Industry News [Week of October 12]

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!

Nvidia shared results of a new video streaming codec which uses AI to massively reduce the data that needs to be transmitted. The technique is fairly simple – share a few key indicators and then allow an AI model which understands what a human face looks like to fill in the details. Unclear whether this would have a graceful failure mode if the speaker migrates from standard “talking head” setup though, which would be a major blocker to using this in everyday conferencing tools – I definitely don’t want an AI algorithm to randomly decide it sees a pattern in my wall and start projecting a second face there or something.

League of Legends is coming to the iPhone, and more broadly, Apple claims that their new iPhone 12 models will offer a “console-quality” gaming experience enabled by the new A14 bionic chip plus 5G network connectivity. I don’t know that I quite believe that this will be fully on par with the latest-gen consoles, but I do believe this could be quite a potent blow to cloud gaming platforms like Stadia. Of course, the iPhones will still require you download the game and run it locally, but mobile is a much nicer endpoint for eventually screening new games, so if the quality is there this seems like a real competitor.

Sony is thinking about voice moderation to reduce toxicity, which is great. But they had a bit of a miss on the rollout – PS4 players this week found themselves being warned that their conversations may be recorded without any real clarification as to why or when. Sony has since acknowledged the confusion and added some clarifying statements explaining that PS5 players will be able to report users for moderation (including a few minutes of the most recent voice chat content), and this will be true even if they are speaking with PS4 users, despite the fact that the PS4 users won’t have the same ability to submit content for moderation. Generally speaking, most gamers I know would be ok with a small risk of their conversations being heard if it meant a meaningful decrease in toxicity, but Sony’s now playing from behind in terms of getting buy-in from its users that it will handle their voice chat logs in a reliable way.

Blizzard is winding down development of Starcraft II. It’s had a great run, but at the same time, if this means Blizzard freeing up resources for a new project, I’m interested to see what comes next.

Wired writes on how cloud and networked gaming utilizes large server farms which pose significant environmental problems. The numbers are certainly large, though they’re far from dominant – gaming is only about 5% of residential energy usage in the US, and the CO2 release is a tiny fraction of what’s released by other industries and negligible on the world scale. (Remember that industry overall is only a few percent of greenhouse gas emissions, while agriculture is something like half, and transportation around 20%.) Nevertheless, though, I think it’s a worthy point, because there is so much room for creativity under the constraint of using less energy. Some of the most addicting games in the world continue to be crappy flash games from the 90s; overwhelming processing specs aren’t the only way to make great game content, and I hope there’s more focus on indies and even AAAs thinking outside the box in this regard moving forward.

Finally, Qualcomm and Truepic are teaming up to automatically, cryptographically mark metadata onto real images, in an effort to decrease the risk of synthetic media passing itself off as real content. This is fantastic, and aligns with what I’ve been saying for a while – detecting synthetics is a temporary solution, so the only long-term fix will involve positively adding a mark to both synthetic and real content proving their providence. I’m glad to see people working on this problem in images the same way Modulate is for audio!

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

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