Industry News [Weeks of August 3rd and 10th]

This is the regular weekly post where I share updates about things happening in gaming, machine learning, audio, or frankly anything that catches my eye and seems relevant to share or discuss here. Let’s hop right in!

Starting with the loudest news, to be sure – Epic is, to put it dramatically, going to war with Apple and Google. The opening salvo was Epic’s reduction of in-app prices on all platforms except Apple and Google’s proprietary mobile stores. Epic explicitly noted that this is because of the 30% cut those platforms take, and that if the platforms reduced their stake, Epic would pass those savings to their users. However, Epic offered players another solution – in-app payment which bypasses the app stores’ cuts, and which immediately incorporates the promised discounts. In response, Apple and Google both banned Fortnite from their stores, as circumventing their cut is clearly against their terms of service. Lawsuits are now beginning to emerge from both sides, and Epic is making clear that they don’t see this as a battle for themselves – rather, they frame it as a battle for the future of content. Dean Takahashi over at GamesBeat has a good sum-up of the overall situation thus far.

On a similar vein, Apple is blocking game-streaming platforms like Google Stadia from its stores, due to the recognition that it won’t be able to review individual games offered via streaming, only the app infrastructure itself. I’m no expert, but this seems…wrong. For one, I don’t believe Apple audits in detail every single episode of every show offered via the Netflix app. More broadly, Apple seems to be arguing that they are trusted to audit the content and experience of apps in full, and that also seems inaccurate. I, at least, rely on App Stores to audit the technical behavior of apps – for instance, confirming whether it will use too much compute, steal personal data, etc. But I don’t need nor frankly want Apple to make decisions on my behalf about what content or experiences would be enjoyable beyond that, and am a bit thrown that they seem determined to do that here.

Anita Sarkeesian, a longtime advocate of equity and inclusion in gaming who has battled both systemic and personal hate through her Feminist Frequency platform, recently announced the creation of a new Games and Online Harassment Hotline. She emphasizes that the hotline is not meant to provide therapy or solutions, but is more designed to show people that they are not alone and provide a resource for those looking for emotional support in a historically heated and often toxic space. I’m frankly uncertain how much of an impact this will have directly on gaming behaviors, but at bare minimum I certainly agree with the importance of having a resource for those who are suffering mistreatment today, until we are able to bring about more lasting and fundamental change.

Brian Crecente, a gaming journalist whose credentials include being involved in founding both Kotaku and Polygon, worked with Epic to survey a variety of leading game developers on what they see coming up in the state of the industry. The article hits on a lot of different themes, so it’s hard to distill any specific takeaway, but I recommend checking it out!

Krisp closed a new round of funding for $5m. For those who don’t know, Krisp uses real-time machine learning networks to clean up background noise in speech, making them one among the shockingly small number of companies alongside Modulate to use ML to augment speech between people, rather than to empower machines to communicate with us. Of course, both kinds of solutions are important, but amplifying person-to-person interaction often is neglected, so I’m always eager to signal-boost other companies doing great work in this space!

And finally, something that has nothing to do with my industry but I can’t help but want to share: geneticists are renaming genes because they keep being misinterpreted as dates by Microsoft Excel. The moral of this story is left as an exercise to the reader.

That’s all for this week! As always, any thoughts or feedback are welcome. Stay safe, healthy, and sane, all!

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