Posts with «author_name|jessica conditt» label

Microsoft consolidating the video game industry is bad for everyone

It was cute at first. When Xbox head Phil Spencer took the stage at E3 2018 and announced the acquisition of five notable studios – Undead Labs, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, Compulsion Games and The Initiative – the air inside the Microsoft Theater turned electric. It felt like the company was righting a wrong in its business plan and finally building an internal roster of exciting games that it could offer exclusively on Xbox platforms. You know, a few friends to keep Master Chief company.

Today’s announcement that Microsoft is buying Activision Blizzard, the largest third-party publisher in the video game industry, doesn’t feel as harmless. Four years on and numerous acquisitions later, the Activision Blizzard deal feels like an extreme escalation of Microsoft’s plans, and it could mark a turning point in the video game industry as a whole, with negative consequences for both players and developers.

So far, public reaction to the acquisition has been mixed, which makes sense for a few reasons: first, Activision Blizzard's sheer size is daunting, and this purchase represents more money and industry power than Microsoft's previous gaming acquisitions combined. Second, Activision Blizzard is currently the subject of multiple investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the studio, where CEO Bobby Kotick has been in charge and largely unchecked for the past 30 years. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Kotick is poised to leave the company in a golden parachute once the Microsoft deal goes through.

This is the first time Microsoft has received a confused response to acquisition news, rather than outright praise, and that's because this isn't a standard transaction. It's the clearest sign yet that we're in the video game industry's era of consolidation.

Back in 2017, Microsoft was badly losing the first-party IP fight to Sony and Nintendo. By the end of that year, Xbox had shut down two of its internal studios, Lionhead and Press Play, it had killed a few hotly anticipated projects, and even with the Xbox Series X right around the corner, there wasn’t much to look forward to in the company’s software reserves. The acquisition announcement at E3 2018 was a sigh of relief for anxious Xbox fans.

By February 2019, Microsoft had 13 studios and publishing organizations under the banner of Xbox Game Studios.

Microsoft

And then in September 2020, Microsoft revealed it was buying ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda, id Software, Arkane Studios and Tango Gameworks. The gaming world generally rejoiced, but a few folks also started glancing around, suspicious. These studios were a big deal – the stewards of Fallout, Doom, Dishonored, Wolfenstein, Deathloop, Starfield and Elder Scrolls – and they were being added to Microsoft’s substantial pile of medium-sized companies, more names in a growing list. That alone was cause for pause.

For most fans, the main question was, what did the acquisition mean for games like The Elder Scrolls VI, which was part of a series that historically hit PlayStation and Xbox platforms alike? Basically, would Elder Scrolls VI come to PS4 and PS5?

Turns out, probably not.

One year after Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda, Spencer told GQ that he believed the Xbox ecosystem was the best place for all of the franchises in the studio’s repertoire, including The Elder Scrolls VI. He all but confirmed it would be exclusive to Xbox.

“It’s not about punishing any other platform, like I fundamentally believe all of the platforms can continue to grow,” Spencer told GQ. “But in order to be on Xbox, I want us to be able to bring the full complete package of what we have. And that would be true when I think about Elder Scrolls VI. That would be true when I think about any of our franchises.”

Starfield, Bethesda’s sci-fi RPG built for the ninth console generation, will definitely be exclusive to Xbox Series X/S and PC, skipping PS5 entirely. Spencer’s comments make it clear that Xbox is eyeing exclusivity for its franchises, and after today’s $69 billion deal goes through, that’s going to include Activision Blizzard games.

Microsoft

Activision Blizzard is the largest third-party publisher in gaming, and it’s the owner of massive franchises including Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone and Candy Crush. As a third-party studio, Activision Blizzard has been able to negotiate with the main platform holders to get its software on the consoles and devices it wants. This doesn’t always equate to same-day launches or in-game item equity, but generally speaking, this position has helped ensure Activision Blizzard games reach as many players on as many platforms as possible. Exclusivity agreements and distribution deals are the main source of competition in the industry at this point, allowing outside developers to advocate for their games without feeling beholden to any console owner in particular.

When a platform holder becomes the largest publisher in gaming, it flips the script completely. It jams the script into a shredder, burns the scraps to ash, condenses the ash into stone, and then throws that to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Let’s take Call of Duty, a series with predictable annual installments, for example. Over the years, Activision has shifted allegiances between Microsoft and Sony, offering early access and exclusive game modes to Xbox platforms, then PlayStation, and mixing it up along the way. Among all the backroom talks, bad blood and better offers, it’s always been up to Activision to cut the best deal for Call of Duty, console holders be damned.

After the acquisition, that negotiation looks entirely different, if it even exists at all. As the owner of Call of Duty, Microsoft can tell Sony to screw off, keeping one of the industry’s biggest franchises exclusive to Xbox platforms.

This likely won’t happen right away, but it’s certainly a possibility down the line. In his blog post about the acquisition, Xbox’s Spencer didn’t address Sony or Nintendo platforms specifically, but he alluded to the possibility of cross-platform support for Activision Blizzard’s franchises. 

“Activision Blizzard games are enjoyed on a variety of platforms and we plan to continue to support those communities moving forward,” he said, without detailing what he meant by “platforms” or “support.” Keep in mind, this was the messaging around Elder Scrolls VI at first, too.

