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Unity acquires Vivox, which powers voice chat in Fortnite and League of Legends – TechCrunch

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Game engine maker Unity believes voice communications are going to grow to become a critical part of gaming across platforms, and it’s buying one of the top companies in the space to bolster what its customers can build on its platform.

Unity has acquired Vivox, a company that powers voice and text chat for the world’s most massive gaming titles, from Fortnite to PUBG to League of Legends. The company’s positional voice chat enables gamers to hear other players chatting around them directionally in 3D space. The company also provides text-based chat. No details on deal terms.

“We thought, I thought, that voice is just one of those things that we should offer our customers,” Unity CEO John Riccitiello tells TechCrunch. “There are just a lot of places to innovate there and I was excited by the roadmap of Vivox .”

Unity plans to use its cross-platform support expertise to make it easier for developers on platforms traditionally underserved by voice chat tools, like mobile, to take advantage of the deeper communication that’s made possible by Vivox. As Unity looks toward new customers beyond gaming, this acquisition has broader reach, as well.

“We’re increasingly supporting industries like architecture, engineering, construction and the auto industry and they talk a lot about collaborating and communicating,” Riccitiello says.

Vivox was founded in 2005 and raised more than $22 million in venture funding from firms like Benchmark and Canaan Partners before it struck hard times some time after its last reported funding in 2010. The startup’s name and some of its assets were acquired by a new entity, Mercer Road Corp, we are told. The company has maintained much of the original leadership during this time; founder and CEO Rob Seaver will continue on with the company after its acquisition.

For his part, Riccitiello doesn’t seem to have immediate plans to shake things up at the Massachusetts-based company, which will maintain its offices and 50+ employees situated in The Bay State. Seaver will report directly to Riccitiello.

Though the company’s previous customers include studios like Unity-rival Epic Games that used the tool to bolster voice chat in Fortnite, there don’t seem to be any plans to cut off non-Unity customers from using the service. “Nothing is changing,” Riccitiello tells TechCrunch.

“It can be nerve-racking to count on something from a smaller company when they might get acquired by a competitor or might go out of business,” he says. “I don’t think anyone is worried about Unity going out of business and I don’t think anyone is worried about Unity being bad hands, we’re sort of Switzerland in our world, we support all platforms and virtually every publisher in the world.”

Asked whether he felt the company’s status as an open platform had been harmed by recent feuds with U.K.-based cloud-gaming startup Improbable, Riccitiello minimized the issue, saying it was a skirmish based on “them claiming a partnership that didn’t exist,” reiterating that “relative to developers, I think they can count on us morning, noon and night to do the right things for them.”

Unity has raised more than $600 million and is valued at north of $3 billion.

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It’s the battle of the alien symbiotes in Venom: Let There Be Carnage trailer

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Tom Hardy returns to the big screen as the lethal protector Venom, taking on Woody Harrelson’s villainous Cletus Kasady/Carnage, in Sony’s forthcoming film Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road) returns as intrepid reporter Eddie Brock, infected with a parasitic alien symbiote that gives him super powers, in Venom: There Will be Carnage. Directed by motion-capture icon Andy Serkis, it’s the sequel to 2018’s box-office smash, Venom. After being delayed for nearly a year due to the ongoing pandemic, Sony just dropped the official trailer, in which Brock/Venom must battle serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson, Zombieland), infected with another alien symbiote dubbed Carnage.

(Some spoilers for first film below.)

A Venom film was in development at New Line Cinema back in 1997, although the project didn’t really get off the ground until Sony acquired the rights to the character, as well as Spider-Man. Sony initially planned for Venom and Spider-Man to inhabit a shared universe, given their history in the comics. (Spider-Man was Venom’s first host, before moving on to Brock, and the character gradually evolved from villain to more of an antihero.) The disappointing box office performance of 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 changed those plans, and Venom was re-conceived as a standalone film, with Tom Hardy signing on as the star and Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer agreeing to direct.

That first film served as an origin story for our antihero. A bioengineering firm called the Life Foundation discovered a comet covered with symbiotic lifeforms and brought four samples back to Earth. Brock’s then-fiancée, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams, Fosse/Verdon), shows him classified documents revealing that the foundation is conducting human/symbiote experiments. The symbiotes need oxygen-breathing hosts to survive, but they invariably end up killing those hosts.

Hot on the story, Brock breaks into the research lab and ends up infected with one of the symbiotes, named Venom. Venom reveals that the symbiotes are intent on taking over Earth by possessing/devouring all humans, but Brock ultimately strikes up a bargain with Venom, and they decide to protect Earth instead. Together, they take on Life Foundation CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal), infected with a symbiote called Riot.

