There's a line in Dr. Seuss' The Foot Book that always makes me think of the games industry.
QUOTE | "Up feet, down feet, here come clown feet." – Dr. Seuss
It's accompanied by a picture of a jaunty clown, strutting along care-free with eyes closed, completely oblivious yet comfortable in his own absurdity.
It was perhaps prophetic. The Foot Book was first published in 1968, and the clown feet were indeed on their way. The "industry" part of the games industry started just three years later with the arrival of the first commercial video game, Computer Space, in 1971.
The clown feet have been marching ever since, even though one would hope the industry would grow up at some point, but here we are. Video games is a $200 billion annual business (more or less), and we still have many of our largest players eagerly slathering on the greasepaint like they're prepping to win the coveted $200 gift certificate grand prize at the Gathering of Juggalos' Reno Rydaz Anal Probe Cornhole Tournament, which is a very real thing taking place next Thursday in Thornville, Ohio.
Best of luck to all the competitors, which we can only assume include some of the following companies. Participants should arrive 15 minutes before the 5 p.m. start time.
Earlier this week, Unity rolled out its big AI push with its in-house Sentis and Muse platforms, as well as an AI Marketplace in the Unity Asset Store with offerings from ten different companies.
QUOTE | "Atlas builds cutting-edge generative 3D AI technology to enable the creation of assets & virtual worlds in a fraction of the time it takes using traditional methods." – Unity touts the Atlas 3D Asset Creator in its press release for the AI push.
It appears the non-traditional method Atlas employed was not "cutting-edge generative 3D AI technology" so much as it was "stealing shit."
And I don't mean "stealing shit" in the sense that the generative AI technology was trained on content scraped from the internet without creator consent. Atlas didn't even go to the trouble of changing its copied homework to ensure it didn't get caught.
QUOTE | "Here is an animated cat for you. I've been really lazy lately so ofc this isn't mine…" – The user description for the 3D model "An Animated Cat" on SketchFab. That same description was copied verbatim on the Unity Asset Store for what appears to be the same model, as noted by developer Mirza Beig on Twitter.
(The original model is on SketchFab under a creative commons license allowing commercial re-use if appropriate credit is given, but given the original poster admits it's not their work and the screens Beig posted suggest it's from Square Enix's 2014 game Murdered: Soul Suspect, the provenance is dodgy, to say the least.)
Unity was at least quick to act.
QUOTE | "We've removed Atlas from our @AssetStore as they violated our terms and conditions. We are actively reviewing all verified solutions providers in the AI category as we remain committed to upholding the quality of our ecosystem." – Unity kicks Atlas to the curb the day after announcing the AI Asset Marketplace.
Oh boy, Unity is "actively reviewing" its verified solutions. Let's hope that review is more substantial than the "vigorous review" companies go through to become a verified solution in the first place.
QUOTE | "Build confidently with Verified Solutions. Find professionals that have undergone enhanced vetting from creators who are committed to providing high-quality solutions, service, and long-term support." [emphasis a colored link in original] – The Unity Asset Store's hub page for its AI partners really emphasizes a whole bunch of things that one would assume would prevent assets with descriptions like "I've been really lazy lately so ofc this isn't mine…" from showing up on the store in the first place.
We're not exactly shocked that a company hustling to ride a hype train would show a lack of concern for creators' legal rights. Last year we saw the name and promotional art for Freedom Games' Outerverse stolen in an attempt to hook suckers in with a "metaverse and decentralized platform," while GameStop's NFT marketplace launched and had its first plagiarism scandal within a week, as just two gaming-relevant examples in the overwhelming barrage of Web3 cons.
With the buzz around metaverse and NFTs fading and the silly money having shifted over to the world of AI, of course the bad actors are going to follow
With the buzz around metaverse and NFTs fading and the silly money having shifted over to the world of AI, of course the bad actors are going to follow.
But I'm finding it a little hard to get worked up about the individuals at the root of these offenses because scammers gonna scam, right? It's actually easier in this case for me to be upset with Unity, because Unity is the one enabling this in its own race to capitalize on the AI buzz.
