Connect with us

Technology

Voice chat is coming to Roblox – TechCrunch

Published

on


As one of the frontrunners in the race to build the metaverse, Roblox is thinking ahead to what virtual worlds really need. And while the platform has had no shortage of growth on its current path — as of July, it boasted 47 million daily active users — it’s looking to chart a course toward deeper, richer virtual experiences that will keep people coming back for years to come.

To that end, Roblox is taking careful but decisive steps toward weaving voice chat into the platform’s core experience. The first move: inviting a group of trusted developers to explore how they can integrate proximity-based audio into the wildly popular experiences that beat at the heart of the platform — from chill, vaporwavey vibe games to pulling off kickflips in a Vans-sponsored skate park.

With spatial audio, users will be able to speak with other people nearby through live voice chat. Roblox sees its new voice product as a natural extension of the way that text chat works now, but instead of text bubbles that pop up over an avatar’s head, visible to anybody around them, players will be able to talk naturally to the other people they bump into.

Say you’re hanging out in a virtual skatepark in Roblox with spatial audio enabled: skaters in the half pipe with you would sound loud and clear, just like they would in real life. But you wouldn’t be able to hear someone walking around on the sidewalk across the street, since they’re too far away. To have a private conversation with a nearby friend, you might peel off and walk toward a store down the block.

“As we think about the future of communication in the metaverse, we think that it needs to be very natural and feel very similar to the way we communicate in the real world,” Roblox Chief Product Officer Manuel Bronstein told TechCrunch in an interview. “But it also can transcend, some of the limitations that physics and space create in the real world.”

Bronstein joined the company in March, leaving Google to help realize Roblox’s particular vision for the metaverse. Prior to hopping over to Roblox, Bronstein worked on product teams at Zynga, Xbox and YouTube — three very different companies that are probably equal parts relevant to his current work.

“If you think about the the metaverse as the next incarnation of where you know I could go shopping or I could go to a concert, I could go to school, I think that you need to be relevant to everybody in society and you need to both build the content, the rules, the features that support all of those behaviors,” Bronstein said. “And part of bringing voice to the platform is to ensure that our older audiences has a natural way to communicate.”

Voice chat is very much on the way to Roblox, but that doesn’t mean it will appear overnight — and that’s by design. The company is inviting an initial group of 5,000 developers, all 13 and older, to try out the new spatial voice chat capabilities in a custom-built Roblox community space.

“We’ve put a bunch of neat features in there and places for them to chat and hang out and they’re going to be able to learn from the code that we wrote for that community space… So a few weeks later or a month later they can put that into their experiences and turn it on,” Bronstein said.

Bronstein emphasizes that Roblox will take this process slowly, building new moderation and safety tools in parallel as it goes. The voice rollout will go slowly, starting with the chosen circle of developers and gradually expanding out from there as the company feels confident that it can create a safe enough environment with its moderation tools.

“I think we want to take it slowly and we want to learn as we go through it,” Bronstein said. “We may start, as I mentioned, with the developers. It is likely that right after that, we may go to an audience that is 13+ and park there for a while until we understand exactly if all the pieces are falling into place before deciding if we ever open it to a younger audience.”

To moderate its sprawl of virtual worlds, Roblox uses a blend of automated scanning and a 3,000-person safety team of human reviewers. Like in any social network, players can report, block and mute other players to make their own experiences feel more comfortable. And because half of its player base is under 13, Roblox gives parents options on what kinds of age-appropriate experiences to allow and toggles for things like text chat. If voice chat ever makes its way to younger age groups, parents would be able to disable it altogether.

Roblox’s under-13 crowd comprises a massive chunk of its user base, but a surprising number of older kids and young adults hang out there too. According to the company, 50 percent of its users are over the age of 13 and it’s seeing the most explosive user growth among 17 to 24-year-olds. Roblox is attracting new users, but its core users are also growing up and the company knows it needs to grow alongside them.

