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Roblox announces new game-creation tools and marketplace, $100M in 2019 developer revenue – TechCrunch

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A week after gaming platform Roblox announced its new milestone of 100 million monthly users — topping Minecraft — the company said at its fifth annual developer conference that its developer community is on track to earn $100 million in 2019. Roblox also introduced a new set of developer tools for building immersive, more realistic 3D experiences; detailed its plans to make its developer software fully cloud-based; unveiled a new Developer Marketplace where creators can set their development assets and tools to others; and more.

Over the past decade or so, Roblox has grown to become a $2.5 billion company, with roughly half of U.S. children ages 9 through 12 playing on its platform.

The company provides game-creation tools via Roblox Studio, which developers use to build their own games for people to play. Roblox doesn’t pay the developers for their work — rather, the developers generate revenue through virtual purchases, which players buy using the in-game currency Robux.

At its invite-only event, the Roblox Developers Conference, which was held Friday, August 9 through Sunday, August 11, the company announced new tools aimed at enabling small developer teams to work together to build more massive games that can support hundreds of players.

The news follows the growing popularity of Roblox’s larger games, like Adopt Me (180.7K players), Royale High (68.7K players), Welcome to Bloxburg (66.7K players), MeepCity (52.4K players), Murder Mystery 2 (33.7K players), Work at a Pizza Place (32.7K players) and others.

The new toolset will offer developers access to an enhanced lighting system, updated terrain and other visual upgrades, including support for building competitive matchmaking games that will match players of similar skill levels, the company said.

Roblox had earlier discussed its plans for these sorts of visual improvements, which VP of Product Enrico D’Angelo said were prioritized in order to up the quality of the games.

The company said at RDC it’s also on track to bring its creation tools, Roblox Studio, to the cloud by year-end. This will allow developers to collaborate in real time, access their development files online and work across computing platforms to do things like manage permissions, versions and rollbacks.

In addition to monetizing their games, developers also will be able to monetize their development assets and tools through a new Developer Marketplace, where they can sell their plug-ins, vehicles, 3D models, terrain enhancements and other items.

“The Roblox creator community thinks of things we could never imagine, and their continued growth is our future,” said David Baszucki, founder and CEO, Roblox, in a statement about the new tools. “With top Roblox experiences achieving more than 100,000 concurrent users and 1 billion plays, there’s no denying the power of user-generated content. We are committed to supporting our creator community with the tools and resources they need to realize even greater success,” he added.

The company also made note of its improved localization support for Brazilian Portuguese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Simplified and Traditional Chinese and Spanish, and discussed its recent Microsoft partnership in more detail.

Roblox had previously announced a collaboration with Microsoft Azure PlayFab, which made PlayFab’s LiveOps analytics service free to Roblox’s top 10,000 developers. This allows the game creators to track trends in player behavior, purchase history and game telemetry.

Alongside Roblox’s user growth, its creator community has been expanding, as well.

Today, there are more than 2 million Roblox game creators worldwide, ranging from indie developers to studios with teams of 10 or 20 people. Over 500 developers attended the three-day event in San Francisco and the private RDC 2019 viewing party in London.

“We ultimately become more and more inspired and convinced that this is not just the future of gaming, this is really the future of a whole new category,” said Baszucki, during the keynote. “I believe we’re sitting with not just the future of gaming,” he said, addressing the crowd of developers at RDC, “but the future of human co-experience.”

“We have this vision that there’s a new category emerging that’s bigger than gaming,” the CEO continued. “It’s the category that allows people around the world to connect, to not just play together, but to work together, to learn together and to create together.”

TechCrunch’s Extra Crunch recently analyzed Roblox’s history and business in its EC-1, which you can read here (Extra Crunch membership required).

Photo credits: Ian Tuttle/Getty Images for Roblox



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Review: Thought-provoking sci-fi drama Bliss works on multiple levels

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Enlarge / Greg (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Salma Hayek) find themselves shifting between a beautiful and an “ugly” world—but which is real, and which is the simulation?

A depressed man finds himself questioning the reality of his existence when he meets a free-spirited woman who insists he’s inhabiting a simulation in Bliss, a new film from director Mike Cahill that stars Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek. Sure, it sounds like an indie riff on The Matrix, and there are a few shared elements, but Bliss is markedly different in theme and tone, and it is very much Cahill’s unique vision.

(Major spoilers below the gallery. We’ll give you a heads up when we get there.)

