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Not every entertainment CEO has the metaverse bug

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/ Illustration by Kate Walker

Not every entertainment CEO has the metaverse bug

 

The Future. While we’ve written a lot about the tech sector’s almost-religious push into the metaverse, many top CEOs don’t believe that the metaverse — as narrowly-defined now — will be something people actually want to spend time in at scale. The criticism may instead be a recalibration toward thinking of the metaverse as a way to bring digital connectivity into the real world… instead of just losing ourselves in an online existence.

Headset headaches
According to The Vergenot every entertainment CEO has the metaverse bug.

  • Microsoft’s CEO of gaming, Phil Spencer, compared the current plans for the metaverse as “ a poorly built video game,” noting that the whole virtual conference room aesthetic of the many platforms is unappealing
  • Snap CEO Evan Spiegel disparagingly described the metaverse like “living inside a computer.”
  • Apple’s SVP of worldwide marketing, Greg Joswiak, said that the metaverse is “a word I’ll never use.”
  • Disney CEO Bob Chapek tries “not to use” the word metaverse — a kind of about-face.

While the comments seem to be kicking Meta while it’s down, each of these companies are getting into a metaverse in their own way.

So, no, it’s not the vibes of a conference room in VR, but it’s connective — a belief that even the creator of the concept behind the metaverse, author Neal Stephenson, holds true.

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Netflix reaches for the skies with a push toward cloud gaming

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Netflix reaches for the skies with a push toward cloud gaming

 

The Future. Netflix has announced that it wants to enter the cloud gaming sphere. Going head-to-head with huge competitors like Amazon and Google is a bold move for the streaming giant, and it will have to find ways to succeed where its rivals have stumbled. But if the risk pays off, Netflix could turn things around after a devastating year for their stock and subscription numbers.

Not playing around

At the Techcrunch Disrupt conference earlier this week, Netflix gaming VP Mike Verdu announced that the company was “seriously exploring a cloud gaming offering.”

  • The cloud venture will only cater to mobile devices for now, though Netflix hasn’t ruled out console gaming. There’s been no mention of a dedicated controller, like what competitors Google’s Stadia and Amazon’s Luna have.
  • Netflix already has 35 games on their service and 14 more currently in development. Many of these are based on Netflix’s original IP, like Stranger Things, while others are licensed. The goal, according to Verdu, is to eventually strike a 50/50 balance between original and licensed IP.
  • The company is also launching a new internal studio (Netflix’s fifth) in southern California. The studio will be headed by Chacko Sonny, a former executive producer of Overwatch.

This announcement came off a surprisingly positive Q3 for Netflix, which saw the addition of 2.41M subscribers when the streamer only expected 1M.

Storm’s a-brewing
Cloud gaming isn’t easy to pull off. Google recently announced it will shutter Stadia in January of next year due to a lack of user engagement, and Amazon’s Luna hasn’t exactly been a hit either. One of the hardest parts of cloud gaming to get right is the issue of latency — waiting a moment while your TV show loads is ok, but with gaming, even tiny amounts of lag can ruin the experience. If giants such as Google and Amazon can’t nail this problem, it’s hard to see how Netflix will — especially if their service is exclusive to mobile devices.

There are examples of success, though. The cloud gaming services of Microsoft and Nvidia have both performed well, though Microsoft has the advantage of a huge library of developed games spanning decades that they can upload to their service.

Maybe Netflix can find a happy medium. If they do it just right, they use games to tide over current subscribers between big releases of their popular shows and attract new young users for whom gaming is a bigger draw than TV.

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A teenager built the known universe in Minecraft

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Courtesy of Christopher Slayton via YouTube

A teenager built the known universe in Minecraft

 

The Future. Teenage Minecraft builder Christopher Slayton built the entire universe in painstaking detail on the gaming platform. The accuracy and attention to detail may demonstrate how Minecraft could reinvigorate education — using virtual worlds to teach out-there scientific concepts or explore uncharted territories in a language that young people are innately interested in.

Cosmic blocking

Christopher Slayton has made it possible for anyone to explore the cosmos.

  • NYT reports that the 18-year-old, known by the username ChrisDaCow, recreated the universe in Minecraft block-by-block over the course of two months.
  • To build the universe to accurate proportions, Slayton had to teach himself new math concepts, studied endless photos from NASA, and even jumped out of an airplane.
  • Players can now use their avatars to fly through the universe and explore different planets.

To get a glimpse of his astounding achievement, you can check out Slayton’s video overview here.

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Video games could battle dementia

Video games could battle dementia

 

The Future. Researchers are working on specially-designed video games that are promising to help our brains fight off the symptoms of dementia. It builds off the belief of neuroscientists that games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles keep the brain strong.  It’s still early days, but if these “brain training” video games are proven to make an impact over time, prepare for a little time in front of the PlayStation to be prescribed by doctors. 

Mental workout

WSJ reports that video games may be very good for the mind.

  • The games push players to “differentiate and recall sounds, patterns, and objects, making snap decisions that grow harder as the games progress.”
  • They try to “stimulate and speed up neural activity and slow deterioration in brain physiology that occurs with age.”

How so? According to Chandramallika Basak, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, brains have an insulation layer called myelin that keeps all the nerve fibers taut and bundled. But as people age, it unravels. Her team has found that games can increase that myelin or at least stop it from unraveling.

Think hard, play hard

There’s still a long way to go and a healthy debate over whether the games make a significant impact in the long term. But the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine already recommends playing them, and the National Institute on Aging is funding 21 clinical trials.

One of those studies has already found that it lowers dementia risk by 29% some ten years after starting to play games that require “speedy observations and snap decisions.”

Playtime really does increase our quality of life.

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Roblox plans to grow up with its users

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Courtesy of Roblox

Roblox plans to grow up with its users

 

The Future. At its annual developer conference, Roblox announced a bevy of new features set to roll out over the next year. The features are meant to mature the platform with its aging audience, the hope being that Roblox won’t only be known as a game for kids and end up losing users… which may put the platform in direct competition with Fortnite in creating a youth-driven metaverse.

Update together
According to The Verge, Roblox knows it needs to age up to keep up with the times, so it’s introducing a handful of new features for those over the age of 13.

  • Immersive ads. The platform is introducing the ability for creators to put up 3D advertising on virtual billboards, posters, taxis, and various other surfaces within experiences (what game worlds are called inside Roblox). Creators will get a cut of the ad revenue generated.
  • Brand portals. Brands can also create “portals” between games — like a coffee shop or shoe store — that are essentially virtual activations.
  • Age ratings. Like movie ratings, Roblox plans to roll out a system that lets creators age-restrict their experiences (although no equivalent to an R-rating will be allowed).
  • Expressive avatars. Soon, avatars will be given facial expressions (like winking and smiling), and will be able to chat with each other with a user’s camera animating their facial movements.

Creator crunch
While Roblox has been known as a kid-focused destination, CEO David Baszucki says that evolving demographics on the platform are changing the platform’s ecosystem.

  • Half of its 52.2 million daily active users are now over the age of 13.
  • Roblox’s biggest growth is in users who are in their late teens to early-20s.
  • Virtual events and branded worlds also typically bring in an older crowd.

And with a growing populationrevenue share will need to grow as well. Although 2.7 million users earn money on the platform, they’re only left with 30% of the revenue after app store fees, and Roblox takes its cut.

The ad revenue should help, and the company is adding $10 million more to its $25 million game fund to incentivize independent developers  to build.

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Creative studios using Fortnite Creative could build Epic’s metaverse

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Creative studios using Fortnite Creative could build Epic’s metaverse

 

The Future. Although it was released in 2018, Fortnite Creative maps are just hitting their stride thanks to a group of startups building branded worlds for some of the most influential companies in the world. With engagement in these worlds only growing, Epic may use it as a backdoor for launching its own metaverse.

Breaking pixels
According to The Verge, creative studios are using Fortnite’s Creative mode to build branded virtual experiences.

  • Beyond Creative developed a world for Balenciaga that mimicked a virtual city square with a branded storefront at its center.
  • Team Unite created an RPG game within Fortnite for the movie The Northman.
  • Alliance Studios built a mansion full of minigames for Grubhub and recreated KAWS’ Serpentine Galleries.
  • Zen Creative was behind a virtual concert for Brazilian rapper Emicida that transported the artist across multiple worlds as he performed.

World by world
Building Creative maps are beginning to look like good business. Branded worlds within Fortnite and other metaverse-like platforms are driving revenue, with many companies offering “four to six figures,” according to Alliance Studio’s Simon Bell, for projects that range from a few weeks to a few months.

And increased engagement ensures that the hype train doesn’t stop anytime soon. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said, “about half of Fortnite play time by users is now in content created by others, and half is in Epic content.”

But there’s still room for improvement. As of right now, creators can’t design their own custom items for sale, and Fortnite’s Creator Code (code users can enter when buying virtual goods to give map-creators a kickback) is cumbersome and low-paying. But Sweeney says changes are on the way.

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iHeartMedia sets the stage in Fortnite

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Courtesy of iHeartMedia

iHeartMedia sets the stage in Fortnite

 

The Future. iHeartMedia is launching a branded world in Fortnite dubbed “iHeartLand,” which will host virtual concerts, house various mini-games, and offer digital products. Don’t be surprised if this September’s iHeartRadio Music Festival surprises attendees by expanding its lineup to include some virtual-only shows.

Experimental encore
THR reports that iHeartMedia is tuning up for the metaverse.

  • iHeartLand has opened in Fortnite for players using the game’s “creative mode.”
  • Developed by Atlas Creative, the world contains a main stage (that will feature a Charlie Puth concert on September 9), an iHeart headquarters with a recording studio, and a recreation of the famous tunnel entrance at the HQ in NYC.
  • Users can also play several mini-games on the island, in which players can win “gold” to redeem virtual items.
  • The world will be free to users, with iHeartMedia using sponsorship deals and in-game advertisements (iHeart hired Super League Gaming to help sell ads) to profit off the venture.

iHeart says it plans to host 20 events on the main stage over the next year, including an album release party for Puth’s upcoming Charlie on October 7.