Whether voice chat ever rolls out for younger users or not, Roblox seems well aware that keeping a virtual environment with voice chat feeling safe and friendly is a steep challenge. The company plans to rely on user-initiated reporting as voice rolls out and it’s exploring other tools that could bolster those efforts. The company is looking at a few different tools, including automatically recording a snippet of conversation just prior to a user being reported as a way to capture bad behavior for reviewers. It’s also interested in expanding reputation systems that automatically restrict users who have a certain number of strikes against them.

Much like any social platform, Roblox will likely lean heavily on user reporting, which disproportionately shifts the burden to users on the receiving end of hate and harassment — an unfortunate outcome that no social company has properly dedicated the human resources to solving.

Next on the voice roadmap

Bronstein describes spatial audio as “one component” of Roblox’s vision for natural communication. The next step is integrating a voice chat experience that’s persistent across experiences, letting users who know each other hang out even when they aren’t doing the same thing. For anyone who paid attention to the company’s quiet acquisition of a company called Guilded last month, that won’t come as a surprise. Though Roblox’s work on voice pre-dates the acquisition, Guilded will lay the groundwork for Roblox’s future voice plans

A Discord competitor, Guilded similarly built out a chat platform for gamers, doubling down on the competitive gaming scene where Discord expanded its horizons beyond gaming. Beyond group voice chat, Guilded gives gamers built-in scheduling and community management tools that ease the hassle of organizing complex online social events, like wrangling twenty some odd gamers to run raids in World of Warcraft.

“In the near term, Guilded has an amazing road map, we want to just continue with that road map and grow it without any hardcore integration at this point,” Bronstein said.

Into the metaverse

Moderation challenges aside, there’s basically nothing in Roblox’s way. The company went public in March and today it’s worth 49 billion, making it easily one of the most valuable companies in gaming. Investors, content creators and tech giants alike are going all-in on the metaverse, and really, it looks like a pretty safe bet.

Metaverse is a buzzy term right now, but it’s more shorthand than empty hype. When people talk about the metaverse, they generally want to evoke a futuristic vision of interconnected virtual worlds — online spaces that we can move through, socialize and shop within (for better or worse, that last part is key). Whether this will all be in virtual reality or not and when is a point of some debate, but really the interconnected part is the bigger challenge. In the app age, software was siloed by design. But to realize the promise of the metaverse, our virtual selves and our virtual stuff will need to be able to move through online worlds fluidly.

A few companies are ahead of the curve on this, and it’s no coincidence that two of the big ones, Roblox and Fortnite-maker Epic — best known for their virtual worlds stocked with custom avatars, in-game economies and a seamless social layer — are elevating user-created content. Those experiences, and the ability to easily hang out with friends while doing stuff in them and elsewhere in virtual space, may wind up being what the metaverse is all about.

Most adults can hardly grasp the appeal of the blocky, suburban worlds that their kids love hanging out in, but Roblox understands something fundamental about where online life is going. Or rather where we’ll all going — into online worlds like Roblox.

 



Source

Advertisement

SUPPORT THE TIMES CLOCK




Technology

a16z’s Chris Dixon shares his insights on crypto at TechCrunch Disrupt – TechCrunch

Published

on


Love it, hate it or barely understand it, crypto continues to draw massive amounts of VC money, despite recent token turbulence casting a shadow over the still-nascent sector. Case in point, in May the venerable Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) closed a crypto megafund for a whopping $4.5 billion. 

A16z’s new fund comes hot on the heels of last year’s $2.2 billion Crypto Fund III. That’s a pile of newfangled faith from an investment firm founded back in 2009. All of this activity is why we’re thrilled to announce that Chris Dixon, the founder and managing partner at a16z Crypto, will join us onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt on October 18–20 in San Francisco.

At a time when crypto ecosystems, like Terra and its UST stablecoin, collapse and take billions of dollars down with them, plenty of investors and entrepreneurs remain skeptical. Yet others — like a16z — are doubling down on crypto, NFTs and other uncharted web3 products. 

You can bet we’ll ask Dixon about the current crypto market and why he remains bullish. We’re also curious to hear his take on Bill Gates’ opinion that NFTs represent an asset class based on the greater fool theory. We think this promises to be a rich and spicy conversation.

