Archive for January, 2019

Curious 23andMe twin results show why you should take DNA testing with a grain of salt

If you’ve ever enthusiastically sent your spit off in the mail, you were probably anxious for whatever unexpected insights the current crop of DNA testing companies would send back. Did your ancestors hang out on the Iberian peninsula? What version of your particular family lore does the science support? Most people who participate in mail-order DNA testing don’t think to question the science behind the results — it’s science after all. But because DNA testing companies lack aggressive oversight and play their algorithms close to the chest, the gems of genealogical insight users hope to glean can be more impressionistic than most of these companies let on. To that point, Charlsie Agro, host of CBC’s Marketplace, and her twin sister sent for DNA test kits from five companies: 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA. As CBC reports, “Despite having virtually identical DNA, the twins did not receive matching results from any of the companies.” That bit shouldn’t come as a surprise. Each company uses its own special sauce to analyze DNA so it’s natural that there would be differences. For example one company, FamilyTreeDNA, attributed 14% of the twins’ DNA to the Middle East, unlike the other four sets of results. Beyond that, most results were pretty predictable — but things got a bit weird with the 23andMe data. As CBC reports: “According to 23andMe’s findings, Charlsie has nearly 10 per cent less “broadly European” ancestry than Carly. She also has French and German ancestry (2.6 per cent) that her sister doesn’t share. The identical twins also apparently have different degrees of Eastern European heritage — 28 per cent for Charlsie compared to 24.7 per cent for Carly. And while Carly’s Eastern European ancestry was linked to Poland, the country was listed as “not detected” in Charlsie’s results.” The twins shared their DNA with a computational biology group at Yale which verified that the DNA they sent off was statistically pretty much identical. When questioned for the story, 23andMe noted that its analyses are “statistical estimates” — a phrase that customers should bear in mind. It’s worth remembering that the study isn’t proper science. With no control group and an n (sample size) of one set of twins, nothing definitive can be gleaned here. But it certainly raises some interesting questions. Twin studies have played a vital role in scientific research for ages. Often, twin studies allow researchers to explore the effects of biology against those of the environment across any number of traits — addiction, mental illness, heart disease, and so on. In the case of companies like 23andMe, twin studies could shed a bit of light on the secret algorithms that drive user insights and revenue. Beyond analyzing the cold hard facts of your DNA, companies like 23andMe attract users with promises of “reports” on everything from genetic health risks to obscure geographic corners of a family tree. Most users don’t care about the raw data — they’re after the fluffier, qualitative stuff. The qualitative reporting is […]

Free to play games rule the entertainment world with $88 billion in revenue

They may be free, but they sure pay. Games with no upfront cost but a plethora of other ways to make money generated a mind-blowing $88 billion in 2018 according to SuperData’s year-end report — leaving traditional games (and indeed movies and TV) in the dust. While it may not come as a surprise that F2P (as free to play is often abbreviated) is big business at the end of 2018, the Year of Fortnite, the sheer size of it can hardly fail to impress. The total gaming market, as this report measures it, amounts to a staggering $110 billion, of which more than half (about $61 billion) came from mobile, which is of course the natural home of the F2P platform. Credit: SuperData The $88 billion in F2P revenue across all platforms is large enough to produce a dynamite top 10 and an enormously long tail. Fortnite, with its huge following and multi-platform chops, was far and away the top earner with $2.4 billion in revenue; after that is a jumble of PC, mobile, Asian and Western games of a variety of styles. The top 10 together brought in a total of $14.6 billion — leaving a king’s ransom for thousands of other titles to divide. The vast majority of F2P revenue comes from Asia. Powerhouse companies like Tencent have been pushing their many microtransaction-based games “Traditional” gaming, a term that is rapidly losing meaning and relevance, but which we can take to mean a game that you can pay perhaps $60 for and then play without significant further investment, amounted to about $16 billion across PCs and consoles worldwide. Netflix thinks ‘Fortnite’ is a bigger threat than HBO An exception is the immensely popular PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, one of the hits that touched off the “battle royale” craze, which took in a billion on its own — though how much of that is sales versus microtransactions isn’t clear. Amazingly, Grand Theft Auto V, a game that came out five years ago, generated some $628 million last year (mostly from its online portion, no doubt). The top titles there are nearly all parts of a series, and all lean heavily toward the Western and console-based, with only pennies (comparatively) going to Asian markets. China is a whole different world when it comes to gaming and distribution, so this isn’t too surprising. Lastly, it would be neglectful not to mention the explosion of viewership on YouTube and Twitch, which together formed half of all gaming video revenue, with Twitch ahead by a considerable margin. But the real winner is Ninja, by far the most-watched streamer on Twitch with an astonishing 218 million hours watched by fans. Congratulations to him and the others making a living in this strange and fabulous new market.