Microsoft isn’t the only company in the midst of a studio-hoarding spree: Sony picked up its 13th internal studio, Housemarque, in June 2021, while Tencent is chugging along with ownership of Riot Games, financial stakes in a handful of massive studios, and the purchase of LittleBigPlanet 3 developer Sumo Group in July 2021. Even Valve has scooped up a handful of independent creators in recent years, including the team behind Firewatch and some members of Kerbal Space Program.

MARK RALSTON via Getty Images

Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard simply feels like the final push into a new era for the video game industry: consolidation.

While exclusivity deals may be the short-term concern, this trend has a longer and more tragic tail. It’s highly likely that there will be more acquisitions by Microsoft, Sony and other major names in gaming, and these deals and subsequent companies will only get bigger with time. With just a few massive studios controlling a huge chunk of the software pipeline, it could instill a sense of homogeneity among new titles, killing innovation as each developer attempts to conform to the corporate environment around them, actively or subconsciously.

Even with “creative freedom” built into their contracts, the acquired studios will all use the same QA process, funding arrangement, marketing plan, management structure and editing cycle; they’ll have the same bosses and face the same oversight. And when all new products are the result of a singular perspective, they’re bound to feel familiar. Stale, even. Boring.

Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard is an escalation of the exclusivity scheme, and it represents a new way of doing business. Now and for years to come, consolidation is the name of the game.

Maybe one day we’ll get Consolidation 2: Blow It All Up And Make Everything Indie Again, but that one might have trouble finding a publisher.

KeyMander Nexus Gaming KVM connects your PC to Xbox, Switch and PS4

The KeyMander Nexus Gaming KVM is the next evolution of IOGEAR's connective hardware for PC and consoles, and it's due to come out between April and June 2022 for $200. It specifically supports Xbox Series X and S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4 consoles, making it possible to play any game on those systems with a keyboard, mouse, monitor and headset connected to a PC.

The name of the game here is streamlining. The Nexus Gaming KVM brings multiple consoles to a single screen and input system on the PC, while also allowing users to swap among Switch, Xbox One and PS4 controllers. It supports video at 4K and 60Hz, using HDMI 2.1.

Now to address the ninth-generation elephant in the room: The Nexus Gaming KVM doesn't fully support PS5 or the DualSense controllers. This is in line with previous iterations of the KeyMander switches, which also have limited functionality with PS5.

"We have limited support for PS5, can only play PS4 and non-DualSense PS5 games," an IOGEAR spokesperson told Engadget. "We are looking to launch a dongle in late Q2 that may bring full support." Q2 ends ends in June 2022, the spokesperson clarified.

IOGEAR has been talking about that dongle for about seven months now, and the use of "may" in that statement isn't reassuring. Sony's DualSense controllers for the PS5 include a range of new features, like adaptive triggers and ultra-sensitive haptics, and several titles actually require this gamepad to function. This makes it difficult to translate PS5 games to a standard input method like a keyboard and mouse. However, IOGEAR says it's still trying.

There are ways to play certain games with a keyboard and mouse plugged directly into consoles, but these titles are limited. Not only does the Nexus Gaming KVM unlock this input method for every game on supported systems, but it keeps things organized by running each console through a single monitor and headset, negating the need to swap screens and controllers. Unless you have a PS5, for now.

Wemo's Smart Video Doorbell is exclusive to the Apple ecosystem

There's no shortage of app-connected, camera-enabled doorbells on the market, and now there's one more, this time from IoT company Wemo, a subsidiary of Belkin International. The Wemo Smart Video Doorbell is available to order today and it costs $250 for the self-installation option. 

Android households, take note: The Wemo doorbell works exclusively with Apple's HomeKit Secure Video, and it's managed through the Home app on iPad, iPhone and Mac. The system requires an iCloud plan and a HomePod, Apple TV, or iPad established as a home hub.

Wemo's Smart Video doorbell has a 178-degree field of view, 4MP camera and low-light sensitivity for nighttime recordings. Since it connects to HomeKit, the Wemo doorbell can identify specific visitors using Apple's face-recognition software, and all recordings are stored securely in the Home app, including a 10-day motion-based video history.

Wemo is doubling (tripling?) down on the Apple ecosystem — this is the third device in its lineup to take advantage of HomeKit, working exclusively with iOS and iPadOS. The Wemo Stage lighting controller and Smart Plug also rely on HomeKit.

'Arcane' creators explain why Jinx and Vi are the stars of the Netflix series

It was always Jinx and Vi. They’re the sisters at the heart of Riot Games’ hit Netflix series, Arcane, and they were picked for the spotlight out of a lineup of more than 150 League of Legends champions.

For Arcane creators Christian Linke and Alex Yee, the stars really couldn’t have been anyone else from League of Legends lore. Especially not Teemo. Linke and Yee have been preparing Jinx and Vi for their leading roles in a mature, mainstream, animated TV series for the past nine years, even if they didn’t know it the entire time.

Back in December 2012, Vi debuted and became the first League of Legends champion to receive a login screen complete with an original, lyrical song. A year later, Jinx joined the game’s ranks and starred in its first character-driven cinematic, a high-energy music video called Get Jinxed. Linke and Yee worked on both of these releases, flexing their creative muscles in music and narrative storyboarding, two aspects that didn’t get much attention in the core game-development process.

The Jinx cinematic was also the first time Riot partnered with Fortiche Production, the studio behind Arcane’s otherworldly animation style.

