Industry News [Week of December 14]

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!

Some exciting moves over the last week regarding improving online toxicity in games. The big three console developers announced a commitment to safer experiences. Twitch updated their terms of service to ban new terms from being used as insults by streamers. The Fair Play Alliance, a union of gaming industry orgs focused on better online environments, released a powerful new framework for thinking about online safety. And of course, Modulate announced the expansion of our platform to include ToxMod, the world’s first voice-native moderation system.

Other big movement in the industry this week includes a variety of acquisitions and partnerships. Roblox bought Loom AI, a bitmoji-like startup that can build a digital avatar based on a photo likeness of an individual, to bring players even more deeply into their games. Snapchat used the original Bitmoji in turn to launch a new “MMO” (loosely), Bitmoji Paint, in which anyone can contribute to an online canvas by walking around as their avatar. (I hope they’re using some safety tools to monitor what’s painted on that canvas, though…) And still along the same lines, Unity acquired another “digital twin” company called RestAR, which not only creates a static avatar but also can do motion capture. This idea of players diving deeper into their online platforms is still only in the early stages, but it’s clear that many major organizations are taking notice and continuing to push immersion forward!

Oh, and Unity and Snap announced a team-up this week as well. Unity-made games will now be able to host advertisements through the Snap network, and Snap Kit social SDKs will now be available on the Unity Asset Store – with Bitmoji tools coming in early 2021. It seems to me that Unity is getting the better end of the deal here, especially on the software side, though Snap definitely could prove to be a big winner here if they are able to shape the standards in mobile game dev to all utilize their avatar and social tools, which would solidify them as a central and relevant mobile player.

I feel bad for the incredibly dedicated developers, but I do have to mention the unfortunately devastating flop of CD Projekt’s Cyberpunk 2077. It seems that production was so intensely focused on next-gen consoles that older consoles suffer truly debilitating performance, which has forced CD Projekt and many of their distributors to offer refunds, at least until the developers can patch the game. It’s clear to anyone how much heart went into the development of the title, so I really do hope they are able to turn it around, but it will be a rough road.

Finally, Twitter continues its audio experimentation with Spaces, their new Clubhouse-like voice room tool. This is absolutely a tool that needs to exist, but I’m still skeptical that Twitter is the right organization to deliver it, given that they don’t really have much experience with audio as a medium. But I’ll be interested to hear how this initial rollout goes, and hope to be pleasantly surprised!

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

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