Chris Dixon is a general partner and has been at Andreessen Horowitz since 2012. He founded and leads a16z Crypto, which invests in web3 technologies through its dedicated funds.

Previously, Dixon co-founded two startups — SiteAdvisor and Hunch — serving as CEO at both. SiteAdvisor, an internet security company, was acquired by McAfee in 2006, while Hunch, a recommendation-tech company, was acquired by eBay in 2011.

Dixon also co-founded Founder Collective, a seed venture fund, and he has personal angel investments in various technology companies.

TechCrunch Disrupt takes place on October 18–20 in San Francisco. Buy your pass now and save up to $1,100. Student, government and nonprofit passes are available for just $295. Prices increase September 16.



Source

Continue Reading

Technology

Elon Musk sells nearly $7 billion in Tesla shares – TechCrunch

Published

on


Tesla CEO Elon Musk is at it again selling shares of his electric vehicle company, per regulatory filings. Since Friday, the executive has sold 7.9 million shares, which totals about $6.9 billion. This is the first time Musk has sold shares in Tesla since April, when he disposed of 9.6 million shares, worth about $8.5 billion.

Musk appears to be selling the shares to stock up on cash in case he’s forced to go through on his $44 billion Twitter acquisition. The executive tweeted Tuesday evening that he was done selling for the moment.

“In the (hopefully unlikely) event that Twitter forces this deal to close and some equity partners don’t come through, it is important to avoid an emergency sale of Tesla stock,” tweeted Musk.

Last month, Musk told Twitter he’s killing the deal because he believed the social media company to be misleading in its bot calculations. However, over the weekend, the executive waffled a bit, tweeting: “If Twitter simply provides their method of sampling 100 accounts and how they’re confirmed to be real, the deal should proceed on original terms. However, if it turns out that their SEC filings are materially false, then it should not.”

Musk also tweeted Tuesday evening that if the Twitter deal doesn’t close, he’ll buy back his shares. Perhaps he’ll wait until Tesla issues its three-to-one stock split, which Tesla shareholders approved last week, so he can buy them back on the cheap.

Over the last ten months, Musk has sold around $32 billion worth of stock in Tesla.

Tesla shares were down 2.44% today but are trading relatively flat in after-hours, suggesting the stock sales are yet to have an effect on Tesla’s share price. Tesla’s stock took a hit late last year when Musk sold off more than $16 billion worth of sales after polling his Twitter fans on whether he should trim his stake, a move that got him in hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This article has been updated with confirmation from Elon Musk that the stock sales are related to his Twitter acquisition.



Source

Continue Reading

Technology

How investors can still get strong returns from late-stage tech startups – TechCrunch

Published

on


Last year was a record 12 months for the tech industry, with immense amounts of money flowing into both early- and late-stage companies as well as an all-time-high number of IPOs. But it feels like 2022 has been exactly the opposite.

This year has proven that there is always risk in any investment, whether it’s a public stock or a private startup. While the last couple of years may have allowed many people to put on their blinders about those risks, ups and downs are natural and should be expected.

Still, there are ways to mitigate risk when investing in late-stage companies. For investors, now is a good time to start seeing the opportunities while also protecting themselves against potential risks down the line.

What’s affecting late-stage startup valuations in tech?

Risk exists even in the “good times.”

Tech companies — private and public — have seen strong corrections to their valuations. Some companies that went public in the last year or two have lost more than 75% of their value.

Here’s how things have changed for companies of all stripes:

Image Credits: Secfi

As even high-growth companies see their values being halved or worse, it’s no surprise that private investors and venture capitalists have slowed down their capital deployments, especially to late-stage companies.

Many of these companies were forced to delay their IPOs until the markets calmed down and had to start conserving cash and extending their runways for longer than they anticipated. Some have already lowered their valuations, either in response to these market corrections ahead of a future IPO or to attract investors.

Many tech startups can still outrun the down market

The current market is impacting high-growth companies that consistently lose money the hardest. But it’s also rewarding those that are prioritizing profitability, which is why many companies are reducing spending and costs.