“They kind of got our special treatment already because we just really liked them,” Linke told Engadget. “And so, when we had to think about like, which characters do we want to stick with for many years to come? I think it was pretty obvious.”

Yee agreed and added, “Both of them were a bit of a milestone, I think, for our time at Riot.”

In-game, Jinx and Vi are sisters and bitter enemies, though this story fades into the background of the action, appearing only in small voice lines and character descriptions. As an online MOBA, narrative isn’t critical to the way League of Legends plays, but Riot has infused its champions with more lore over the years, focusing on expanding their universe beyond the game launcher.

Nowadays, Riot is a hub of creative development across multiple mediums, including short stories, graphic novels, cinematics, music videos and one truly fantastic K-pop group. Arcane is the studio’s biggest push onto a mainstream service, and Jinx and Vi carry the story, surrounded by a handful of other champions, including Caitlyn, Jayce and Viktor, and other original characters.

Jinx and Vi were always intriguing to Linke and Yee. They were grounded in a way that the game’s more fantastical champions weren’t, with distinct, opposing personalities and an unexplained rivalry that clearly cut both sisters to the core. Vi was a powerful, rigid Enforcer working for the prosperous city of Piltover, while Jinx was an anarchist with a belt full of bombs and no filter. Vi’s hair is short and pink, while Jinx’s is long and bright blue.

“If you just imagine those two characters together in a scene, whatever location, whatever they would be debating – you know, what kind of food they're going to get in the evening, or what kind of movie they're going to watch,” Linke said. “It's just always going to be fun, because they're always going to have these very different perspectives.”

There’s an inherent question in Jinx and Vi’s shared backstory, Yee said, and it’s a mystery that fans of the game and newcomers to the show would be able to grasp quickly: If they’re sisters, why do they hate each other so much? Arcane asks that question and slowly answers it, providing a rich, emotionally charged origin story for Jinx, Vi and their surrounding champions along the way.

“The fact that Jinx and Vi’s relationship is a bit of a mystery from the outset allows us to sort of satisfy both audiences,” Yee said.

In Arcane, Linke and Yee were able to zoom in and focus on the small details that bring their characters to life, showing micro-expressions and all-consuming rage on Jinx’s face, or giving Vi a nuanced nervous tick, like bouncing her leg. Fortiche Production, the studio that handles animation duties for Arcane and other Riot projects, was a pivotal part of this development process. Animators there were given leeway to express themselves in the characters, Linke said, and this resulted in a unique visual style that flowed like motion-capture, even though it was completely hand-drawn.

“We also tried to really treat the animators like actors who can find their ways of expressing things, rather than just kind of saying, make Jinx or Vi do this,” Linke said. “But instead, just being like, here's what's going on in their head, how can we really make that feel real?”

Riot Games

After nearly 10 years of in-game development and cross-media projects, Jinx and Vi are still able to surprise Linke and Yee. Developing Arcane, for instance, marked the first time they’d seen any League of Legends champion actually speaking, mouth movements and all.

“When we did our first trial, or our first test animatic for the show, it was the first time we'd ever seen any of our champions talk,” Yee said. “We'd never – their mouths don't move in game, you know. So it was a very funny milestone to cross at that point.”

Given how well Arcane has been received by League of Legends fans and newcomers alike, there are plenty more creative milestones to come as Riot continues its ride into mainstream entertainment. Season two of Arcaneis in production as we — and Jinx and Vi — speak.

How a VR startup took the money and ran to the metaverse

The tech buzzword of the season is “metaverse.” Facebook kicked the craze into high gear at its Connect conference in late October, featuring an hour-long image-rehabilitation video where Mark Zuckerberg revealed the company’s new name, Meta, and showed off a vague digital-first future called the metaverse.

Dedric Reid has been selling his own version of the metaverse on and off for the past five years. He calls it MetaWorld and describes it as a persistent, decentralized space filled with life and change. It’s a “10,000 square mile vast-scale simulation, owned by community and run by community,” according to Reid. He’s said it’s his life’s work.

MetaWorld

Like many other organizations at the moment, Reid has been using the buzz around the metaverse to ramp up his own promotional efforts. MetaWorld has a slick website, a fresh YouTube channel, a new Discord server and Reid hosts daily chats on Clubhouse. He recently launched a marketplace where he's selling digital parcels of land and property as NFTs.

In the MetaWorld Discord server, a “press” channel lists articles from Engadget, Alphr, TechRadar, UploadVR, VentureBeat, Tom’s Hardware, Variety and CNBC, and links to a video from New Scientist magazine.

Early on November 3rd, a user named Wolfssskin entered the MetaWorld press room and started typing.

“Interesting that you think you can do the same scam again,” Wolf said.

“What’s interesting is that you think that you can stalk and harass me,” Reid wrote back. The confrontation continued with Reid accusing Wolf of being a troll, and Wolf claiming MetaWorld was a scam. The exchange has since been deleted, and Wolfssskin banned from the server.

However, Wolf is active on another Discord server — this one also called MetaWorld and also created by Reid, though he hasn’t posted in it since 2019. The old server is full of angry users who say they gave Reid their money between 2016 and 2018 to join MetaWorld, and believe they were scammed.