As we’ve reported previously, Cahill also directed the 2011 indie sci-fi film Another Earth—his first feature—which received a standing ovation at its premiere and won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Cahill’s 2014 followup feature, I Origins, also snagged the Sloan Prize; in fact, he’s the only director to have twice won the award, so he’s got some serious indie sci-fi film street cred.

The plot of Another Earth centered on the discovery of a mirror Earth planet, where everyone has a doppelgänger. Clearly, Cahill is interested in exploring themes of duality, because he has returned to that rich vein for Bliss (not to be confused with the 2019 Fantastic Fest selection of the same name).

Per the official premise: “An unfulfilled man (Wilson) and a mysterious woman (Hayek) believe they are living in a simulated reality, but when their newfound ‘Bliss’ world begins to bleed into the ‘ugly’ world, they must decide what’s real and where they truly belong.”

Wilson plays Greg Whittle, a divorcée who is stuck in a dead-end job. He spends most of his work time not answering calls as he daydreams of an idyllic world and sketches out his mental pictures of that world. “I don’t know if it’s real,” he muses. “But it has a feeling, and the feeling’s real.”  Not surprisingly, his employer, Bjorn (Steve Zissis), takes a dim view of this behavior: despite firing Greg, the two get into a shoving match and Bjorn hits his head on a table and is killed.

Greg flees the office before the body is discovered and heads to the bar across the street. That’s where he meets Hayek’s Isabel. “You’re real,” she says, telling him that all the people he sees outside aren’t real—the two of them are just in a simulation. To prove it, she demonstrates how she can manipulate people and objects in this “ugly simulation.”

Isabel invites him to stay in her encampment under a traffic bridge, and she introduces him to a crushed yellow crystal hallucinogen. The unnamed drug allows Greg to also manipulate his physical “reality,” convincing him that Isabel is right and this really is a simulation. But then his daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper) tracks him down—he missed her graduation—and Isabel feels threatened by this strong emotional tie. She insists Emily is also part of the simulation and, hence, not real. So she introduces Greg to a second, stronger drug: a blue crystal administered via a nasal injection device. Taking it ejects them both from the “ugly” world and into the idyllic world of Greg’s daydreams.

(Warning: Major spoilers below. Stop reading if you haven’t yet watched the film.)

Specifically, Greg wakes up in a laboratory. He’s attached to a giant computer called the Brain Box. Isabel invented it to plug people into “ugly simulated worlds to generate appreciation for the real world.” Greg doesn’t remember much about this “real” Brain Box world he’s now experiencing, but he soon settles in, as romance blooms with Isabel. But eventually, aspects of the “ugly” world start seeping through, including a ghostly figure of Emily, imploring Greg to come back to her.

It’s the onscreen chemistry between Wilson and Hayek, and the way they flesh out their respective roles, that anchors the film, bolstered by a solid script and some inventive VFX. Those effects are based more on actual photography than CGI (although there is definitely some CGI). Take, for example, the holograms of people projecting themselves onto the streets of the Brain Box world. According to VFX supervisor Luke DiTommasso, Cahill was adamant that these should not resemble the famous Princess Leia hologram in Star Wars: A New Hope. Instead, the look was grounded in photography, exploiting rainbow prism lens flares to achieve a natural chromatic aberration, giving the figures a ghost-like quality.

Particularly when the worlds start to blend together, it might have been easier to simply use CGI. Instead, DiTomasso’s team made good use of the creative (and consistent) set design and Cahill’s long tracking shots to create the illusion of blending realties, augmented here and there with CG elements as needed. Not only did this help rein in production costs, the end result felt more realistic—and both worlds need to feel reasonably realistic in order for the film’s central conceit to work. “If you can shoot something, shoot something,” DiTommasso told Ars about his philosophy regarding CGI. “It you need a duck crossing a street, let’s shoot a duck crossing a street. If you need a duck to tap dance and sing, then we need CGI.” (There are no tap-dancing singing ducks in Bliss.)

So, which world is real and which is the simulation? That is the question. Cahill opts for ambiguity on that score; one can interpret the ending in several different ways. On the most literal level, Greg is an addict whose drug use has estranged his family and gets him fired, sending him spiraling into a hallucinogenic drug spree with Isabel, a homeless fellow addict living under the traffic bridge. Their shared experience manipulating elements of the “ugly” world, and of being in the Brain Box paradise, are part of a drug-induced folie a deux. But the high wears off, and the two worlds start to collide, forcing Greg to make a choice: remain with Isabel in their shared dream world, or stop “chasing bliss” and choose to stay with his daughter in the “ugly” world.

