Level 71: The NeverEnding Video Game

The future of persistent "multiplayer" gaming, a new Smash Bros character, the ad engine behind Roblox, and a little eShop experiment

Welcome to The Pause Button — a weekly gaming newsletter curating the best content in video games.

To receive this newsletter in your inbox weekly, consider subscribing if you haven’t already


✏️ The Pause Button Exclusives

An Infringement Within an Infringement: When Epic Games decides to stream movies like Inception within Fortnite, who is libel if it ends up on Twitch? What about the upcoming concert series within Roblox? In this week’s Pause Button exclusive, Haley MacLean joins us to explore the legal imbalance behind copyright and live streaming. As gaming platforms continue to invest in multimedia experiences, learn about the risk that creators on Twitch are incurring every time they go live. Link

Want to write a story for The Pause Button and get your ideas out to thousands of readers a week? Shoot us a note and let’s talk!


📜 This Week’s Notable Article

Persistence & Gaming: An Analysis

Earlier this week, we came across an article titled  “Persistence & Gaming” written by Michael Dempsey, a general partner at venture firm Compound. It’s a dense read, but considering the upcoming Roblox IPO and gaming’s continuous move to social-first experiences, Dempsey brings to light some important concepts around gaming’s broader direction toward “persistence” and why it matters:

What does “Persistence” In Gaming Even Mean?

The familiar metaphor is that the modern MMO [massive multiplayer] is a theme park. Players encounter each other in the concourses and queuing for the rides, but fundamentally experience every roller coaster alone, one at a time. And the ride always resets for the next rider.Thinking spatially: persistent worlds by Improbable (the company developing SpatialOS, a technology for persistent multiplayer worlds)

Aren’t Games Already Persistent? 

Yes and no. Due to technical limitations, games like Fortnite create “instances” of “persistence” such that thousands of players can interact in thousands of 100-person lobbies. This isn’t persistence to its truest definition because it fragments the player experience from all the other concurrent players; put another way, the 100 person lobby isn’t interacting with everyone playing Fortnite at the moment, just those in the game. Persistence might involve having everyone in the same lobby at the same time, editing, loading and interacting with the same assets.

Why Don’t We Just Make Persistent Games Today? 

Server capacity, latency and game engines are all contributing factors. Today, games like Fortnite load game assets near the player in anticipation that a player performs a certain activity, creating a sense of fluidity (i.e. loading the distant environment as the player moves in a certain direction). Imagine this at a scale of 1000s of players and you can picture the server getting realllllly laggy. Capping a maximum amount of players in a lobby minimizes this issue, but at the cost of a truly “open” game.

Why Does This Even Matter? 

Because the next generation of games looks nothing like the games we know today! There is a fundamental transition occurring in gaming from “content creation” to “system creation”; that is to say, studios with a persistence-first mindset are increasingly shifting their focus from developing specific quests/items/stories and instead focusing on enabling creators to build their own content with the game. Roblox half fits this mold through its technology that enables creators to build their own worlds within a platform. Yet, these worlds are still fragmented.

So, how do we get to persistence? The short (but long) answer is that we need to innovate on the infrastructure; tools like cloud gaming, machine learning, and server computing power are some ways to do this. Further, optimizing proprietary game engines could be another albeit slower way to achieve the same result. But that’s a discussion for another time. Link


💡 Industry Content

Discord’s Big Break: According to The Verge, Discord hit a lifetime high for downloads every day since September 5th. Almost all of this historic growth can be attributed to the exploding popularity of smash hit Among Us, which requires voice chat to be played effectively. With no proprietary tech, Discord is the default option for its ability to mute. And yet, despite Discord’s focus on moving from gaming-first to community-first, their core user base is still primarily gamers, and it’s unsurprising that growth for the platform hinges on gaming-related content. How will they continue to grow beyond gaming? Link

Google’s Epic Response: In stark contrast to the Epic vs. Apple lawsuit, Google reiterated its stance as an open platform, giving developers the freedom to release 3rd party app stores within the Google Play ecosystem. Google will still keep the 30% fee, but they’re giving non-complying store payments a year to comply. This will have lasting implications of precedent as the lawsuit continues. Link