Source

Continue Reading

Technology

Game firms request India PM Modi ‘uniform and fair treatment to all’ following BGMI ban – TechCrunch

Published

on


A group of game companies in India has requested Prime Minister Modi to offer a “uniform and fair treatment” to all entities operating in the South Asian market weeks after the country banned Krafton’s BGMI title.

In a letter to Modi this month, the group described the ban on Battlegrounds Mobile India as an “unfortunate event,” and said such “arbitrary decisions run counter to established principles and will deny opportunities to an entire generation of youth in India.”

The letter, signed by founders of Outlier Games, Story Pix, Lucid Labs, Roach Interactive, Godspeed Games, Uniplay Digital and four other firms, says India has been “lagging considerably in creating high skilled entrepreneurs” and global gaming giants have taken a “long-term vision” on fostering the local ecosystem.

“While capital and infrastructure are critical to the survival and development of the industry, the leading global video gaming companies with their experience and next-generation technology are needed for establishing a robust gaming eco-system in India. Therefore, we seek a uniform and fair treatment of all entities operating in India,” added the letter, a copy of which was reviewed by TechCrunch.

India banned Krafton’s Battlegrounds Mobile India late last month. Prior to the ban, BGMI had amassed over 100 million registered in the country. Reuters reported that the country blocked the title exercising section 69A of the local IT law and over concerns that it was sharing data with China.

The development followed a growing tension between India and China, two nuclear-armed neighboring nations that have been especially at odds since deadly skirmishes along the Himalayan border in 2020.

India has reacted to the move by banning over 300 China-linked apps including PUBG and TikTok, both of which counted India as their largest overseas market by users. Of the hundreds of apps that New Delhi has banned in the country, Krafton’s PUBG was the only title that had made a return — though with a completely revamped avatar.

“There is a greater need for a clear set of standards and framework to ensure fairness and uniformity to all stakeholders. The industry wishes to proactively engage with the government in forming a robust set of video games-centric policies based on global best practices,” the letter adds.

“This will go a long way in creating an enabling and conducive environment which facilitates the growth of the video game industry allowing the industry to compete globally. We request your urgent intervention in the matter and seek your counsel and guidance on working towards a more comprehensive dialogue and discussion in the future.”

The Prime Minister office did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.



Source

Continue Reading

Technology

‘Winter may be longer’ because unicorns won’t accept down rounds, says SoftBank leader – TechCrunch

Published

on


To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hey, folks! A quick word on pitching. If you are starting your fundraising journey, apply to be part of the 2-minute life pitch practice on our TechCrunch Live series. If you’ve already raised some money, Haje is always on the lookout for pitch decks to feature as part of his Pitch Deck Teardown series on TechCrunch+. There’s more info about how to submit your deck here. If you have more questions about either, email Haje, and he may be able to help! —Christine and Haje

PS. Both of us wrote guides to what we write about — here’s Christine’s and Haje’s, respectively. Both documents include our email addresses so you can whisper sweet nothings (i.e., press releases) into our electronic ears.

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Brrr, it’s cold in here: Manish writes that a “venture capital winter” will last a little longer, according to SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son. It’s a bit interesting, though, that a firm often known for pouring large amounts of capital into companies, cough, WeWork, cough, seems shocked that companies aren’t willing to give up on the large valuations when they are out raising new funding. Meanwhile, Alex gives his take in a TechCrunch+ version looking at SoftBank’s Vision Fund losses.
  • Hook, line, but hopefully no sinker: Twilio confirmed that hackers gained unauthorized access to corporate login credentials under the disguise of telling employees their passwords had expired, Carly reports.
  • Another big private equity deal: Vista Equity Partners is set to acquire automated tax compliance company Avalara in an all-cash deal valued at $8.4 billion, Paul writes. There have been some other large private equity deals this year, including another acquisition Vista made earlier this year of Citrix and Thoma Bravo’s two of Anaplan and Ping Identity.