And at the risk of naively assuming that anyone in this industry has their act together, Unity is supposed to be better than that. It's a publicly traded company with a reputation to uphold and business relationships to protect. It needs to be seen as a serious and reliable company rather than a platform for bad actors to profit from.
Unity knows its size, tenure, and legitimate products give it credibility, and it lent that credibility to these AI partners.
The problem with lending your credibility to someone else is that it then becomes theirs to ruin.
The problem with lending your credibility to someone else is that it then becomes theirs to ruin
Unity didn't steal a 3D model or present it to anyone as the product of an AI-powered asset creator. But it did promise developers that it had put this Atlas 3D Asset Creator through the wringer and found it worthy of their trust, that they could "build confidently" with it because it had been through "enhanced vetting."
So now, every time Unity assures us of, well, pretty much anything, we will have to wonder two things: Should we take the company seriously this time, and why does "Entrance of the Gladiators" keep getting stuck in our heads?
As an interesting addendum to this, we're also seeing reports that Valve is actually prohibiting games with AI-generated assets from being sold on Steam, which would seem to be bad news for anyone developing a PC game using Unity's Verified Solutions.
QUOTE | "As the legal ownership of such AI-generated art is unclear, we cannot ship your game while it contains these AI-generated assets, unless you can affirmatively confirm that you own the rights to all of the IP used in the data set that trained the AI to create the assets in your game." - The message Valve sent to a Steam developer using AI art in their game, according to a Reddit post.
That's right. When it comes to acting like the adults in the room, Unity is being one-upped by the people who ignored any responsibility to moderate their community of millions, sulked about not being able to sell rape fantasies, and won't even pretend to show concern about whether their hardware business funds human rights abuses or is built on child labor.
You know what I love about the Yakuza series? The completely off-the-wall moral code of its heroes, organized criminals who will shake people down for protection money, but still have a very clear sense of right and wrong and will move heaven and earth to see people get what they deserve, for better or worse.
That made it ever-so-slightly more disappointing this week to hear that the Yakuza games recently added to the GOG PC gaming storefront have truncated credits, leaving out PC porting studios Lab42 and QLOC, as well as key developers who recently left Sega, including series creator Toshihiro Nagoshi and series producer Daisuke Saito.
Kazuma Kiryu would never.
As we've said before, denying credit to developers who leave the company is indefensible clownery of the highest order, the height of pettiness from an impotent and jilted employer.
I don't care if they left mid-project. I don't care if they had a falling out with the company, burned every bridge they had, or even got fired for eminently justifiable reasons.
The credits are a historical record of who contributed to the game and there's no justification for memory holing anyone who worked on it, particularly while you're still profiting from their work.
While we're on the subject of credits, Striking Distance updated The Callisto Protocol with the names of developers who had left mid-project and were left out of the original credits, so they're mostly here for wiping off the clown makeup.
The studio is also here a little because the original omissions were even more clownish than we had thought.
STAT | 20 – The estimated number of missing names from the credits, according to the Callisto Protocol developers we spoke with in January.
STAT | 51 – The number of new names added to the credits.
Oof. Anyway, good on Striking Distance for at least trying to fix this, even if it had to be publicly shamed for that to happen, and it still hasn't so much as publicly commented or apologized to the former employees it was throwing a childish tantrum over.
Pro-tip for companies out there: If you don't want to have your reputation dragged through the mud, it's a lot less likely to happen if you do right by your people. I know it sounds simple, but this one just doesn't seem to be getting through for some of you.
STAT | $220 million – The amount of money Sony spent developing The Last of Us Part 2.
STAT | $2 (estimated) – The cost of the Sharpie someone used to ineffectively redact that budget from a legal filing in the Microsoft-Activision Blizzard merger hearing.
You'd think these big entities with their big legal departments would have the resources and know-how to do things right, but it's clown feet, I tell you. Clown feet all the way down.
Crappy Activision-Blizzard thing of the week
STAT | 3.5 years – The lifespan of Call of Duty: Warzone. Activision Blizzard launched the game in March of 2020, renamed it Warzone Caldera when Warzone 2.0 launched, and is shutting it down in September. Player progression and in-game items did not transfer over to Warzone 2.0, but purchased content that overlapped with Modern Warfare, Black Ops Cold War, or Vanguard will still be usable in those games.
