Industry News [Week of March 29 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!

Lots of notable funding news over the last week or two. In particular, two different platforms with very different takes on the metaverse each raised $100m – RecRoom raised at a $1.25B valuation, while Manticore Games (creators of Core) didn’t disclose their valuation. Both of these fundraises likely built momentum on the back of Roblox going public, as they both follow many of Roblox’s fundamental design principles, especially around a focus on user-generated content. Between the two, RecRoom is a bit more similar to Roblox in terms of the design aesthetic, which many developers feel might put an artificial limit on the demographics they can appeal to. In contrast, Core is built do look substantially more sleek and sophisticated; but hasn’t yet reached a scale where it can firmly prove that this hasn’t come at a cost of accessibility for creators. Both platforms are obviously interesting to keep an eye on moving forward, though, and highlight the increasing overall industry attention on experience platforms rather than pre-structured games.

Microsoft is said to be in exclusive talks to purchased Discord for around $10B. I’ve seen a lot of discussion from folks worried this could result in Microsoft turning Discord into an Xbox exclusive or otherwise limiting access, but that seems backwards to me – I suspect Microsoft is a lot more interested in Discord’s community, with the underlying toolkit and platform being a distant (though still valuable) second. Notably, this comes at the same time as a rebranding of Xbox Live to Xbox Network – notice how much more community-centric rather than subscription-centric the new name is! Microsoft has evolved a lot over the last few years but its strengths have always been about obtaining a broad base and facilitating consistent interaction, so I can see them doing some really interest work to tie their infrastructure and tooling into a larger, more persistent set of community-building tools.

And finally, in the presence of Clubhouse’s initial success, various platforms have been announcing competitive features – the most recent being Discord itself, with the addition of the new “stages” feature. Competition in this space will likely boil down to three things – audience, discoverability, and creative talent. Clubhouse is behind on the former (notice they still don’t even have an Android app, much less a PC one), and while it’s clearly put in a lot of effort on the latter, I’m uncertain they’ll be able to preserve a moat there on its own. So I’m expecting them to go all-in on discoverability, focusing on helping folks quickly and naturally segue between existing chat rooms and swiftly find content which is compelling to them. This is one place where Clubhouse being newer likely has an advantage; they don’t have to deal with design baggage from being originally meant for another purpose, like Twitter, Spotify, and now Discord do.

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

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