So long, Stadia, we hardly knew ye
Good morning! Stadia, Google’s foray into cloud gaming, will shut down in January, marking the end of a pretty brutal three years. And that shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.
Stadia retires to the Google graveyard
Google’s latest gaming project has ended in failure. The company announced yesterday that its Stadia cloud gaming platform, which lets you stream games like you would a Netflix TV show to various screens and devices, will shut down in January 2023, and the company will refund every hardware and software purchase on the platform. For many industry watchers, it was the inevitable and unfortunate conclusion to arguably Google’s riskiest gaming gamble.
Stadia arrived too early and too half-baked. Although companies have been trying to crack game streaming for years, no company arrived on the scene with as much ambition as Google back in 2019.
- The company talked a big game and promised scores of impressive features, but the service eventually launched later that year in what felt like a half-finished state.
- While other cloud gaming platforms used a variety of business models that allowed consumers to either play games they already owned or those made available via monthly subscription, Stadia’s model asked users to pay full cost for software that worked only on its platform.
- To make matters worse, Stadia didn’t launch with many of the most attractive elements, including a promised free tier (which launched later) and exclusive first-party games that took advantage of the cloud (those never launched).
The writing was on the wall for quite some time. Google had a rough 2020 as it tried to attract new users to Stadia on the promise of exclusive games, big first-party releases like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Cyberpunk 2077, and an expanding feature set that would fulfill those lofty promises made a year prior.
- But by February 2021, the situation had grown dire. Without much warning, Google shut down its internal game development division, which included two studios employing around 150 developers. The division had yet to even ship a single game.
- High-profile hires, like Assassin’s Creed producer Jade Raymond, left the company to start new ventures, and much of the game industry talent began to flood out of Stadia, all while Google maintained that the service was alive and well.
- Throughout the remainder of 2021 and into 2022, Google made very little mention of Stadia, though the division did launch in new markets, kept adding games, and chipped away at its feature wishlist.
Rumors began to circulate back in July that Google was planning to wind Stadia down. This followed a damning Business Insider report in February 2022 that said Google had “deprioritized” the consumer side of the business in favor of trying to salvage its streaming tech as an enterprise business.
To squash the bad press, the Stadia Twitter account wrote on July 29, “Stadia is not shutting down. Rest assured we're always working on bringing more great games to the platform and Stadia Pro.” Now, two months later, the inevitable has in fact happened. It was a valiant effort, but ultimately another cloud gaming casualty. Here’s hoping Microsoft, Nvidia, and others fare better.
— Nick Statt
Binance’s double-edged sword
In the five years it took Changpeng Zhao — better known as CZ — to build Binance, he has turned the company into the world’s biggest crypto exchange, with 90 million customers and roughly $76 billion in daily trading volume.
The powerhouse has had its fair share of controversy. It’s been accused of being a “hub for hackers, fraudsters and drug traffickers.” And despite the fact that it’s long been banned from operating in the country where it originated (as with all crypto transactions), critics have portrayed the exchange as a tool of the Chinese government.
- “There is a common narrative, especially in the U.S., that Binance is a Chinese company, mainly because I look Chinese,” CZ told Protocol’s Ben Pimentel. “We hear in the lobbying circles in Washington that ‘Binance is run by the Chinese Communist Party,’ which couldn't be further from the truth.”
That hasn’t stopped Binance.US from skyrocketing, but there are a few things that keep CZ up at night.
- He, too, wants “regulatory clarity” for crypto from lawmakers. “Industry players know what to do. Consumers know what to expect. There's more licensing. There's more oversight. All of those things are good,” he told Ben. But there’s a line between regulation and overreach, CZ said, like China’s outright ban or India’s tax per crypto transaction.
- And the “educational component” of crypto when it comes to consumers has been Binance’s toughest hurdle, he said. “There's too many misconceptions about crypto … which is always very difficult to correct at this early stage in the industry. But I think as the industry matures, this will fix itself.”
A MESSAGE FROM ALIBABA
Alibaba — a leading global ecommerce company — is a particularly powerful engine in helping American businesses of every size sell goods to more than 1 billion consumers on its digital marketplaces in China. In 2020, U.S. companies completed more than $54 billion of sales to consumers in China through Alibaba’s online platforms.