Reid’s final message in the old MetaWorld Discord server was posted on September 6th, 2019: “Check updates on the updates channel in coming weeks … I'll also be around with mods for discussion all week.” No update ever came, and in the two years since, the old server has become a guide to the seven stages of grief.

“It's disgusting to think that they have just left paying customers with not even a response,” a user named LordGirthVader wrote in June 2020.

“Yeah but that’s the thing,” another user named Floogey responded, “We weren’t actually customers, we were victims.”

Engadget first interacted with Reid in 2016, when a UK startup named Improbable arranged a meeting inside a MetaWorld prototype to demonstrate Spatial OS, the startup’s scalable server tech. Reid was one of several developers to make use of the company’s public SDK, and Improbable thought MetaWorld made an effective demo to promote its “open community platform.”

Shortly after the launch of that prototype, Improbable stopped promoting or mentioning MetaWorld at all. By 2017, questions were being raised about Reid’s ability to deliver on his ambitious promises, which included a custom avatar system, a living world as large as the state of Maryland, a virtual economy, rich environmental simulations and cross-platform capabilities for a variety of VR headsets.

Reid started an Indiegogo campaign in April 2017, a move that prompted his former business partner and MetaWorld prototype developer, Carelton DiLeo, to publicly distance himself from the project. DiLeo noted that he was “not currently working on MetaWorld” and didn’t know how Reid planned “to deliver on the promise of the fund.”

The Indiegogo campaign was not a success, eventually raising $3,674 of a $50,000 flexible goal, meaning Reid got to keep all of the money pledged. This was followed by a new revenue-driving initiative: land speculation. In September 2017, Road to VR noted that Reid was selling virtual land for real money, and detailed the many questions surrounding the project. Land was available to buy in three tiers, ranging from $15 for a quarter acre to $100 for two acres, though it was unclear what exactly players would do with this property, how the economy would function or how people who didn’t buy land would join the game.

MetaWorld was listed on Steam as an Early Access title in mid-2017, advertising consistent updates and transparent, community-driven development. There was no actual game to play, no virtual world to explore, but Reid was selling land in MetaWorld regardless. On September 28th, 2017, a blog post in the MetaWorld Steam community claimed land titles were being sent out to investors, supported by a cryptocurrency Reid had created called MetaCoin.

In its September 2017 article, Road to VR concluded, “MetaWorld is headed into Early Access, which partly excuses it from being an incomplete product, but the inconsistency in messaging around the game’s core mechanics and features ought to leave you worried about the stability of the still unreleased MMO.”

By early 2018, Reid claimed he had been investing in crypto for several years to form the economy of MetaWorld, using the cash from early land sales to build the MetaCoin fund. He said he wasn’t personally making any money in the process, and all of the money coming into MetaWorld was being converted into cryptocurrency and kept in a single place called the Metabank, where it was reserved specifically for this new virtual economy.

The 2016 MetaWorld prototype Engadget experienced.
MetaWorld

Reid told Engadget in 2018, “We're a community-funded entity. So we've been working on that, in fact taking on cash and kind of forming it into cryptocurrency, and building an economy.” He said he was using “robo-trading, a couple different investment tools to grow the money.”

Roughly a year after saying that, Reid left his final message in the original MetaWorld Discord and disappeared from the server.

A few weeks after Reid’s quiet exit, a user named Immortal posted in the lobby, “Been a while since I’ve heard anything on this game and even longer since my money was happily taken for it. Anyone know anything about this release or is this just one of those things that never happen?”

“I don’t expect anything to happen,” a user called Myrothas replied. “Asked for a refund a year ago and many times. All I heard was: send me a mail. I did do that multiple times and never received an answer. Quite the red flag for me.”

Myrothas, real name Johannes Fischer, shared with Engadget a 2018 email exchange where he requested a refund through the MetaWorld help channel. “Backed this project about a year ago and expected it to come out already,” he wrote in the email. “I’d like to ask for a refund.” He says he never received his money.

Engadget interviewed Reid twice in 2018. In these interviews, Reid explained how paying customers would build MetaWorld themselves, and how cryptocurrency would make the whole thing work as a decentralized, libertarian dreamscape. With players responsible for funding and developing MetaWorld themselves, it was difficult to pin down what exactly Reid was selling.

One year after the launch of his crowdfunding campaign, Reid said he had “a design worked out in Unity” for MetaWorld, and he planned to transfer this into the existing Spatial OS ecosystem — even though Improbable, Spatial OS’ parent company, wasn’t actively supporting the project any longer. He claimed he’d built a procedural terrain generator for VR and also a robust avatar system with “head tracking, eyes, eye blinking, eye gazing, lip sync, upper torso support,” though these features weren't ever demonstrated.

Most of Reid’s goals never materialized. The MetaWorld release date was pushed back again and again, until eventually the Steam page simply read, “Soon.” Reid showed off high-fidelity environments on YouTube and Discord, and then later revealed MetaWorld would be a Google Blocks project, making those assets impossible. MetaWorld never went live.

“We had a lot of broken promises right off the bat, that was a pretty major flag,” one early adopter told Engadget under the condition of anonymity. We’ll call them Morgan. “And the community was very quick to do some snooping.”

Engadget spoke with 11 original MetaWorld investors, including people who were deeply involved in the community and often interacted with Reid directly. Many of these members asked not to be named, considering Reid had their personal information and they didn’t trust him to not misuse it.