Ugly

There’s strong evidence for that interpretation. Isabel becomes increasingly unhinged, exhibiting classic addict behaviors, and there’s a strong whiff of wish-fulfillment fantasy in the Brain Box world. In the end, Greg gives up the fantasy and chooses the “ugly,” “real” world, even attending his first 12-step meeting. He’s attempting to rebuild his life and relationships, having learned to see beauty even in the “ugly” world.

But there are other elements that cannot easily be explained away, such as what, ultimately, happens to Isabel, last seen facing down several armed cops as she snorts the last dose of blue crystal. Was she shot? Or was she right about the “ugly” world being a simulation, and she returned to the Brian Box world in the nick of time? In that alternate interpretation, Greg chooses to remain in the “ugly” simulation to be with his daughter—willing to make that sacrifice because his love for her is real, even if she is not.

Or maybe reality is determined by whichever world we ultimately choose. In that case, both the “ugly” and Brian Box realms are “real.” How could you ever really be sure? The director’s willingness to let his audience soak in all that uncertainty makes Bliss Cahill’s strongest, most ambitious film to date.

Bliss is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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Valve has to provide some Steam sales data to Apple, judge says

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A US magistrate judge has ordered Valve to provide sales data to Apple in response to a subpoena issued amid Apple’s continuing legal fight with Epic Games.

In addition to some aggregate sales data for the entirety of Steam, Valve will only have to provide specific, per-title pricing and sales data for “436 specific apps that are available on both Steam and the Epic Games Store,” according to the order. That’s a significant decrease from the 30,000+ titles Apple for which Apple originally requested data.

In resisting the subpoena, Valve argued that its Steam sales data was irrelevant to questions about the purely mobile app marketplaces at issue in the case. Refocusing the request only on games available on both Steam and the Epic Games Store makes it more directly relevant to the questions of mobile competition in the case, Judge Thomas Hixson writes in his order.

“Recall that in these related cases, [Epic] allege that Apple’s 30% commission on sales through its App Store is anti-competitive and that allowing iOS apps to be sold through other stores would force Apple to reduce its commission to a more competitive level,” Hixson writes in the order. “By focusing… on 436 specific games that are sold in both Steam and Epic’s store, Apple seeks to take discovery into whether the availability of other stores does in fact affect commissions in the way [Epic] allege.”

Just hand it over

Valve lawyer Gavin Skok also argued that responding to the subpoena would be overly burdensome to the company, requiring multiple full-time employees performing hours of work to compile data from multiple sources for each game (as reported by Law360). In his order, Judge Hixson said that the data collection “did not sound that burdensome.” That said, Hixson did agree to limit the response to data starting in 2017 (rather than 2015, as Apple requested) because the Epic Games Store didn’t exist until 2018.

Hixson also rejected arguments that Apple should subpoena individual developers for their pricing and sales data, saying that potential effort would represent an “undue burden” on Apple. The judge added that this sales information is not confidential to the developers involved and that “Valve is running a store, and how much it sells of what is its own information.”

Back in 2018, Valve decided to effectively block services like Steam Spy or Ars’ own Steam Gauge from creating public estimates of Steam game sales based on samples of individual public user account data. Valve said in July 2018 that it was working on a “more accurate” replacement for that Steam Spy data but has only released sporadic and incomplete summaries of the Steam marketplace in the years since.

“Valve’s decision to stay private means that it avoids the public company disclosure and reporting requirements, but it does not immunize the company from [legal] discovery,” Hixson continued. “The protective orders in these actions allow Valve to designate its documents confidential or highly confidential to address competitive concerns, and that protection is sufficient.”

Valve will have 30 days to provide the requested data to Apple.

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Report: BioWare wrests Dragon Age 4 away from EA’s online-multiplayer mandate

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Enlarge / Some good Dragon Age news, at least from our perspective. (credit: EA / Sam Machkovech)

As it turns out, EA’s recent bloodbath over online BioWare multiplayer games was larger than we thought. And in today’s case, a behind-the-scenes report seems to offer good news on that front.

After yesterday’s official confirmation from EA that “Anthem Next” was no more, Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier has arrived with news about another dramatic change to a BioWare game: the unnamed Dragon Age sequel (which we’ll call Dragon Age 4 for convenience’s sake) will be a single-player game.

Uh, what?

The way Schreier tells it, EA as a publisher is now “allowing” the Dragon Age 4 team to “remove all planned multiplayer components from the game”—and that use of “allowing” implies that this was a butting-of-heads between who wanted online components in this famously single-player RPG series (EA) and who didn’t (BioWare).

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