Industry News [Week of August 24]

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!

Epic and Apple’s battle continues, with Microsoft among others speaking up in support of Epic, at least as far as their need to preserve Unreal Engine’s ability to sign games for use on Apple’s platforms. So far, Unreal Engine has indeed been protected by an early ruling, but Fortnite has officially been removed from the iOS app store. (Also, Google’s been around, probably? Interesting that Apple has been taking the lead in the news coverage here – I’m not certain whether those court decisions have just been progressing more quickly, or if there’s more at play there.)

Unity is going public. This has been rumored to be coming for a while, and with COVID, the gaming industry has certainly been on the rise – though Unity is careful in its framing to emphasize that it is a creative platform for designing digital experiences of all types, not just games. (They further emphasize this in the risks section of the filing, noting that expanding outside of gaming is a core piece of their growth strategy.) I see this as something of a harbinger of online interaction to come – the tools and technology which have been honed for creating games will rapidly be taken up by more and more industries, transitioning increasingly large amounts of interaction into immersive online platforms.

TakeTwo acquired Playdots, a mobile game maker best known for Two Dots. This isn’t a small deal, especially given TakeTwo’s stated ambitions to use the acquisition to improve their coverage of casual mobile games, but honestly my interest in it is mostly personal – I’ve downloaded about 5 mobile games in my entire life, including Two Dots after a recommendation from a friend only a week after it first was released. So seeing a game I’ve watched evolve from the beginning hit a transition like this feels like a pretty momentous event!

Microsoft has a new, hyper-secretive studio dubbed “The Initiative”, which they claim will be a “AAAA” game studio, and which has recently picked up some impressive hires. Seeing as “AAA studio” is more an informal label than anything, I’m not too wowed by the idea of quad-A just yet – but I’m hoping this hints that Microsoft will really be making some major changes to the idea of gaming, rather than merely crediting themselves for incremental improvements on the kind of content already out there.

TikTok’s American CEO has resigned, citing that the US regulatory demands have put him in a position where he won’t be able to do the job he’d envisioned. To be honest, I sympathize – TikTok has become a hotspot for regulatory debate and there’s quite a bit of political influence in play. I know nobody needs a reminder how weird the US political scene is these days, but I feel like the fact that neither Mayer (the resigning CEO) nor ByteDance predicted anything like this, when Mayer only joined a few months ago in May, is a powerful underscore of how complex and shifting things have become.

Finally, Steam is bringing text chat censoring to all games on the platform, expanding on a project started through SteamLabs for a few select titles. The degree of censorship is optional, with Valve noting that individuals may wish to reclaim certain terms within their community – and importantly, each player has the opportunity to create a custom list of words they wish to censor as well. This will be a powerful tool to help players avoid the worst of the toxicity they might face, but past experience has shown that censorship can only play a partial role in resolving this kind of disruptive behavior – to create large-scale change, we’ll need to do more to redesign the social landscape of online interaction, so that the urge to misbehave itself is avoided.

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

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