Users commiserating on the original Discord server in 2020. (Enlarge)
MetaWorld/Discord

After a few months of missed launch dates and hollow promises, MetaWorld members discovered Reid was using images from 3D model site TurboSquid to sell land and in-game items, and they said he changed critical details about the engine and development process seemingly on a whim. As people would ask for refunds in the original Discord server, Reid would call them trolls and delete their messages.

At the time, as calls for refunds were flooding the MetaWorld community, Reid told Engadget he was “in the process of coming up with a better refund policy” and he wanted to honor these requests, but it was difficult to do so without seriously affecting development. Not that Reid planned on doing much development himself — as he described it, he was a designer, the guy with the vision. According to his plan, the community would do the actual coding and game-making, after buying their way into MetaWorld.

“It was around then that we learned that users would also be responsible for creating assets,” Morgan said. “Assets included anything from buildings to animals… but we'd also be responsible for creating jobs, and performing said jobs to earn currency on the blockchain.”

Besides that, Reid told Engadget he planned to piggyback off the work happening at multibillion-dollar companies like Facebook, IBM and Google. He pointed out that these organizations had already built VR worlds, avatar systems and AI frameworks, and he said he’d simply use these to create MetaWorld. He seemed unconcerned with the concepts of intellectual property and trade secrets.

“From my perspective, all code is done and written,” Reid said. A few minutes on, he continued, “The code that drives the artificial intelligence — Watson, or just name your AI code — it exists, right? So I can play with concepts, whereas code's already written, right? You know what I mean? I can take from any code set I want. And I think by understanding code — I also write code. But rather than get heads down on writing code, I sort of enjoy dreaming up concepts and just understanding how things are put together.”

In the end, Reid was basically selling an early-concept Roblox, in VR and for adults. But first, he was asking players to build the game itself and pay him for the privilege. After all, he said, actually making MetaWorld was the easy part.

“This stuff is like, it isn't rocket science,” he said. “It's really pretty straightforward to throw a couple objects around and create a couple simulations, a couple VR simulations and put them together. That's not the hard part, like, making some VR games.”

That rudimentary 2016 demo, built before developer DiLeo left the team, is the only public proof that Reid’s MetaWorld has ever existed as an inhabitable virtual place. DiLeo went on to build his own simulated environment using Spatial OS, and he sold it in October 2018 to Somnium Space, which is an established, decentralized VR platform powered by blockchain. As part of that deal, Somnium Space offered a refund and land-exchange program for angry MetaWorld customers, in an effort to rebuild trust in VR development as a whole.

In October 2021, two years after Reid’s final message in the old Discord, a new MetaWorld server appeared. It had a fresh logo, links to his Clubhouse group, and the same pitch as before. A “passports” channel linked to a page where people could pay $10, $20 or $30 for “exclusive community access,” the opportunity to build MetaWorld, and early bidding on future NFT drops.

At the time of publishing, MetaWorld NFTs have raised 5,126 MATIC (around $11,000) since their launch on November 25th.

Listings for MetaWorld NFTs.
MetaWorld/Niftykit

Reid is now selling virtual land and properties as NFTs on the Polygon network, and people are buying. Land tends to run from $50 to $600, payable in Polygon’s MATIC currency, while a “Piano House” costs $650 and seems to be available via cash payment only. The MetaWorld website claims just 10 of these houses will be minted and simulated.

“So much excitement, creative thoughts and passion for the future,” Discord user Clare Bratina wrote in the new MetaWorld server on November 25th. “Definitely backing the creators and looking forward to learning how to create in the metaverse and on metaworld.”

Every now and then in the new server, a random member will spam the channels with warnings claiming that MetaWorld is a scam, and Reid will deny it and delete the messages. Just like old times.

There is one new, unexpected feature of the revamped MetaWorld campaign: Reid, who happens to be Black, is targeting people of color.

“So happy this exists!” a user called NiKole wrote in MetaWorld’s “town-square” channel on September 5th.

In October, a member named PixelPil0t posted, “Happy to join your Metaworld! Excited to see what you build Dedric, your background is incredible.”

Over the past few months, Reid has been doing much of his MetaWorld marketing on Clubhouse, where he has 1,800 followers and regularly joins talks with the Black Metaverse community, which is run by NiKole. Here’s how Reid closed out a Clubhouse chat for Black Women in Blockchain on November 5th, after spending a few minutes selling MetaWorld as a Hawaii-sized VR landscape where players would be able to fly airplanes and play around in a persistent, living environment:

“Much of the inspiration for the world is gearing it towards POC first. You know I've been in, sort of, the games and media industry for quite some time. And, you know, as a community we're often left behind. It's, you know, the computational world isn't exactly ‘us’ first, sort of, you know, we've been an afterthought. So now we are. So check out the identity system. Look forward to seeing Black faces in the MetaWorld. Peace. My name is Dedric.”

New users have been trickling into the new MetaWorld Discord server and Reid has been organizing its channels, most of which are empty. It’s mostly newcomers, but there are also a handful of folks from the old MetaWorld server floating around, tracking the similarities between the previous project and the new promises.

The "creators" channel showed off MetaWorld's photogrammetery. (Enlarge)
MetaWorld/Discord

The new server used to have a “creators” channel where Reid shared images of Redwood trees and forest foliage going through the photogrammetry process, and one old-server user noticed artifacts on the pictures, where it looked like text had been Photoshopped away. This user found the original images on a website unassociated with MetaWorld or Reid, and Engadget eventually traced all the images in channel back to an 80 Level interview with environmental artist Willi Hammes of MAWI United.

