August 23, 2022
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Tuesday, we’re looking back at the widespread derision Meta faced last week over Mark Zuckerberg’s VR selfie and how the company’s metaverse ambitions compare to Epic’s Fortnite. Also: a nearly $6 billion — with a “B” — class action lawsuit against Sony.
Meta learned yet another hard lesson early last week about the uphill battle it faces in building the metaverse. The company launched its social VR platform, Horizon Worlds, in France and Spain, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg celebrated the moment with a selfie featuring his now-familiar cartoonish avatar.
It didn’t go well. Within hours, the image had gone viral, with a tidal wave of criticism over how elementary the scene looked and many wondering how Meta could still be so far behind modern video games in graphical fidelity. The uproar is a telling moment in Meta’s pivot away from standard social networking and especially so when compared to the success of competing platforms like Epic’s Fortnite, which last week enjoyed one of its most celebrated crossover events yet.
Meta is doing itself no favors by focusing so heavily on VR. A central pillar of Zuckerberg’s vision for the metaverse is that it will involve a combination of VR and AR, and a great deal of the company’s immense $10.2 billion expenditure last year has gone toward the development of next-generation devices Meta hopes will give it a competitive advantage in the future.
Zuckerberg eventually responded, having felt enough pressure that he posted a second time to his Facebook page, on Friday. In the post, Zuckerberg promised “major updates” to the graphics for Horizon and its avatars, with plans to share more at the company’s Connect conference later this fall.
But are Meta’s priorities the right ones? It’s an open question whether VR and social platforms like Horizon Worlds are the right roads to building the metaverse. Video game platforms — most prominently Epic’s Fortnite, Microsoft’s Minecraft and Roblox — seem to be doing just fine by focusing on engaging experiences and fun crossovers.
Of course, there won’t be one metaverse, at least not right away, and that much has become clear in the months since Meta has embarked on its quest to build Zuckerberg’s particular vision of the future. There will likely be many metaverse platforms, all competing with each other, and Meta’s might emerge as successful for reasons we can’t yet conceive of, and it could entirely hinge on the mass adoption of AR and VR many years from now.
But for right now, Meta’s idea of working and socializing in VR is losing to a goofy video game where you can play as Goku, team up with Iron Man and engage in a high-octane gunfight with Ariana Grande. One of those is a metaverse the public clearly wants, and the other is not.
— Nick Statt
How cybercrime is going small time: Cybercrime is often thought of on a relatively large scale. Massive breaches lead to painful financial losses, bankrupting companies and causing untold embarrassment, splashed across the front pages of news websites worldwide.
“Sorry to slice up the rumors, we're not making a Blade game but we can't wait to see what our friends at @MarvelStudios are cooking up for next year's movie!” — Ubisoft took the unusual route of denying a fast-spreading rumor yesterday that it’s working on a new game based on the vampire hunter Blade, after fans confused an Instagram post from actor Edwin Gaffney as a hint the French publisher was concocting something in partnership with Marvel."This perfection of controls really runs through the veins of Japanese game developers. It's been that way forever. There is something unique about moving a character in a Japanese game. The feeling that you have, the pleasure that you take … I look at developers like Platinum Games, when you play Bayonetta, that movement is perfected. They're second-to-none on that perfectionism. That's the local culture." — Nicolas Doucet, the studio director at Astro’s Playroom developer Team Asobi, talked to GamesIndustry.biz about what it means to develop games that feel like they’re crafted in Japan.
Saudi Arabia gives the greenlight to Activision acquisition. Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Competition has become the first regulatory body in the world to approve Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard.
HBO Max is removing 36 titles from its service. Did you know Elmo had his own talk show? Well, you won’t be able to watch it on HBO Max anymore.
Embracer Group’s Lord of the Rings purchase has strings attached. The massive rights deal, announced last week, means Embracer can now produce films, video games and other media based on the LOTR franchise, but with some key restrictions.
Streaming is officially more popular than cable now. Internet-based viewing surpassed cable TV consumption for the first time in July, according to Nielsen.
PlayStation VR2 has a launch window. Sony on Monday said it would launch its second VR headset in "early 2023," although the company is still keeping pricing under wraps for now.
A Star Wars project in limbo. A remake of the famed BioWare game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is in flux after a major studio shakeup resulted in the project moving from Saber Interactive's Aspyr to another unnamed studio, Bloomberg reported.
Roblox poaches a key Meta executive. Steve Park, a government relations head at Meta overseeing Japan and South Korea, is leaving for Roblox, the WSJ reported. He will head public policy for the Asia-Pacific region as Roblox eyes growth overseas.
Sony goes all in on adaptations. The PlayStation maker is developing new films based on Days Gone and Gravity Rush, Deadline reported. The projects join in-progress adaptations of Ghost of Tsushima, God of War, Gran Turismo and The Last of Us, among others.MoviePass aims to relaunch by Labor Day. Access will initially be limited to invited beta testers; the service will apparently offer multiple tiers starting at $10 a month.
A new class action lawsuit filed in the U.K. on Friday is accusing Sony of overcharging players for digital purchases on its PlayStation Store. The suit is asking for between 67 and 562 pounds (or $79 and $661) each for an estimated 8.9 million eligible consumers at a maximum total of almost $5.9 billion. (There's even a sleek website set up for it.)
Central to the lawsuit is Sony’s 30% cut of all digital goods on PlayStation in combination with restrictions Sony puts on developers that lawyer and consumer rights expert Alex Neill claims is anticompetitive. “PlayStation users have lost out due to this unlawful anti-competitive conduct,” the lawsuit says, according to the Financial Times. The FT notes that the suit is one of many flooding the U.K.’s Competition Appeal Tribunal thanks to a recent 10-billion-pound ($11.8 billion) lawsuit against Mastercard that has spurred a lucrative market for class action litigation funding.
Sony has yet to respond, but the claims strike at the heart of the game console business model. They also touch on a central dispute between Fortnite maker Epic Games and mobile app store operators Apple and Google, both of which Epic sued after its failed attempts to bypass the store’s payment systems. Console makers have claimed in the past that digital commissions are how they recoup the cost of selling hardware at little to no profit.
— Nick Statt
How cybercrime is going small time: People have been swindled since before man created monetary systems. These aren’t new crimes; just new ways to commit them. But as cybercrime increasingly goes small-time, those on the front lines will need new and more effective ways to fight it.
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