November 4, 2023
Issue No. 77
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- AI: Stability AI Introduces New Tools including 3D and Image Fine-tuning
- Gaming: Disney’s ‘Dreamlight Valley’ Launch Announcement, Move from F2P to Paid Game
- Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs: OpenSea Lays off Half of its Staff, Prepares for “Opensea 2.0”
- Legal Landscape: Sam Bankman-Fried Guilty on all Charges
Stability AI Introduces New Tools including 3D and Image Fine-tuning
Stability AI has introduced new tools and previews:
- Sky Replacer, which allows users to easily replace the sky in photos with nine alternative skies. A useful tool for industries like real estate to showcase properties in ideal conditions. This empowers professionals across industries to enhance images efficiently.
- A private preview of Stable 3D was also announced, generating concept 3D objects from text or images within minutes without expertise. Generated in the standard .obj format, objects can be edited in tools like Blender and Unity, leveling the creative field for independent designers.
- Stable FineTuning provides enterprises and developers the ability to rapidly customize pictures into digital artworks like landscapes and avatars through turnkey integration. This is valuable for industries relying on visuals like entertainment, gaming, advertising, and marketing to personalize customer experiences.
- Furthermore, Stability AI has integrated Content Credentials and watermarking into its API to improve the transparency of generated images.
The company positions itself as delivering creative tools while focusing on open access through its heritage products and commitment to ethical, responsible AI development. Interested parties can apply to test upcoming offerings through the company's contact page.
Runway Releases Gen-2 Update, Further Improving Text2Vid and Img2Vid Generations
AI video startup Runway has updated its signature Generative AI video model Gen-2, impressing many users. Gen-2 now generates video from text or still images with significantly higher quality motion, resolution, fidelity, and consistency according to the company. It represents major advances in the software.
Originally launched in March 2023, Gen-2 improved on the prior Gen-1 model by generating 4-second videos from scratch or adding motion to uploaded stills. In August, it extended durations to 18 seconds and the following month added "Director Mode" tools to simulate camera movements like zooming, panning, and selectively adding motion.
The new update provides even smoother, sharper motion resulting in 2816x1536 resolution videos from still images, a notable boost from the prior 1792x1024. Artists can generate entire short productions by combining clips, with some stitching Gen-2 clips into music videos already screened in theaters.
Runway's founder views the software shift from manually pushing pixels to directing AI with language or parameters as redefining creativity. Early signs indicate AI filmmaking may emerge as a new creative force, mirroring how physical film grew in the 1920s.
The update coincides with ongoing Hollywood union negotiations over AI use, highlighting its potential to replace actors for short, silent works as Gen-2 does, at least temporarily, until creative partnerships are established. Many see the technology as advancing generative storytelling capabilities.
Microsoft Launches 365 Copilot for Enterprises
Microsoft has begun a quiet launch of its 365 Copilot AI assistant for enterprise customers, charging a $30 per month premium per user. However, access has limitations as businesses must commit to a minimum of 300 users and contact Microsoft directly to sign up.
Through Copilot, approved businesses can utilize AI-powered summarization, email generation, notes-based planning, and Excel analysis across Office documents. Microsoft hopes the premium offering will appeal to over 600 businesses that tested early access programs in recent months.
Access is currently restricted to only certain Microsoft 365 subscriptions like E3 and E5 commercial plans, excluding some Office 365 users. Monthly Enterprise Channel subscribers won't gain access until December.
While officially launching today, the rollout resembles a preorder as most lack immediate access. Copilot for Excel remains in preview as do the SharePoint integration starting in November and OneDrive integration in December.
Capabilities are also limited as Copilot for OneNote is Windows-only for now. This soft launch establishes Copilot's vision of transforming Office documents with AI but feels more like a first glimpse than full realization given pricing constraints and unfinished features still in testing across different applications. Forrester nonetheless predicts strong Copilot adoption among US knowledge workers by 2024.
Poe Introduces Creator Monetization for AI Chatbot Creators
Quora's AI chatbot platform Poe recently launched a program to financially reward those who create chatbots for its service. This establishes one of the first "creator economies" within the AI sector. Bot makers can earn money through two main ways - receiving a share of revenue if their bot leads a user to subscribe, or by setting a per-message fee that Poe will pay.
Originally introduced in February, Poe allows users to chat with bots from different companies like OpenAI, Amazon, and Google. The goal is for high-quality bot discussions to eventually spread from Poe to Quora's larger Q&A audience. Poe has gained users since launching, with over 18 million installs as of October according to market data. However, revenue remains low at around a quarter million per month currently.
The new monetization program is initially available only to US creators. Poe sets aside $10-20 from each subscription to split among bots that brought that user or showcased paywalls prior to their signup. This could help Poe compete against other chatbot apps making more revenue on mobile. Quora expects different types of useful bots to succeed like tutoring, media, entertainment, and more.
By financially rewarding bot builders, Quora aims to enable smaller groups to create bots accessed publicly despite limited resources. It also acts as an affiliate program of sorts to encourage more subscribers for Poe through creator-driven bots. This establishes one of the first creator economies within AI.
Brave Browser Releases New AI Assistant ‘Leo’
Brave has launched a new AI assistant called Leo, available for free to desktop users of its privacy-focused browser. Leo allows for translating, answering questions, summarizing webpages, and generating new content similarly to other chatbots. However, Brave asserts Leo provides stronger privacy as conversations are not recorded or used for model training, avoiding the privacy issues of competitors.
By default, Leo utilizes Meta's Llama 2 model but Brave is introducing a premium $15 monthly subscription featuring Anthropic's faster Claude Instant model as an alternative. The company stresses the importance of pairing AI with privacy given growing data concerns, positioning Leo as a privacy-first solution where users already spend time online in Brave.
Additional premium features include access to higher-quality conversations through prioritized queues and increased rate limits. