Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Friday, we’re taking a look at the future of voice in the metaverse, and what you should play, watch and read this weekend.
The metaverse's next big opportunity: voice
As the tech industry is getting ready for the metaverse, most companies are focusing on the visual component of social online worlds: How will our avatars look when we all work and play online all day? How will those NFT art pieces be displayed? And will our virtual living rooms be just as messy as our real ones?
Far less attention is being paid to audio in the metaverse, and more specifically what everyone’s avatar will sound like. Voice will be a major component of virtual worlds, and the companies shaping the future of voice could become key enablers of the metaverse.
The metaverse requires really good spatial audio. It’s no accident that companies like Meta and Microsoft have been investing in spatial audio for their VR hardware and platforms. Spatial audio is key to conveying a sense of presence in 3D platforms, and really good low-latency implementations can make all the difference between being immersed and feeling out of place.
- That’s especially true as companies are looking to broaden the appeal of their platforms. “Spatial audio is super important for meetings, especially for business meetings where there's a group,” Second Life founder Philip Rosedale told me this week.
- Rosedale’s startup High Fidelity has been developing spatial audio hardware that is being used by Clubhouse and Spatial Web, among others.
- Second Life, on the other hand, has been using a spatial audio solution from Vivox, a startup that got acquired by Unity in 2019.
- That partnership may be on the way out now that High Fidelity has teamed up with the company. “We're definitely going to look at how to use High Fidelity spatial audio with Second Life,” Rosedale said.
Synthetic voices could make metaverse assistants more personal. Google and Amazon have long experimented with giving their respective assistants a variety of voices, which has included cameos from celebrities like John Legend and Issa Rae.
- In the metaverse, we’ll likely see a lot more customization options for personal assistants, which could include a visual component. After all, why talk to a voice-of-god-like Alexa when you can chat face-to-face with an embodied assistant?
- Some early examples for this include Magic Leap’s Mica demo as well as the Samsung-incubated Neon assistant.
- And once you’re talking to a virtual human, why not customize their look and voice? AI voice creation has seen massive advancements in recent years, to the point where your future assistant may look and sound like any celebrity of your choosing.
In the metaverse, you can sound however you want. Of course, synthetic voices aren’t just for virtual humans. If you can change the look of your avatar, then why not the sound of your voice?
- Valencia-based Voicemod has been providing voice modification technologies to PC gamers for years. Now, it wants to bring the same technology to social online worlds. “We want to be the voice of the metaverse,” Voicemod CEO Jaime Bosch told me recently.
- Voicemod recently launched a new licensing initiative to integrate its technology directly into third-party products, including headphones and AR/VR headsets. Bosch said that we could see the first hardware products with integrated voice modification to launch in the next few months.
- Up until now, Voicemod has been using DSPs to tweak voices and make them sound like a robot, or Darth Vader. However, the company has been busy working on machine learning to create synthetic voices from scratch.
- The goal is not only to make you sound like a completely different person, but also to improve the way you already sound. “We are enhancing your mic,” Bosch said. “We are removing your background noise.” Small changes like that could help a lot to make it feel like you are really in the same room with others.
That being said, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to sound like a completely different person in the metaverse. “At the end of the day, it’s about identity and expression,” Bosch said.
— Janko Roettgers
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TGIF: How to spend your weekend
What the Activision Blizzard deal means for game devs and platforms — Polygon: Making sense of Microsoft’s purchase of one of the world’s largest third-party publishers isn’t an easy task, given just how far-reaching the impact of the deal will be on the future of the industry. But GameDiscoverCo’s Simon Carless breaks down the larger forces at play in this excellent analysis for Polygon. Reading it will help you understand why it’s a big deal and how it speaks to the major industry shifts of the last few years.
Mapping Climate Grief, One Pixel at a Time — The New Yorker: New Yorker staff writer Julian Lucas wrote this week about the transfixing pixel art landscapes of indie game Norco. The title, made by the five-person team at Geography of Robots, is an ambitious upcoming work in a growing line of environmentally conscious video game narratives. It tells the story of a refinery town based on the real-world Louisiana location of the same name, which is home to a major Shell Oil Company site.
“Gangs of London”: From the mind of “The Raid” creator Gareth Evans, “Gangs of London” is a modern-day crime drama about the chaotic and violent aftermath of the London underworld’s power vacuum following the murder of a central mob boss. It features some of the most jaw-dropping action scene choreography on television, though the squeamish should stay away as it’s about as disturbing as a horror film. The series, originally from Sky, has since landed at AMC+ with a second season in the works.
“Peacemaker”: HBO’s new “Suicide Squad” spinoff from director James Gunn features the delightfully dumb wannabe superhero played by John Cena, back for a second act after his role as a misguided villain in the 2021 DC reboot. The first four episodes are on HBO Max now and feature some of Gunn’s signature dark comedy and witty writing, with a series run through Feb. 17.
Nobody Saves the World: Indie developer Drinkbox Studios, known for the Guacamelee series, released its first new game since 2018 this week, and it’s already amassing rave reviews. The game is a procedurally generated dungeon crawler featuring Zelda-like elements, but with a Final Fantasy-inspired job system that lets your character, Nobody, transform into one of 15 forms. It’s out on Xbox Game Pass, meaning you have no reason not to give it a try.
Inscryption: This roguelike deck-building game is almost impossible to describe without ruining some part of its central narrative thrust. But the indie game from developer Daniel Mullins Games is one of the most creative and unorthodox video game storytelling exercises in recent memory. It’s nominated for a host of awards at the upcoming Independent Game Festival, including game of the year. For $20 on Steam, it’s worth seeing why everyone has been talking about it endlessly for the past three months.
— Nick Statt
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