Startups and VC

We had so many incredible things get published over the weekend, it’s hard to choose what to feature in this here Ye Olde Lettre of Neues.

We loved today’s Equity podcast, “How to lose money, SoftBank edition.” Rebecca’s transportation and mobility roundup, the Station, was particularly good too, breaking down what is happening in the land of micromobility and much more. (Also, her update from earlier in the week had a lot more Cybertruck earnings call info.)

The collapse of Three Arrows Capital and the counterparties wrapped in the crypto hedge fund’s troubles have drawn questions about the soundness of the heady digital asset investment space. For the industry’s survivors, watching their rivals fall to pieces overnight has been an alarming experience. Bitmain’s co-founder welcomes crypto regulation to help stabilize things, Rita reports.

Mooooore:

3 ways to optimize SaaS sales in a downturn

Image Credits: Eva Almqvist (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

“In a downturn, money saved is worth even more than money earned,” which means SaaS sales strategies should shift from driving growth to helping customers conserve their resources, writes Sahil Mansuri, CEO of Bravado.

“If you can frame your product as a way to boost revenue or cut costs, people will find a budget.”

Mansuri, who started out in software sales during the Great Recession, shares multiple strategies SaaS startups can use to “tailor your approach, show prospects unexpected opportunities and focus on the money.”

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

Google is taking Sonos to court again over patent infringement. Ivan writes that two new lawsuits “center around various patents involving keyword detection, charging using ‘technologies invented by Google’ and determining what speaker from a group should respond to the keyword.” Both companies have already won against each other in previous lawsuits, so we’ll see with whom the court sides with this time.

Get ready for more in-car advertising if you frequent Lyft. The ride-hailing company has created a new digital advertising business, called Lyft Media, that will put infotainment in cars and promises some of that ad revenue will go to drivers, Jaclyn reports.



Source

Continue Reading

Technology

Bitmain co-founder welcomes crypto regulation to restore market confidence – TechCrunch

Published

on


The collapse of Three Arrow Capital and the counterparties wrapped in the crypto hedge fund’s troubles have drawn questions about the soundness of the heady digital asset investment space. For the industry’s survivors, watching their rivals fall to pieces overnight has been an alarming experience.

To understand where the industry might be going after the market turmoil, we spoke with John Ge, chief executive officer at Matrixport, a Singapore-based digital asset manager with over $10 billion in assets under management and custody.

Ge was formerly the head of investment and financing as well as a founding partner at Bitmain, the world’s biggest maker of Bitcoin mining machines. Together with Bitmain’s co-founder and former CEO Jihan Wu, Ge co-founded Matrixport in 2018.

Three Arrow Capital, known as 3AC in the crypto community, was one of the world’s largest crypto hedge funds before its fall from grace. Its success was predicated on a risky strategy: it borrowed aggressively from crypto lenders and in turn invested that money in other crypto projects.

When cryptocurrency prices began to plummet earlier this year, the firm, as well as other similar outfits that bet on rising crypto prices, failed to repay their creditors and plunged into liquidation. The crypto market is down by $1.8 trillion since its peak in November, led by the slide in Bitcoin and Ethereum prices.

John Ge, co-founder of Matrixport

The recent market crash is “inevitable”, Ge says in an interview with TechCrunch. “The core issue is that we saw players whose business model is like a black box. They borrow money from investors without giving transparency over how the money will be used.”

The other problem is that these crypto managers are acting both as the player and referee, Ge contends. “Many of them are providing both asset management and proprietary trading. An asset manager should not be doing proprietary trading, and if it does, it needs to follow stringent leverage requirements.”

“Even the most conservative investment strategy has risks and may result in losses, but the principle is to be transparent with your customers, not fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading,” the founder says.

Matrixport, which serves individuals as well as over 500 institutions across Asia, Europe, and North America, was exposed to 3AC and has lodged a claim alongside other creditors. But Ge assures that the firm’s exposure is “relatively small” when compared to the exposure other industry players faced and is considered “minor” when compared relative to Matrixport’s equity.