Engadget spoke with Reid in November, when the creators channel was still live, and asked him what photogrammetry software he was using to build MetaWorld.

“I'm not actually sure,” he said. “I'm not working on the photogrammetry stuff. So I'd have to ask somebody from my team what they're using to capture it.”

Original backer BenG found the original versions of many MetaWorld-related assets.
Discord

Reid said he had a few freelancers working on the project, but he presented himself as the sole full-time creator of MetaWorld. Minutes after our interview, the creators channel disappeared from the Discord server, taking all the photogrammetry claims with it.

Other MetaWorld assets vanished around this time, too. Reid deleted and unlisted at least two YouTube videos after facing questions about their origins. One of them, called “Generative + Procedural Design Redwood Creek,” was a minute-long speedrun through the Unreal Engine 4 development process, showing the creation of a lush forest scene. It was published on October 31st. The MetaWorld logo was prominently displayed over the entire video, it started and ended with the URL for the MetaWorld website, and its description read, “Using a combination of procedural / generative Design and hand freehand design to construct MetaWorld Redwood Creek region.”

After establishing we were talking about the same video, I asked Reid point-blank, “So that video, that was you in MetaWorld making something?”

He was silent for seven seconds. “The video’s MetaWorld, yes,” he finally said.

However, the footage in question was originally posted to YouTube by a user named Nitrogen in March 2019, without any of the MetaWorld bits. The MetaWorld version was edited down and cropped in places, but it was the same video. Reid did not make it, nor was it an example of anything he had built in MetaWorld.

I brought this information to Reid’s attention.

“Are you talking about promo videos?” he asked. I responded that I meant the videos on the MetaWorld website and YouTube channel, which we’d been discussing for a few minutes.

“Oh cool promo videos, yeah yeah yeah,” he said. “Right on, yeah, you’re talking about the promo videos.”

I clarified, “This one’s called, ‘Generative plus Procedural design Redwood Creek.’”

“Yeah, we're showing the power of Unreal Engine,” Reid said.

“So that’s not you?” I asked. “That’s not MetaWorld?”

“We’re showing the power of Unreal in our videos on YouTube,” Reid responded.

I then questioned Reid about a second video published on the MetaWorld YouTube channel on October 31st, this one called “Designing MetaWorld.” It was just five seconds long and showed a windswept valley, long grass blowing in the digital breeze. In reality, this upload was a snippet from a longer video by Joe Garth, posted in June and with more than 1 million views.

Reid repeated the argument that these videos were examples of the tools that would be used to build MetaWorld.

“As an industry we’ve been using these tools, this is a pretty common toolset that much of the industry has had access to — is there something different when we do it?” Reid said. “So I hear that a lot, ‘I hope this isn’t an asset flip.’ Well, no, we’re showing you what’s possible and we’re using the same pipelines and assets that everybody else is using. I find that interesting, that when we use assets, it’s a problem. But Joe Schmo white dude uses assets, nobody says anything. I feel like there’s a double standard. It’s frankly kind of annoying at this point.”

An image on an NFT that sold for $374 appears to have been sourced from an artist's ArtStation page. (Enlarge)

Before our interview had even wrapped up, the first MetaWorld video had been unlisted and the second video deleted entirely. On November 16th, the MetaWorld website was updated with new assets and a fresh video called “Esselen Redwoods,” which was branded with Reid’s white-and-blue MetaWorld logo. It appears this walkthrough was originally uploaded by Simon Barle, an environment artist at DICE, back in 2015, as “Redwood Forest UE4.” The accompanying assets seem to be taken from Barle’s original work as well.

Reid is using these lifted images to sell land as NFTs on the official MetaWorld website and in cryptocurrency marketplaces. He’s advertising two different environments, Esselen Creek and Esselen Islands, and apparently using misappropriated assets for both. The Esselen Creek images seem to be Barle’s, while a new video titled “MW Esselen Creek Promo 1 1” appears to be a chopped-up version of this 2017 upload by MAWI United. The MetaWorld version is emblazoned with Reid’s MetaWorld logo alongside the words, “World’s First Simulated Environment NFT.”

A MetaWorld promo comprised of footage from environment asset company MAWI United.

The Esselen Islands images look like cropped and mirrored versions of Island Landscape - B, a content pack uploaded to the Unreal marketplace by user Gokhan Karadayi in January 2019. The Islands NFTs aren’t live for purchasing yet, but the presale page collects name, email and crypto-ownership details from interested users.

Meanwhile, the “Piano House” that Reid listed for $650 is actually the historic Farnsworth House, and it’s being advertised with an image taken from Russian site CGBandit, uploaded by user chel0ve4ek before February 2021. The original image comes from a ready-to-render scene pack containing Photoshop files based on the Farnsworth House, including foliage, furniture and high-quality textures that Reid definitely did not make himself.Another page for the Piano House NFT, which has since been removed, showed 3D renders of an entirely different property, LINE Architects’ Piano House.

Reid has a clear modus operandi when it comes to advertising MetaWorld: find other people’s images and videos of impressive Unreal Engine environments, edit out the original watermarks, and present them as his own. Meanwhile, Reid has never provided any evidence that MetaWorld has ever looked like any of these assets.

