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Core might be the Vegas of the metaverse – TechCrunch

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A self-described “endless arcade,” Core feels like a 90s cyberpunk fever dream come to life. Half playable game library, half no-code game creator, all neon lights, the new platform is a surprisingly well-realized vision of this metaverse thing everyone sure seems to be talking about lately.

Billing itself as your “portal to the multiverse,” Core is primed to test the age-old proposition If you build it, they will come. Giant companies like Roblox and Facebook might have huge established platforms, but Core has laid some very compelling groundwork for creators and players alike.

Logging in, players are transported to Core’s central hub, a fitting cross between a theme park, a high-tech mall and a casino, with entertainment and shopping a few gravitationally unburdened strides away in every direction. Giant neon signs beckon, enticing players to hop into myriad user-generated virtual worlds. Swapping out clothing and in-game gear or inviting a friend to jump in with you takes only a few clicks and just cruising around and people watching is plenty interesting.

If Core looks a lot like Fortnite, that’s not a coincidence. Core, made by Manticore Games, runs on Fortnite-maker Epic’s Unreal engine. And those ties are even deeper: Epic led a $15 million round of investment in the company last year and the platform is exclusively available through the Epic Games Store for PC. In March, Manticore raised $100 million more from a grab bag of major investors and took its creator platform live.

Core might not be a household name yet, but it’s already nailed one of the challenges that any metaverse aspirant has to crack. In my time playing around with Core, the experience of getting from one place to another was often so seamless I wound up in the wrong place by accident. Chalk this up to user error, but instantly being transported — to a Deadmau5 show, to an overgrown dystopian wasteland, to a isometric pirate game — after walking through various portals was one of the more seamless online multiplayer experiences I’ve had more than a decade of those games.

Core looks great. That’s one strike against Roblox, one of the most successful companies building out a vision for the metaverse. Much like Fortnite, Core’s graphics are cartoony but not too cartoony. Roblox’s under-13 crowd is aging up — a factor that company is actively planning around — and those not-so-young players will be looking for a new virtual home. Any aspiring edgelord would be able to take themselves plenty seriously with Core’s wide selection of custom outfits and avatars. Or you could be a kitty.

Deadmau5, metaverse resident

Most of Core’s content is UGC, a.k.a. user-generated content, a new-ish name for an era-defining online phenomenon (don’t blame yourself if the acronym evokes mixed martial arts). But Manticore also has plenty of room to partner up with musicians and brands for elaborate themed in-game experiences.

This week, DJ and EDM festival perennial Deadmau5 launched his own, a sprawling, colorful series of experiences described as a “permanent residency in the metaverse.” Core is mostly home to user-made games, but it’s also a natural fit for entertainment and even education — the team noted that some users started hosting game development classes.

Unlike recent shows in other virtual worlds like Lil Nas X in Roblox or Ariana Grande in Fortnite, the Deadmau5-themed content will stay live after it debuts for anyone to explore. The team at Manticore likened this to how performers like Penn and Teller camp out in Las Vegas for ongoing shows, and the metaphor is very appropriate. But unlike Vegas, performers can be in two places at once: Deadmau5 also announced he’d participate in a music festival hosted on the Ethereum-based virtual platform Decentraland this week.

I watched the show with Deadmau5, né Joel Zimmerman, for an early sneak preview. He wore one of his signature giant animal helmets (I think a cat?) and cyborg angel wings, while I opted for an understated black hoodie, the little black dress of the metaverse.

“I think what drew me to it was the modularity of it all and how it gives more tools to creators,” Zimmerman told me, hopping around wildly in Core while reclining IRL in a gaming chair emblazoned with the Deadmau5 mouse.

Like we’ve come to expect from virtual concerts, the interactive performance is well-stocked with melting psychedelic visuals, mini games and a menacing Chain Chomp-esque mouse with turntable ears. Zimmerman and Core co-founders Frederic Descamps and Jordan Maynard who also ran around the show with me had seen it at least 10 times, but everyone still seemed to genuinely be having fun.

At some point I either fell into lava or got smashed on a conveyer belt by a massive metal fist while a Deadmau5-themed villain loomed nearby. “I think it’s the only interactive concert you can die in,” Maynard said. The show was visually a lot of fun, creatively interactive and ultimately a lot like concerts in Fortnite, which sets a high bar for this stuff.