That's a pretty long run compared to the flood of other live service games we've seen shutdown this year, but there's a difference here in that Call of Duty: Warzone was a massive hit.
Activision doesn't really break out the revenues brought in by its various Call of Duty offerings, but Warzone was a big part of the franchise growing bookings 80% to more than $3 billion in its year of release. Players have doubtlessly pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the game.
Activision's move to shut down the servers so quickly and leave those customers with nothing except for cosmetics in games they may not even own is a new level of ruthlessness in games-as-a-service, a competitive speedrun in the very crowded field of treating artistic output as an utterly disposable commodity.
The rest of the week in review
QUOTE | "I personally believe that Gen AI will be a co-pilot to our people, and has the opportunity to scale and enhance human creativity. But the top talent, especially top talent that we employ, will be amplified and will never be, in my mind, replaced." - EA chief technology officer Marija Radulovic-Nastic talking about the company's approach to AI has me intensely curious as to what she thinks will happen to the middle and bottom talent, and just how many people that will be.
STAT | 12% - The year-over-year increase in US spending on video games in May, according to Circana. On the console side of things, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom topped the charts and helped make Switch the best-selling hardware of the month in both unit sales and dollar sales.
Over the first five months of 2023, consumer spending on games has been basically unchanged from 2022, though you would think it was much worse if all you did was read the rest of the headlines.
STAT | 230 – The number of Niantic developers who will be out of work as the Pokémon Go company shuts down its LA studio, closes the recently launched NBA All-World, cancels Marvel: World of Heroes, and focuses more on creating services for other developers to make their own AR experiences. (Pokémon Go is still the top priority for the company though.)
STAT | 16 – The number of staffers who will remain at Scavengers Studio after the Season developer cut more than half its staff this week in the aftermath of the game's commercial disappointment.
STAT | "A little less than 30" – The number of people laid off by Hi-Rez Studios as the Smite and Paladins developer restructures.
QUOTE | "…not every role will make the move." – BioWare confirms that while Star Wars: The Old Republic development is moving to Broadsword, a bunch of the people who made the MMO what it is will be laid off. IGN previously reported that there were 70-80 people on the game, and "more than half" would be shifting over to Broadsword.
QUOTE | "It's one thing to be out there looking for a mirror of yourself in the world so you have an idea of what you can do with your life. To see a character on the page of a fantasy book or a video game is powerful. But it's even more powerful when you can see a real human like you thriving and being successful, to show you a blueprint that it's an actual thing you can do, and there's someone like you doing it. I think that's really powerful." – Meli Grant, the voice actor behind Apex Legends' first trans character Catalyst, gives one more reason why developers should work to increase representation both on the screen and behind the scenes.
STAT | $60 – The cost of an annual subscription to the newly announced Meta Quest +, which gives users access to two VR games each month that they can continue to play as long as they are subscribed.
QUOTE | "I remember there was a lot of stress when we were thinking about trying to expand it into a full game and thinking: is there enough here? Is there enough of a skeleton for us to hang things onto, to actually get it fleshed out into something we wouldn't be embarrassed to put on Steam?" – Dinosaur Polo Club's Peter Curry says Mini Metro probably would have turned out differently if it were made today, when minimalist art games without goals and fail states seem more viable than when the game was first conceived in 2013.
QUOTE | "I actually believe Cyberpunk on launch was way better than it was received, and even the first reviews were positive. Then it became a cool thing not to like it." - CD Projekt's VP of PR and communication Michał Platkow-Gilewski tries out a bit of revisionist history on Cyberpunk 2077's release, ignoring that Sony refused to sell the game on the PlayStation Store for six months, CD Projekt never showed footage of the game's deeply troubled Xbox One and PS4 versions before launch, and those first reviews were positive because CD Projekt gave reviewers the PC version of the game.
STAT | 68 (or lower) – The Metacritic scores from the first four console-specific reviews for Cyberpunk 2077, compared to the 90 average the PC version was sporting.
STAT | $6 million – How much it cost the ESA to run external companies to run the digital-only E3 2021.
STAT | 2-3 years – How long it will be before The Initiative's Perfect Dark comes out, as estimated by sources who spoke with IGN about the project's tortured history.