This entire land-acquisition model dates back to the 2003 game Second Life and has recently been popularized in NFT form by Decentraland and similar platforms, with Decentraland’s virtual economy valued in billions of dollars. When it comes to the Esselen NFTs, the issue is that as far as we can tell, the MetaWorld Reid’s been promising has never existed at all.

The Esselen Islands landscape is seemingly taken from the Unreal Engine marketplace.
Engadget

In that Clubhouse monologue on November 5th, Reid claimed MetaWorld was already live, and had been for a few years.

“The other unique aspect of this world is the sheer size of it,” he said. “It exists in the cloud. We pushed it to cloud a couple years ago, and it's been kind of living and breathing on its own. There's sort of an AI operating system, if you will, kind of a world-operating system that manages the world and generates the land.”

This differs from the messaging Reid provided in interviews with Engadget. Reid had difficulty answering standard questions about the revamped MetaWorld, including how the project was being funded, what he’d actually built, where it was hosted, how he planned to sustain this massive world, and how many players he had.

After saying he was “not sure” how many players were active in MetaWorld, I asked, “Like dozens of people, hundreds of people?”

“So, I don’t know,” Reid said, before talking for a few minutes about the scope of the project, repeatedly calling it a “moonshot” for his main company, HelloVR. HelloVR seems to exist mainly as a LinkedIn page, with Reid and “Meta Bot” as the only two employees. Reid is listed as CEO. Reid in our interviews has said he works alone with contractors but also recently claimed to have a “partner.”

When confronted with the misleading nature of his assets or the discrepancies in his pitch, Reid responded with a singular argument: This was just another example of racism in the technology industry.

“It’s YouTube — am I missing something?” Reid said. “Is YouTube not a place to share videos? So again, there’s an issue when we share videos, but the nature of YouTube is to share videos, everyone else gets a pass?”

Reid isn’t wrong that the technology sector is dominated by heterosexual, cisgender, white men, and the industry has only recently begun recognizing and reckoning with this imbalance. That’s one of the reasons I was initially excited to interview Reid all those years ago; he was a Black developer in VR and his project sounded amazing. Only once I started asking questions, a lot of Reid’s ideas didn’t add up. And now he’s back with the same approach, but he’s specifically targeting people of color, which he knows is an underserved community.

“It doesn't sit right with me that he's selling this as being a ‘Black-owned’ project,” Morgan said. “I have this terrible feeling that he's using that to try and protect himself from backlash, because anyone who would go to attack him there could be labeled as racist.”

On Clubhouse and Discord, Reid regularly presents himself as a hyper-intelligent tech entrepreneur with ideas guaranteed to change the world. In interviews with Engadget, however, he acts confused by basic concepts like YouTube uploads, copyright and IP theft.

“If they come across as disingenuous, oops!” Reid said about his YouTube history. “Like, all right, but that wasn’t the intent, we can sort of learn from that. The last thing we want to do is like, piss a bunch of people off.”

The original MetaWorld server is filled with people who could be accurately described as “pissed off.” Many of them bought land the first time around and ended up requesting refunds, citing Reid’s inconsistent messaging and lack of results over a period of years.

One investor who asked to remain anonymous, called Kris here, said they joined MetaWorld in 2018 because they loved VR and wanted to support small, innovative developers. Kris spent at least $60 on virtual land and defended Reid in the original Discord server until the day he disappeared.

“The vision of sharing an open world with people who want to build something big catches me every time,” Kris said. “It would be so great if a game comes that includes what MetaWorld promised. ...We planned a whole city, we were very deep into this and really hoped that we could someday visit ... but after a while a lot of people asked for refunds, day after day, with no response from Dedric. After he wrote that last message there wasn’t a Dedric anymore, and all hope was gone.”

Another investor who asked for anonymity, whom we’ll call Ryan, joined MetaWorld as an escape from their real-world anxieties. Ryan is disabled, and saved for a VR headset before discovering MetaWorld in 2018.

“I was looking desperately to find something to just change the boredom of life,” Ryan told Engadget. “My life sucks. I've got a heart failure complicated with a bunch of other stuff right now, and I just can't get out and do things in the real world.”

Ryan shared receipts of all of their purchases with Engadget, alongside chat logs with Reid and an account called “Metabot,” which was controlled by Reid at least part of the time. Both reassured Ryan over the course of several months that all was well with MetaWorld.

“At first, even though I was concerned, I was still hoping that the project would happen,” Ryan said. “I tried to be patient.”

In total, Ryan spent almost $300 on passports, land, property and virtual currency. They never directly asked for a refund from Reid. By the time Ryan thought to do so, they saw multiple people had tried and failed to get their money back, and it didn’t seem worth the stress.

“I felt like I had been scammed, and was embarrassed,” Ryan said. “Due to the nature of a scam, I didn’t feel that there was a point. I was not getting answers in DMs … so I just gave up.” Ryan later heard from another community member about Somnium’s refund offer, and recouped his money from that company.

“Dedric and his group, I don't know who's responsible, mostly it bothered me a lot because they took advantage of me,” Ryan said. They continued, “They apparently don’t care for anybody except themselves … I lost a little faith at that time.”

These days, Ryan said they only use their VR headset for Beat Saber exercise, but they’ve found some friends and community in the MMO Dual Universe.