The elaborate virtual experience, called Oberhasli, also showcases some unique worlds created by fans with no prior game dev experience, from an eerie jungle ruin to a spooky world full of floating space debris. The Core Deadmau5 performance kicks off on Friday at 3 PM PT. It’ll replay over the weekend and be available on demand afterward, for anyone else who’d like to be smashed into an EDM pancake.

Core for creators

Later on our call, held on Discord, the Core tour devolved into everyone running through a secret gate behind a destructible wall and world-hopping wildly through game genres, each remarkably polished for something that doesn’t require any code or game development experience. Moving from one game world to another took seconds even with a terrible wifi connection, including the time I ran through something that looked like World of Warcraft’s dark portal and wound up sailing an isometric pirate ship.

The WoW nod is probably not a coincidence. Descamps waxed nostalgic about the heyday of WoW machinima, narrative movies built through captured gameplay, like only a serious longtime player could. Descamps and Maynard also previously worked on Rift, another fantasy MMO that still commands a loyal following a decade on. (Maynard was employee number seven.) Everyone is raving about the metaverse these days, but surprisingly few companies in the space trace their roots back to the seamless virtual gaming worlds that have brought people together for years.

Core screenshot gameplay

Image Credits: Manticore

To underline how easy it is to make stuff in Core, Maynard quick-built a first-person shooter for us to play, a drag-and-drop process that took maybe two minutes of dipping into Core’s huge library of original in-game assets that were created using its system. Grab a handful of 3D objects and pick a game mode from the template choices (battle royale, racing or dungeon crawler?) and you’re most of the way to a polished-looking playable game built in Core’s modular sandbox. Setting your game in a chilly snowscape or a barren desert is also as simple as dragging and dropping, lending the environments an expansive feel.

Gameplay aside, out of the box Core games look light years better than the UGC you’d run across in Roblox, though that platform’s users have never seemed to mind. The breadth of visual styles and game genres is also mind-boggling for anyone who’s bounced out of samey UGC on other platforms.

Core users who create content have a pretty good swath of monetization options, which Manticore calls “perks.” That includes offering in-game cosmetic items, but also charging for premium games, selling Fortnite-like battle passes or implementing a subscription model. The revenue split is 50/50, which looks generous next to the 25% that Roblox passes on to creators. And in Core, like in other modular game-making platforms, everyone is a creator — no development experience needed.

Core is PC-only for now, but Manticore plans to bring it to other platforms, including iOS, starting next year. Game creation will likely stay limited to PC, but the idea is that anyone could play Core games anywhere, a platform agnostic vision that certainly boosted Fortnite early on and Roblox more recently.

“[Game development] is kind of like baking: a very precise formula, technical, can take weeks to iterate,” Descamps said. But in Core, the technical stuff gets out of the way and a process that would normally drag on can happen in minutes, leaving the rest of the time for experimentation and play.

“What if you put a portal gun into Mario Kart?” Maynard asked, and I’m fairly certain we could have found out right then.

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Facebook tests a new ‘Professional’ mode for creator profiles – TechCrunch

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Meta (formerly Facebook) today is introducing a new “Professional” mode for user profiles, designed to be used by creators looking to monetize their followings on the social network. The new mode, which is initially available to select creators in the U.S., will present creators with additional money-making opportunities and expanded insights that had been previously only available to Facebook Pages.

Among these will be the ability for creators to participate in the new Reels Play bonus program, where some creators are able to earn up to $35,000 per month based on the views for their short-form video content. However, access to this program, for the time being, is invite-only — meaning Meta will determine which creators qualify to earn bonuses.

While Meta didn’t share what other monetization options will be available in the days ahead, it did note that it will also make professional-level insights available to these creators, which are similar to what Page owners have access to. This includes access to post, audience and profile insights. For example, creators will be able to now see the total number of shares, reactions and comments that their posts have and be able to view their follower growth over time. This allows them to make better, more informed decisions about the content they post and how it resonates with their audience.

Image Credits: Meta

While many creators are already using Facebook profiles instead of Pages to attract fans and followers, Meta warns that others who decide to opt into this new experience will be opening themselves up to being more of a public figure on the social network. That means anyone can follow them and see the public content posted to their feed, but they’ll be able to mark posts as either public or friends-only, as you could otherwise on a private profile.