The future is fake
Earlier this week, we wrote about OpenAI’s DALL-E, the slew of AI-generated image tools that followed, and what the future looks like for images based on text input. On Wednesday DALL-E became open to the public; though OpenAI has taken steps to mitigate problems such as misinformation or pornography, critics say it’s not enough.
Now critics have AI-generated video to worry about, too. Meta yesterday unveiled Make-A-Video, which uses text prompts to create animated videos.
- It uses the same technology as DALL-E to analyze text and spit out an image, but the models were also given “unsupervised training” on tons of video footage, too.
- That means it knows how to make an image, understands how sequential video frames work, and is able to combine both to create videos.
The animations don’t look great. Each has a dreamlike quality that makes you feel like you’re looking at something incredible while also being under the influence of drugs (not that I would know).
- “A teddy bear painting a portrait” is particularly terrifying.
But it’s easy to imagine a future where the videos indeed look very real — real enough to get someone a job or put someone in an ad or use as an excuse — and are created with just a few keystrokes. And that could obviously be problematic.
- AI models are trained on massive data sets, which makes it hard to catch every instance of bias or harmful content.
- For its part, Meta says that it won’t open Make-A-Video to the public while it ensures “that each step of release is safe and intentional” and is using various filters to help “reduce the potential for harmful content to surface in videos.”
— Karyne Levy
People are talking
Cédric O, France’s former minister of state for digital, said the U.S. and EU are at risk of a tech policy split-up:
- “If one day comes where the applications, the social networks, that you’re running in Europe cannot be the same as the ones that you’re running in the U.S., then it’s de facto a decoupling.”
Bill Gates doesn't think people will change their lifestyle because of climate concerns:
- “Other than immense central authority to have people just obey, I think the collective action problem is just completely not solvable."
Travel tech company TripActions has reportedly filed confidentially to go public in the second quarter of next year with a valuation of $12 billion.
Alisa Bowen is the new president of Disney+. Bowen previously led global business operations for Disney's streaming platforms.
Samsung Semiconductor is the newest member of TechNet, a trade association of tech CEOs and senior executives.
Tony Blevins, a senior executive at Apple, is leaving the company after a TikTok video, in which he made sexist remarks, went viral.
In other news
A bunch of Elon Musk's text messages became public in court filings related to his battle against Twitter. The whole document is worth a read; there are tons of exchanges with Parag Agrawal, Jack Dorsey and others.
Meta announced a hiring freezeand warned of a potential restructuring in order to cut costs and “manage out people who aren't succeeding.”
MoneyLion, a neobank, is being sued by the CFPB for allegedly charging over a 36% rate cap on loans to service members and their families.
New York adopted a mandate requiring all new cars sold in the state to be EVs by 2035. Gov. Kathy Hochul said 35% of new cars will need to be zero emissions by 2026 and 68% by 2030.
Palantir reupped and expanded controversial U.S. government contracts to develop and deliver AI and machine-learning capabilities for several Defense Department branches.
More than 30 major brandssuspended marketing campaigns on Twitter for placing their ads next to accounts posting child sexual abuse material.
The tech IPO market is the slowest it’s been since 2008. Total IPO volumes fell 90.4% in the first nine months of the year.
A group of Democratic senators asked the FTC to review Amazon’s purchase of iRobot over concerns that the acquisition is anticompetitive.
Mobile phones could go dark in Europe this winter if power cuts knock out service in some regions.
‘Soho House for techies’
Silicon Valley is no longer the sole hub where tech lives and thrives, with tech scenes flourishing in cities like New York and Los Angeles. Venture firm Contrary seems to have latched on to that, and, wanting to go past just setting up a hip office in New York, it's developing a coworking/event/hang-out space for techies in its network.
But Contrary points out that it's not just a hang-out room: The space has been used for comedy shows, dinner parties, and product launch events. “We want to have a place where people can go and feel like they've met their tribe,” Contrary’s founder Eric Tarczynski told Protocol’s Biz Carson.
A MESSAGE FROM ALIBABA
Using economic multipliers published by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, NDP estimates that the ripple effect of this Alibaba-fueled consumption in 2020 supported more than 256,000 U.S. jobs and $21 billion in wages. These American sales to Chinese consumers also added $39 billion to U.S. GDP.
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