Industry News [Week of Feb 1 2021]

This is the regular 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!

Google Stadia announced a major shift, transitioning from a potential game studio to solely focusing on distributing other games using their infrastructure. Or, at least, I’m given to understand it was a major shift – to be honest, I hadn’t heard nearly as much discussion of Google’s first-party game studios as I had about the Stadia backbone in the first place, so not sure how many people in the industry will actually be changing their expectations based on this.

Tomorrow is the Super Bowl, and Verizon has plans to bring engagement into the metaverse with a custom stadium in Fortnite in which players can interact with NFL players and participate in a variety of mini-games. Verizon also has a concert planned for the evening to support small businesses, though my understanding is that this concert will not be replicated in Fortnite – a curious choice given Fortnite’s proven ability to draw demand, but perhaps indicating some remaining questions that need to be solved before the biggest players feel comfortable shifting events to in-game platforms?

Microsoft announced their new custom neural voice offering, which allows anyone to ‘clone’ their voice into a text-to-speech network which is able to sound reasonably realistic. This technology has been around for a while – Google’s had a beta out for a bit, and Amazon began partnering with brands on this front last year. (Not to mention Lyrebird, which offered a similar API at least prior to its acquisition by Descript – I’m not sure if it still does so.) That said, Microsoft seems to be the first to offer this in a fully self-serve way while also having a vision for productizing the technology. For those TTS startups trying to offer similar services, they’ll now need to focus on differentiating from Microsoft through either even more realistic-sounding voices (hard in general, but might be achievable by focusing on a certain domain, like gaming or audiobooks), or by offering a more white-glove approach than Microsoft can provide through the creation process. (Competing on price is possible but seems unlikely given Microsoft’s advantages of scale.)

Finally, a new bill introduced in the US senate attempts to pressure online platforms to monitor user behavior more closely, in particular with respect to potential crimes or the planning of domestic terror. While I agree that online platforms have a moral responsibility to protect the most vulnerable of their users, I’m worried about the lack of clarity here – for instance, the bill defines “known suspicious transmission” as anything that “…should have reasonably [been] known to have occurred…”, but I’m not convinced that our current legal system has a solid grasp on what assumptions are actually reasonable when it comes to online platforms and user-generated content. This is something Modulate is working to get more involved in – if legislation is interpreted to require stricter controls than the industry is technically capable of offering, the consequence will either be to cripple smaller platforms or force larger ones to completely forgo all protections of user privacy, neither of which satisfies me as a desirable outcome. All in all, I think it’s great that regulations are being seriously discussed here, but hope to see more mutual discussion with industry before anything final is passed.

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

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