Meanwhile, creators who are using Facebook Pages will be opted into the new Pages experience instead. This will provide access to a Professional Dashboard that will serve as a central destination for admins to review the Page’s performance and access professional tools and insights, the company notes. Facebook is also testing a two-step composer on Pages. which allows creators to schedule posts and cross-post into a group.

The changes come at a time when Meta is heavily investing in its creator user base, as it sees the potential in a new revenue stream that comes from things like creator subscriptions and virtual tips, aka “Stars” — the latter which it just made available yesterday outside the app stores through a new website where it no longer has to pay commissions to Apple and Google. The company earlier said it was planning to lure in creators with $1 billion in payments, like the Reels bonuses among other things, as the competition for creator talent heats up with TikTik and other top social apps, like YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat and others.

Meta notes that the new Professional mode is still in testing with select creators in the U.S. for now, but will roll out more broadly in the future, including to the EMEA region.

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Reddit to roll out personalized end-of-year recaps with stats about users’ habits – TechCrunch

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Reddit is launching a new personalized Spotify Wrapped-like recap feature for all users tomorrow. The new recaps will include a variety of stats, including a summary of the time you spent on the platform, a look at the content that you interacted with or contributed, topics you engaged with and communities you’ve viewed or joined. Reddit notes that users will be able to hide their username and avatar if they want when sharing the recap across other social media apps.

“In previous years, Reddit Recap focused on aggregated trends across the platform. This year we wanted to add a fun, personalized in-product experience to remind users of their contributions and belonging on the platform,” Reddit said in a statement. “Every Redditor has a unique role to play on Reddit, and so we referenced user browsing and engagement data from January 1st, 2021 to November 30th, 2021 to help shape the stories about how they fit in.”

End-of-year recaps have become increasingly popular thanks to Spotify’s annual Wrapped feature that is widely shared across social media each year. Given its success, it’s no surprise that other companies like Apple, YouTube, Snapchat and now Reddit are looking to mimic the popular feature with their own versions.

In addition to the launch of recaps, Reddit has released data about the most popular themes on the platform in 2021. The company notes that cryptocurrency, gaming, sports, weddings, health and fitness, food and drink, and movies and television were the most popular categories. In terms of cryptocurrency, the top five most-viewed crypto communities this year were r/dogecoin, r/superstonk. r/cryptocurrency, r/amcstock and r/bitcoin. So far this year, Reddit has seen 6.6 million mentions of “crypto” across its platform.

As for gaming, the top five most viewed communities in 2021 were r/genshinimpact, r/leagueoflegends, r/gaming, r/rpclipsgta and r/ffxiv. For the sports category, the top five communities were r/nba, r/soccer, r/nfl, r/squaredcircle and r/mma. In terms of the weddings category, the top five communities were r/weddingplanning, r/engagementrings, r/bridezillas, r/wedding and r/weddingsunder10k.

Regarding health and fitness, the top five communities were r/lifeprotips, r/sports, r/progresspics, r/fitness and r/loseit. As for the food and drink category, the top five were r/food, r/cooking, r/keto, r/kitchenconfidential and r/starbucks. Lastly, the top five communities in the movies and television category were r/movies, r/marvelstudios, r/starwars, r/moviedetails and r/dc_cinematic.

Reddit also revealed that users created 366 million posts in 2021, which is a 19% year-over-year increase. The company has seen 2.3 billion total comments, a 12 percent increase year-over-year and 46 billion total upvotes, a 1% increase year-over-year so far this year.

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Instagram announces plans for parental controls and other safety features ahead of congressional hearing – TechCrunch

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On Wednesday, Instagram head Adam Mosseri is set to testify before the Senate for the first time on the issue of how the app is impacting teens’ mental health, following the recent testimonies from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, which have positioned the company as caring more about profits than user safety. Just ahead of that hearing, Instagram has announced a new set of safety features, including its first set of parental controls.

The changes were introduced through a company blog post, authored by Mosseri.

Not all the features are brand new, and some are smaller expansions on earlier safety features the company already had in the works.