Venom was released in October 2018 and was roundly panned by critics, several of whom specifically bemoaned the lack of a Spider-Man connection. Audiences, however, begged to differ. Venom racked up $856 million globally and was the seventh-highest grossing film of the year. Hardy had already committed to two sequels, and a midcredits sequence featured Harrelson’s Cletus Kasady taunting Brock (who is interviewing Kasady for a story) from his cell. Kasady vows to escape and bring “carnage,” leaving little doubt as to the villain’s identity in a sequel.

Audiences particularly responded to the burgeoning relationship between Brock and Venom, who remained secretly bonded at the film’s end as a kind of hybrid vigilante. One scene in particular—Venom giving Brock a lingering French kiss while transferring from Anne’s body back to Brock’s—launched a thousand ships for “Symbrock.” Sony embraced the fan response by marketing the home release with ads playing up romantic-comedy overtones.

The trailer for Venom: Let There Be Carnage plays up more of a bromance/odd-couple angle, opening with Brock and Venom preparing breakfast—with mixed results—as Venom raspily sings along to “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” Brock’s friendly neighborhood convenience store owner, Mrs. Chen (Peggy Lu, Always Be My Maybe), is back to provide comic relief, Williams reprises her role as Anne Weying, and Naomie Harris (Skyfall, Moonlight) plays a secondary villain named Shriek—because even serial killers like Kasady need a love interest, and this one can manipulate sound.

Other than Kasady’s escape and emergence as Carnage, the trailer gives little away as to the actual plot, although there do seem to be elements from the Maximum Carnage storyline. Chances are, if you enjoyed the first Venom film, you’ll like the sequel, too.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage opens exclusively in theaters on September 24, 2021.

Listing image by YouTube/Sony

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Sony says PS5 could be difficult to find into 2022

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Enlarge / This Sony engineer can get a PS5, but millions of others can’t, thanks to short supplies that are likely to continue.

Sony thinks demand could continue to outstrip supply of the PlayStation 5 into 2022. That’s according to a Bloomberg report citing a number of unnamed analysts who listened in on an explanatory call following Sony’s recent earnings report.

“I don’t think demand is calming down this year, and even if we secure a lot more devices and produce many more units of the PlayStation 5 next year, our supply wouldn’t be able to catch up with demand,” Sony CFO Hiroki Totoki reportedly said.

Sony has been warning for months that worldwide shortages of semiconductors and other components have made it hard to increase production for the PS5. But this is the most direct sign that those shortages will extend past this year and into the next.

Sony President and CEO Jim Ryan said in February that he expected PS5 supplies would “get better every month throughout 2021,” leading to “really decent numbers indeed” by the second half of this year. But Totoki amended that statement in April to say that it’s “not likely” Sony could “drastically increase the supply” before the company’s fiscal year ends in March 2022.

Supply problems aside, demand for the PS5 seems to be matching that of the early days of the PS4, which has sold over 115 million units to date. The PS5’s 7.8 million sales through March and 14.8 million additional projected sales in the current fiscal year are broadly in line with sales of the PlayStation 4 at the same point in its life cycle.

But while the PS4 was in short supply in the early months of 2014, by August of that year, Wired was citing the lack of retail PS4 shortages as one reason behind the system’s unexpected success at the time. In other words, the difference between shelves full of PS4s and shelves empty of PS5s is due to the supply, not demand, levels between the two systems.

Totoki reportedly told analysts that he “can’t imagine demand dropping easily” for the PS5, and that situation would continue to put pressure on Sony to increase supplies in any way it can. But with the company already taking a loss on every system sold, spending more money to secure scarce chips over competitors could be difficult (if it’s possible at all).

Put it all together, and you have a situation that could mirror that of the Nintendo Wii, which remained hard to find on store shelves for well over a year after its late-2006 release. That situation got so bad that former Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime had to actively deny that there was a conspiracy to keep Wii supplies artificially low.

Today, of course, Nintendo is facing the same semiconductor shortages as Sony in trying to keep up with demand for the Switch, as are many carmakers. All told, it looks like the “big scramble” for silicon chips is set to continue for a while.

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New book Press Reset investigates the high human cost of game development

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Enlarge / Jason Schreier’s latest deep dive on the game industry is out on May 11 at all major booksellers.

Grand Central Publishing

Games industry journalist Jason Schreier has left his mark over the years by digging up behind-the-scenes dirt at sites like Kotaku and Bloomberg, but he may be best known for Blood, Sweat, and Pixels. This 2017 book broke down like a Schreier’s “greatest hits” collection: Every chapter followed a particular game and its lead studio through a wild “triple-A” period in the late ’00s and early ’10s.

If you’ve read BSP or any of Schreier’s other investigative stories, you’ll likely notice common threads at modern game studios, no matter which genre or specific company is involved. The first brilliant stroke of his newest book, Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Game Industry, is to take that concept a step further. Individual games and studios get an occasional spotlight, but this time, Schreier often follows individual developer résumés to answer a few huge industry questions.

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