As to how to restore investor confidence in the crypto sphere, Ge believes regulators are on the right track to bring more oversight over consumer-facing crypto products and protection for retail investors, as is the case in Singapore.

But it’s “unrealistic” to have regulators design risk control models for institution-focused asset managers. “The pace of regulations tends to fall behind that of industry development.”

Ge thinks investors have “lost a certain level of confidence” in the crypto market and the industry will take time to recover. On the other hand, he thinks competition has waned for survivors like Matrixport because “many of the other players are gone.”

Matrixport told Bloomberg last year that it planned to go public in three to five years and Ge said that plan “hasn’t changed.” It’s too early to say which market the company is floating its shares but the U.S is a “likely” option given investors there are more “welcoming of crypto innovation.”



Source

Continue Reading

Technology

Baidu to operate fully driverless commercial robotaxi in Wuhan and Chongqing – TechCrunch

Published

on


Chinese internet giant Baidu has secured permits to offer a fully driverless commercial robotaxi service, with no human driver present, in Chongqing and Wuhan via the company’s autonomous ride-hailing unit, Apollo Go.

Baidu’s wins in Wuhan and Chongqing come a few months after the company scored a permit to provide driverless ride-hailing services to the public on open roads in Beijing. The difference here is the service in Beijing is still not a commercial service — Baidu is offering free driverless rides in the name of R&D and public acceptance — and Beijing’s permit still requires a human operator in the front passenger seat of the vehicle.

When Baidu launches in Wuhan and Chongqing, it’ll be the first time an autonomous vehicle company is able to offer a fully driverless ride-hailing service in China, Baidu claimed. Meanwhile in the U.S., Cruise recently began offering a driverless commercial service in San Francisco, and Waymo has been offering one in Arizona since 2020.

“This is a tremendous qualitative change,” said Wei Dong, vice president and chief safety operation officer of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group, in a statement. “We believe these permits are a key milestone on the path to the inflection point when the industry can finally roll out fully autonomous driving services at scale.”

In Wuhan, Baidu’s service will operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m and cover a 13 square kilometer area in the city’s Economic and Technological Development zone, which is known as China’s ‘Auto City.’ Chongqing’s service will run from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in a 30 square kilometer area in Yongchuan District. Each city will have a fleet of five Apollo 5th generation robotaxis, according to Baidu.

The zones where Baidu will operate aren’t densely populated, and they feature many new, wide roads that make it easier to operate autonomous systems. Both cities provide favorable regulatory and technological environments for Baidu to kick off its first commercial driverless service. In Chongqing, the Yongchuan District has been a pilot zone for autonomous driving, in which 30 robotaxis have accumulated 1 million kilometers’ worth of test driving.

The zone in Wuhan where Apollo Go will operate has revamped 321 kilometers of roads for testing AVs since 2021, which includes 106 kilometers’ worth that are covered by 5G-powered vehicle-to-everything (V2X) infrastructure. AVs can rely on V2X technology to collect real time information about their surrounding environment and share those perceptions with other vehicles or infrastructure, essentially giving the robotaxis another form of sensor to fall back on, aside from onboard lidar, radar and cameras. V2X infrastructure also helps Baidu monitor vehicles remotely and pilot the vehicles if necessary.

Last month, Baidu revealed the designs for its sixth generation electric robotaxi, the Apollo RT6 EV, which is a cross between an SUV and a minivan that comes with a detachable steering wheel. The company said it was able to trim production costs by developing the battery electric architecture in house, bringing the per-vehicle cost to $37,000 per unit. This will help Baidu get to a point of small scale testing and deployment of the RT6 by next year, branching out to large scale in 2024.

Aside from its new service in Wuhan and Chongqing and its driverless service in Beijing, Apollo Go also has a presence in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Changsha, Cangzhou, Yangquan and Wuzhen. Baidu said it plans to expand its ride-hailing service to 65 cities by 2025 and 100 cities by 2030. By the end of this year, Baidu expects to add another 300 Apollo 5th gen robotaxis to its existing fleet, the company said.



Source

Continue Reading

Trending