However, the bigger news today is Instagram’s plan to launch its first set of parental control features in March. These features will allow parents and guardians to see how much time teens spend on Instagram and will allow them to set screen time limits. Teens will also be given an option to alert parents if they report someone. These tools are an opt-in experience — teens can choose not to send alerts, and there’s no requirement that teens and parents have to use parental controls.

The parental controls, as described, are also less powerful than those on rival TikTok, where parents can lock children’s accounts into restricted experience, block access to search, as well as control their child’s visibility on the platform and who can view their content, comment or message them. Screen time limits, meanwhile, are already offered by the platforms themselves — that is, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile operating systems offer similar controls. In other words, Instagram isn’t doing much here in terms of innovative parental controls, but notes it will “add more options over time.”

Another new feature was previously announced. Instagram earlier this month launched a test of its new “Take a Break” feature, which allows users to remind themselves to take a break from using the app after either 10, 20 or 30 minutes, depending on their preference. This feature will now officially launch in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Image Credits: Instagram

Unlike on rival TikTok, where videos that push users to get off the app appear in the main feed after a certain amount of time, Instagram’s “Take a Break” feature is opt-in only. The company will begin to suggest to users that they set these reminders, but it will not require they do so. That gives Instagram the appearance of doing something to combat app addiction, without going so far as to actually make “Take a Break” enabled by default for its users, or like TikTok, regularly remind users to get off the app.

Another feature is an expansion of earlier efforts around distancing teens from having contact with adults. Already, Instagram began to default teens’ accounts to private, and restrict target advertising and unwanted adult contact — the latter by using technology to identify “potentially suspicious behavior” from adult users, then preventing them from being able to interact with teens’ accounts. It has also restricted other adult users from being able to contact teens who didn’t already follow them, and sends the teen notifications if the adult is engaging in suspicious behavior, while giving them tools for blocking and reporting.

Now it will expand this set of features to also switch off the ability for adults to tag or mention teens who don’t follow them, and to include their content in Reels Remixes (video content), or Guides. These will be the new default settings, and will roll out next year.

Image Credits: Instagram

Instagram says it will also be stricter about what’s recommended to teens in sections of the app like Search, Explore, Hashtags and Suggested Accounts.

But in describing the action it’s taking, the company seems to have not yet made a hard decision on what will be changed. Instead, Instagram says it’s “exploring” the idea of limiting content in Explore, using a newer set of sensitive content control features launched in July. The company says it’s considering expanding the “Limit Even More” — the strictest setting — to include not just Explore, but also Search, Hashtags, Reels and Suggested Accounts.

Image Credits: Instagram

It also says if it sees people are dwelling on a topic for a while it may nudge them to other topics, but doesn’t share details on this feature, as it’s under development. Presumably, this is meant to address the issues raised about teens who are exploring potentially harmful content, like those that could trigger eating disorders, anxiety or depression. In practice, the feature could also be used to direct users to more profitable content for the app — like posts from influencers who drive traffic to monetizable products, like Instagram Shopping, LIVE videos, Reels and others.

Image Credits: Instagram

Instagram will also roll out tools this January that allow users to bulk delete photos and videos from their account to clean up their digital footprint. The feature will be offered as part of a new hub where users can view and manage their activity on the app.

Image Credits: Instagram

This addition is being positioned as a safety feature, as older users may be able to better understand what it means to share personal content online; and they may have regrets over their older posts. However, a bulk deletion option is really the sort of feature that any content management system (that’s behaving ethically) should offer its users — meaning not just Instagram, but also Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

The company said these are only some of the features it has in development and noted it’s still working on its new solution to verify people’s ages on Instagram using technology.

As always, I’m grateful to the experts and researchers who lend us their expertise in critical areas like child development, teen mental health and online safety,” Mosseri wrote, “and I continue to welcome productive collaboration with lawmakers and policymakers on our shared goal of creating an online world that both benefits and protects many generations to come,” he added. 

In response to Meta’s announcement, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) issued the following statement:

Meta is attempting to shift attention from their mistakes by rolling out parental guides, use timers, and content control features that consumers should have had all along. This is a hollow “product announcement” in the dead of night that will do little to substantively make their products safer for kids and teens. But my colleagues and I see right through what they are doing. We know that Meta and their Silicon Valley allies will continue pushing the envelope out of selfishness and greed until they can no longer do so.

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