Roblox, The Next Big Ad Platform: Roblox’s in-game Ad Manager is fueled and operated entirely on the platform's currency, “Robux”. As we explore the idea of platform-created value via cases like Epic vs. Apple, we realized that making Robux more versatile will be key to drive further incremental value to the company. For example, does Robux — if purchased on the PC — necessarily avoid the 30% Apple platform tax if the ad is placed on mobile? Since this is also platform-specific, Apple’s opt-in IDFA policy for ad-tracking might also not apply. What’s so interesting to think about is Roblox’s closed ad ecosystem versus, say, mobile games, which require tracking for their advertisements. As mentioned in the article, however, they still have a long way to go on perfecting their system. Link


🎮 Fun & Games

Smashing News: Yesterday morning Nintendo announced that they’ll be adding Steve, the main character of Minecraft, to the most recent version of Super Smash Bros. Steve also broke twitter. Link

Crunch Time: The pressure of releasing a major AAA title like Cyberpunk 2077 is massive. But even with all the hype in the world, no project is worth overworking employees. At least that’s what developer CD Projekt Red said before they went back on their word. This Bloomberg expose takes us behind the scenes of Cyberpunk’s development. Link

OBJ + The Doc: NFL-star Odell Beckham Jr. announced his first gaming livestream on YouTube. OBJ collaborated with popular content creator Dr. Disrespect to play Call of Duty for a few hours to medium amounts of success. Folks like Beckham will always draw in 100K+ viewers thanks to name recognition alone, but it still feels like mainstream celebrities have work to do when it comes to being a legitimately entertaining streamer. Another thought: do these celebrities take away from other streamers who built their careers over a number of years? Link

Bye Bye Farmville: Nearly 11 years after it’s original release, Farmville, Zynga’s major hit on Facebook, is shutting down. Given the soon to be obsolescence of Flash (and its replacement by tech like HTML) it makes sense why Facebook would pull the plug, but it’s still sad to see a mid-2010s cultural icon close its gates forever. Link


😎 Other Cool Reads

One of Gaming’s Earliest Black Pioneers: Earlier this week Max had the chance to hear from Ed Smith, one of gaming’s earliest black pioneers and a key player behind the jump to cartridge-based gaming in the 1970s. So much focus is placed on the next generation of consoles we often forget to celebrate gaming’s rich history. In an industry that has a long way to go when it comes to diversity, Ed and his story is a shining example of the kind of person it takes to innovate an entire form of media. Link

The Inner Workings of the Nintendo eShop: Mike Rose of No More Robots did a revealing experiment with the Nintendo eShop on price arbitrage tactics. Ultimately, and perhaps to the detriment of the studio, steep discounts are a boon to featured content, but still drive more revenue. Perhaps the eShop needs to alter their algorithms further to favor the developer? Link

Racism, Bigotry, and Video Games: Metafy co-founder Josh Fabian outlines one of many run-ins he’s had with the bigoted corners of the gaming community in recent months. Private Discord servers filled with racist content and unmoderated hate speech are slowly becoming more and more common in games, as groups turn to platforms that shield them from the consequences of their actions and words. How can each of us take a more active role in mitigating these trends, and ensuring that every space in gaming is safe for everyone? Link


📊 By The Numbers

$100,000,000: The amount studio miHoYo budgeted out for its latest title, Breath Of The Wild-inspired Genshin Impact. For reference, blockbusters like Final Fantasy VII had a $140M budget. Link

3,500,000: The concurrent player count logged on Among Us last Friday. No wonder our game kept crashing. Link


😍 Our Current Favorites 

Fawzi (@fawzitani)

“Lo-Fi Player is a virtual room in your browser that lets you play with the BEAT! Try tinkering around with the objects in the room to change the music in real-time. For example, the view outside the window relates to the background sound in the track, and you can change both the visual and the music by clicking on the window.” Such a vibe. Link

Max (@MaxLowenthal)

I’ve been spending some time recently giving talks to various gaming groups, like esports team Evil Geniuses, about the power of networking and career development. It strikes me as odd just how hard it is for avid fans to break into a career in gaming. There’s always an associated risk of mixing your passion and your career, but part of me thinks that the most passionate people always make the best employees! If you’re interested in having me swing by to talking gaming + career development + networking, or are building a solution to this problem, shoot me a note. Link