Industry News [Week of Feb 22 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!

The big news in AI ethics of the last few weeks has been around Google’s evolving…misadventures, to use a generous term…relating to its treatment of its lead researchers. A short while back, Timnit Gebru was unceremoniously fired (alleged to be her resigning, but she’s disputed that claim) by Google. Then they fired Timnit’s colleague Margaret Mitchell after freezing her out of her accounts. There’s been quite a large uproar about Google’s behavior here, and they are scrambling to earn back some goodwill. As of last week, they announced that Marian Croak would be taking ownership over a newly centralized “responsible machine learning” division, in the hopes to quell the unrest. It’s good to see they are taking some action, but they’ve been light on details around exactly what this means thus far, so it’s hard to know if this is real change or just an effort towards appeasement yet.

In drastically less shocking, but still disappointing news, we have yet more conferences returning to their virtual forms despite early hope in an in-person format from earlier in the year – most recently, GDC. I’ve yet to really see any virtual conferences fully replicate the opportunity of physical events for coincidental or casual networking – but major gaming conferences are prime targets to innovate in that space, given their access to such powerful online social platforms! I hope to see some clever ideas emerging here, as GDC has hinted that they are still exploring what the virtual event will exactly look like.

Playstation has announced a new version of PSVR coming soon to Playstation 5. They haven’t shared too much yet, but did specifically call out their new controller designs as potentially exciting, as well as a simplified setup that may go a portion of the distance needed to make VR more accessible for a wider audience.

Finally, remember the legal battle between Epic and Apple (and Google, I suppose)? It was recently revealed that in November of last year, Apple subpoenaed Valve for an extensive set of Valve’s own commercial records. Valve actually agreed to share quite a bit of data, but balked at some of Apple’s more intense requests – including data about pricing and revenue for every game on the platform for the past several years! My understanding is that Apple wants Valve’s data to aid in their story that their own pricing isn’t anticompetitive; but even if Valve complied, it’s not clear to me that this is quite the same thing. Steam is on PC, not mobile – and even more importantly, you are never forced to deliver your apps through Steam. It’s merely one of the available options. As such, I’m not sure what their economics really say relative to (my understanding of) Epic’s core argument about Apple’s monopolistic control of mobile apps on their platforms.

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

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