Industry News [Week of March 15 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!

Roblox officially went public and rapidly hit a momentous $45b valuation. Among other things, what remains most impressive to me here is Roblox’s history, not just the point they’ve reached here. They’ve built up Roblox as a fundamentally new kind of platform over more than a decade, with real traction only picking up in the largest way over the last few years as they refined the toolset, reached critical mass for player-developers, and other elements came together. To me, this speaks to a level of perseverance; if (and admittedly this is a fairly big if) Roblox can maintain a grip on its player base as they age, it will be enormously well positioned to retain its value and grow further in the coming years, unlike more traditional games.

Discord tripled its revenues last year from $45m to $130m, on the back of increasing user subscriptions and an unsurprising but nonetheless positive jump in usage during the COVID pandemic. I’d love to learn more about what’s driving those subscriptions in particular; right now from what I can tell, it seems to be largely users wanting the ability to reward their favorite servers with boosts. But those rewards aren’t exactly world-changing – things like audio quality and more room for file uploads are nice, but it feels a bit underwhelming and quickly cap off with enough users participating. Discord is dedicated to avoiding ads, which I can definitely appreciate, but it’s not clear to me yet whether their revenue increase last year is a sign they’ve found an alternative already, or just a helpful source of funding to buy extra time to figure it out.

Twitch is continuing its push towards better content moderation and understanding tools; leaks suggest they are working on a Brand Safety Score to assist potential advertisers in identifying streamers who they can be comfortable associating with their product. Twitch hasn’t commented much on the subject yet, other than underscoring their commitment to user privacy. But overall, I think this would be a positive addition, so long as Twitch maintains control over what determines one’s score and only shares the final result with advertisers.

TikTok recently rolled out new moderation tools for its creators. The ability for creators to filter comments on their posts seems late if anything, but I’m definitely excited about the way they are using nudges to get posters to reflect about their own comments and reconsider posting potentially vile content. Any method which puts the users in a position to actually rethink how they are engaging with their community will be much more effective at long-term change than simple punishments; though of course, this still depends on TikTok’s ability to come down on those who ignore the nudges!

Finally, Replica announced their new studio tool to help game developers, filmmakers, and others in the entertainment industry generate more lifelike text-to-speech voices. While I’m definitely excited about the technology, I’m actually somewhat more excited about the interface itself – it’s clear the team has put a lot of thought into how to make it intuitive to modify and iterate on its synthetic voices. I still harbor some concerns about how easy this will be compared to simply voicing the lines, but this definitely feels like the closest I’ve seen any tool come, and it may well surpass the necessary bar for a lot of creators already!

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

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