Industry News [Week of September 21]

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!

The big recent news was Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda and Zenimax Media, further expanding Microsoft’s gaming repertoire and giving them a strong strategic edge when considering the exclusive content offers that would draw new players to the Xbox platform. Microsoft has made further comments that they plan to continue acquiring studios to bolster their offerings and reach a broader audience, so it seems this is part of a longer-term goal for them to become a more established publisher in their own right.

Epic Games has also made some notable investments this week, including leading a $15m investment in Manticore Games, which is building the highly customizable gaming platform Core, and acquiring SuperAwesome, the makers of kid-safe advertising and content management tools. Both of these investments line up pretty easily into Epic’s mission statement – more content, with more opportunities for users to get in on the creation, for wider audiences. So this is less of a strategic surprise, and more just a notable piece of progress for Epic in achieving those goals.

Inspired by the <sarcasm> roaring success </sarcasm> of Google’s Stadia, Amazon launched their own cloud gaming service, Luna, this week. Interestingly, there appear to be two separate payment models; one for Ubisoft games specifically, and then the generic Amazon one. Given their ownership of AWS and Twitch, Amazon is a natural fit for cloud gaming, but this confusion in the business model suggests that they still weren’t able to excite content creators at the level they might have initially hoped. Cloud gaming remains an ideal so far, it seems, rather than a true game-changer just yet.

Another interesting product launch – Steam will now curate gaming news for its users. Why? I’m honestly unsure – this feels a bit cargo-cult-y, in that if they mimic the features of top social networks, then maybe players will hang out there more often like they do on other social platforms? But I have trouble believing that something like Steam which is fundamentally centered on gaming will be able to build the strong network of a more global social platform, so I’m a bit unclear whether I’m missing something or if this is really just purely a low-risk experiment that they are trying because “why not”.

Likely inspired by Fortnite’s success, Roblox hosted a launch party for Ava Max’s new album this past Friday. Official stats from the event aren’t out yet, but expect to see more and more events like this, both as the technology for online interaction improves, and as the pandemic quarantine continues to extend!

Finally, in AI news, Microsoft has signed an exclusive license deal with OpenAI to offer GPT-3-enable MLaaS offerings through Azure. While I’m not a huge fan of this sort of exclusive license coming out of an organization which is growing increasingly distant from it’s “Open” title, in this case I’m pretty empathetic – GPT-3 is a powerful model but it has a lot of problems, especially related to data bias, which a large organization will be needed to navigate; not to mention that it simply requires such powerful servers that few entities in the world could afford to run the models anyways. That said, I still hope that we’ll be able to continue seeing researchers pick apart GPT-3 and other future work, as I think the community exploration there is key to detecting limitations and educating the rest of us about the state of the art!

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

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