In a five-hour Discord call with the MetaWorld community in September 2018 (yes, five hours), Reid dodged probing questions from investors and made more bold claims. For one, he said MetaWorld was on track to launch in beta at the end of the summer, which was just three days away. A few callers chuckled and made snide comments at this goal, clearly in disbelief.

“Yeah, we're pushing for it to start next week,” Reid responded. “What's so funny about that?”

MetaWorld did not go live at the end of that summer. Of all the investors we spoke with, none of them received a refund from Reid.

As it stands in 2021, Reid still doesn’t seem to understand why anyone from the original round would want their money back, and he remains confused by the definition of “a refund.” This is years after Somnium Space facilitated refunds to some angry MetaWorld backers.

“This narrative of like, there's been anything disingenuous, is like nonsense, right?” Reid told Engadget this year. “It doesn't make any sense. Like, that doesn't necessarily fit into, as a leader of the project, my narrative, right? So like, yeah, so there's a lot of confusion around like, what a refund is. But like, the whole concept of refund was created by the folks over at Somnium.”

For early investors like Fischer, Kris, Ryan and Morgan, Reid’s stream-of-consciousness, nonsense-tinged responses are all-too familiar.

“I’m still mad about the whole thing, that one guy can do a scam on the web without consequences, it looks like he doesn’t even care,” Kris said. “Just think about some kids pumping their money in there for nothing, just an old man doing scams. That’s pretty sad.”

Reid is currently pitching the vague idea of MetaWorld on Clubhouse, Discord, Twitter and YouTube, and he said people are buying in (though exactly how many, he’s not sure). His NFT marketplace full of misappropriated assets is live, and so far, he’s raised more than $11,000. It's impossible to know how much Reid made from the initial backers, but at its height the first MetaWorld Discord had around 2,000 users, according to an ex-moderator we spoke with.

A Trello board linked on the new MetaWorld site serves as a roadmap for development and NFT drops, and current goals include a “land client” due February 14th, 2022, and “social simulation testing” due March 2022, complete with “Spatial OS Unreal Engine 5 support pending.”

Improbable, the company that runs SpatialOS, has no idea what Reid means by this claim. In a statement to Engadget, Marine Boulot, Improbable’s VP of PR and Communications, said, “Improbable has never had a commercial relationship with HelloVR/MetaWorld … neither HelloVR nor MetaWorld have any right or licence to use SpatialOS beyond any legacy prototyping kits they might have had access to years ago.”

Put simply, Reid does not have access to SpatialOS to build the game as he’s selling it.

It doesn’t end there: The quotes attributed to Engadget on the MetaWorld website and Reid's Clubhouse profile are fiction. One of them is credited to a writer that's never worked for Engadget.

Misattributed quotes on the MetaWorld website and Reid's Clubhouse profile.
Engadget

The original MetaWorld Discord server is still active — more active than the new, official one, even — and it’s filled with folks looking for closure and a way to warn potential investors about the lies they say they’ve encountered in Reid’s universe. Reid never shut down that server, saying he was hacked and lost access to the email account associated with it years ago, and adding that Discord had ignored his request for assistance.

A former member provided proof that Reid had access to his MetaWorld email account in April 2020, seven months after he last posted in the Discord server. At this point, that’s barely a surprise.

“He promised us this special, unique world where anything was possible,” Morgan said. “That we could build out our dreams in this place with no limits… and then just took our money and lashed out when we asked for updates or help. We were promised villages and towns with our own governance, that we could have full control over our collectives. I was really looking forward to making that persistent safe space where anyone was welcome.”

That seems to be exactly what the people in the new MetaWorld server want, too.

“Im not going anywhere,” a user called KBOT wrote on November 7th. “I support @dedricreid and @themetaworld completely!”

Meanwhile, in the old MetaWorld server on November 8th, user Kuma posted, “Please please please. Everyone with real evidence, expose him. He’s gaining loads of traction.”

For now, it’s a tale of two servers, with a vast digital paradise hanging in the balance — or not, depending on which channel you’re in.

Additional reporting by Aaron Souppouris, Executive Editor, and Nick Summers, who was a Senior Reporter at Engadget until early 2021.

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Paramount+ stole the series from Showtime earlier this year, but this thing has been in development for nearly a decade. It was first announced in 2013, and it's now slated to come out in 2022.

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In Forspoken, protagonist Frey Holland is transported from her hometown of New York City to the fantastical land of Athia. 

"Frey soon learns this beautiful land once flourished under the reign of benevolent matriarchs, called Tantas, until a devastating blight relentlessly corrupted everything it touched. At the center of their shattered domains, the Tantas now rule as maddened and evil sorceresses."

Frey agrees to help save Athia from corruption, and in the process, tries to find her way home.

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a third-person action RPG with a clever orc-management system tacked on top of it. It was very well-received when it came out in 2014, and it was followed in 2017 by Shadow of War

There's no word so far on what type of game Wonder Woman will be, but Monolith's past adaptations might provide some clues.

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There's no word on a release date for the game, but it's heading to PC and Xbox platforms. It's a much more ambitious effort than the original Hellblade, which came out in 2017 to much acclaim, with high praise for its graphics, mo-cap performances and emotional storyline. 

Engadget senior editor Nick Summers visited Ninja Theory in 2017 to get a taste of how the original Hellblade was made, and stepped inside the mo-cap suit himself.