland has a low regulatory burden and a well-educated, highly qualified workforce. Google’s largest R&D center outside of the United States is in Zurich.
But it’s also one of the more expensive places to start a business, due to its high cost of living, salary expectations and relatively small labor market. Native startups will need 25,000 Swiss Francs to open an LLC and 50,000 more to incorporate. While they can withdraw those funds from the business the next day, local founders must still secure decent backing to even begin the work.
This means Switzerland has gained a reputation as a place to startup — and a place to relocate, which is something quite different. It’s one reason why the region is home to many fintech businesses born elsewhere that need proximity to a large banking ecosystem, as well as the blockchain/crypto crowd, which have found a highly amenable regulatory environment in Zug, right next door to Zurich. Zurich/Zug’s “Crypto Valley” is a global blockchain hotspot and is home to, among others, the Ethereum Foundation.
Lawyers and accountants tend to err on the conservative side, leading to a low failure rate of businesses but less “moonshot innovation,” shall we say.
But in recent years, corporate docs are being drawn up in English to facilitate communication both inside Switzerland’s various language regions and foreign capital, and investment documentation is modeled after the U.S.
Ten years ago startups were unusual. Today, pitch competitions, incubators, accelerators, VCs and angel groups proliferate.
The country’s Federal Commission for Technology and Innovation (KTI) supports CTI-Startup and CTI-Invest, providing startups with investment and support. Venture Kick was launched in 2007 with the vision to double the number of spin-offs from Swiss universities and draws from a jury of more than 150 leading startup experts in Switzerland. It grants up to CHF 130,000 per company. Fundraising platforms such as Investiere have boosted the angel community support of early funding rounds.
Swiss companies, like almost all European companies, tend to raise lower early-stage rounds than U.S. ones. A CHF 1-2 million Series A or a CHF 5 million Series B investment is common. This has meant smaller exits, and thus less development for the ecosystem.
These are the investors we interviewed:
- Jasmin Heimann, partner, Ringier Digital Ventures
- Katrin Siebenbuerger Hacki, founder, Medows
- Philipp Stauffer, partner, FYRFLY Venture Partners
- Claude Donzé, partner, Tomahawk.VC
- Lucian Wagner, partner, Privilège Ventures
- Maximilian Spelmeyer, partner, SIX Fintech Ventures
- Olaf Hannemann, partner, CV VC AG
- Andreas Iten, partner, F10
- Michael Blank, partner, investiere
- Ninja Struye de Swielande, partner, Lakestar
Jasmin Heimann, partner, Ringier Digital Ventures
What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Consumer-facing startups with first revenues.
What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
AirConsole — a cloud-gaming platform where you don’t need a console and can play with all your friends and family.
Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I really wish that the business case for social and ecological startups will finally be proven (kind of like Oatly showed with the Blackstone investment). I also think that femtech is a hyped category but funding as well as renown exits are still missing.
What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
I am looking for easy, scalable solutions with a great team.
Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
I think the whole scooter/mobility space is super hyped but also super capital intensive so I think to compete in this market at this stage is hard. I also think that the whole edtech space is an important area of investment, but there are already quite a lot of players and it oftentimes requires cooperation with governments and schools, which makes it much more difficult to operate in. Lastly, I don’t get why people still start fitness startups as I feel like the market has reached its limits.
How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Switzerland makes — maximum — half of our investments. We are also interested in Germany and Austria as well as the Nordics.
Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Zurich and Lausanne are for sure the most exciting cities, just because they host great engineering universities. Berne is still lagging behind but I am hoping to see some more startups emerging from there, especially in the medtech industry.
How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Overall, Switzerland is a great market for a startup to be in — although small, buying power is huge! So investors should always keep this in mind when thinking about coming to Switzerland. The startup scene is pretty small and well connected, so it helps to get access through somebody already familiar with the space. Unfortunately for us, typical B2C cases are rather scarce.
Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I think it is hard to make any kind of predictions. But on the one hand, I could see this happening. On the other hand, I also think that the magic of cities is that there are serendipity moments where you can find your co-founder at a random networking dinner or come across an idea for a new venture while talking to a stranger. These moments will most likely be much harder to encounter now and in the next couple of months.
Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
I think travel is a big question mark still. The same goes for luxury goods, as people are more worried about the economic situation they are in. On the other hand, remote work has seen a surge in investments. Also sustainability will hopefully be put back on the agenda.
How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Not much. I think we allocated a bit more for the existing portfolio but otherwise we continue to look at and discuss the best cases. The biggest worries are the uncertainties about [what] the future might look like and the related planning. We tell them to first and foremost secure cash flow.
Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Totally! Some portfolio companies have really profited from the crisis, especially our subscription-based models that offer a variety of different options to spend time at home. The challenge now is to keep up the momentum after the lockdown.
What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
What gives me hope is to see that people find ways to still work together — the amount of online events, office hours, etc. is incredible. I see the pandemic also as a big opportunity to make changes in the way we worked and the way things were without ever questioning them.
Katrin Siebenbuerger Hacki, founder, Medows
Jony Ive is bringing his design talents to… Airbnb
I’m not going to pretend it makes obvious sense, but famed former Apple designer Jony Ive will soon be working for Airbnb. Yes, the company that primarily makes it easy for you to rent someone else’s home needs design help, and they’re going to the man best known for turning consumer tech on its head — as well as the occasional all-diamond diamond ring, a Christmas tree that is actually just a tree, and a magazine cover with no content.
So if you’ve been been put off renting one of Airbnb’s recently introduced, exorbitantly priced Luxe accommodations because they have too many furnishings, perhaps this is just the ticket? Dude loves minimalism.
Airbnb is calling the deal a “special collaboration” as well as a “multi-year relationship to design the next generation of Airbnb products and services,” and that Ive will help develop Airbnb’s internal design team as well — which has apparently undergone some turmoil. The Information is reporting three senior designers have recently left the team and design chief Alex Schleifer has been moved to a part-time role.
Ive and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky have apparently been friends for years, with Ive going so far as to pen a 2015 mini-profile of the Airbnb chief for Time Magazine, praising the company’s website design.
Maybe he can fix the company’s unfortunately shaped logo.
Ive still counts Apple as a client, by the way, even though he left last November. We had quite a few thoughts at the time:
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