E-vent
iHeartMedia joins several other entertainment companies, artists, and fashion brands that are turning to metaverse-like gaming platforms to reach new audiences.

The ambition of iHeartLand is all about democratizing access, especially for young people. Gayle Troberman, iHeartMedia’s chief marketing officer, says, “Are kids coming to the dinner table and talking to their parents about … [seeing] the Charlie Puth show in the State Farm Park, and then they played this game and they went to this tunnel? That’s going to be success for us.”

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Video game sales pause as people go outside again

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Video game sales pause as people go outside again

 

The Future. After years of growth, the video game industry is facing declining sales as it now competes with live events, traveling, and all the other hallmarks of a life spent indoors. That’s not to say that the industry has anything to worry about, but communicating to Wall Street that the unprecedented good times of COVID (an irony, we know) were bound to end may be its new challenge.

Player problem
The video game industry is facing a new hard-to-beat foe: renewed interest in going outside.

  • Per WSJ, overall sales are down 13% in Q2 after dropping 8% in Q1.
  • Sensor Tower and NPD Group report that overall sales for the year will likely be down almost 9%, marketing the first full year of declining sales since 2016.
  • It’s no surprise considering top companies like Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, and Take-Two Interactive are all reporting slow revenue growth… and few have any big titles coming out this year that could rebound sales.
  • Even Roblox, an absolute growth machine during the pandemic, fell between 30% and 40% over the last two quarters. That sent its stock down 10%.
  • And Netflix, which is actively pushing to get into gaming, has only converted less than 1% of its subscribers to give its titles a try.

Like streaming, the slowdown in gaming was inevitable as people emerged from the shadow of the pandemic and wanted to explore the world again. KeyBanc analyst Tyler Parker said that there’s clearly “been a big shift toward more experiential spending.”

It may be time to let live events have their day in the sun.

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Minecraft’s snub of NFTs is a Web3 paradigm shift

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Mojang // Illustration by Kate Walker

Minecraft’s snub of NFTs is a Web3 paradigm shift

 

The Future. Minecraft-developer Mojang said in a statement that, for the time being, it has no interest in NFTs… which may put the kibosh on existing crypto projects within the game. Since Mojang is a subsidiary of Microsoft, it may also show where the tech giant itself stands on the subject — a big 180 from nearly every other Big Tech company dipping its toes in the world of Web3.

Equal playing field
Minecraft doesn’t want your money, reports Fast Company.

  • Mojang said it wasn’t interested in implementing NFTs in Minecraft because they “create a scenario of haves and have nots,” “promote scarcity and exclusion,” and “encourage profiteering.”
  • It would seem that Minecraft leadership wants to avoid the culture of “microtransactions” that has taken over much of gaming — a fair stance considering that so much of the game is focused on kid creativity (Roblox doesn’t mind, however).
  • The company may also be trying to avoid headaches like the heist of Axie Infinity, which saw hackers steal $625 million from its crypto network.

The announcement may come as a shock to independent Minecraft NFT projects like “NFT Worlds,” “Critterz,” and “Survival Game NFT,” which have collectively raised hundreds of millions of dollars in the game.

Mojang hasn’t closed the door entirely, saying that the company is paying “close attention to how blockchain technology evolves over time to… determine whether it will allow for more secure experiences or other practical and inclusive applications in gaming.”

No economy
Does Microsoft know something that other game developers don’t know? Xbox chief Phil Spencer echoed a similar sentiment to Mojang when he said that, right now, NFTs in gaming feel “more exploitive than about entertainment,” so he “doesn’t want that kind of content.”

Considering that the NFT market has cooled considerably — gaming NFTs had a total loss of $50 million during Q1, according to NonFungible — the environment may not be right to introduce them even if they wanted to.

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Video gaming can be good for teams

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Video gaming can be good for teams

 

Future. As remote work becomes the norm, staying in touch with colleagues is getting harder and harder. Sure, WFH has its perks, but the rising rate of employee loneliness is becoming a major problem for companies. Instead of demanding a return to the office, team video gaming could be a great alternative for coworkers to bond. Goodbye, awkward Zoom happy hours.

Good game

Playing video games with your coworkers could be the ultimate team-building activity.

  • A study from Brigham Young University found that groups who played video games together were 20% more productive than other teams.
  • That’s because virtual gameplay often mimics the same interactions that help people work better together — pursuing mutual goals, allocating shared resources, and negotiating task ownership.

Team up
Diana Hubbard, Ph.D., elaborated on the positive benefits: “Virtual [gaming] communities … not only benefit by each person fulfilling their particular role, but also by each person using the collective intelligence of the community to learn more about their role and the roles of others.”

And games aren’t just great for helping teams work together – they’re also good for improving individual skills. Studies have shown that playing games can boost communication skills and even spatial reasoning.

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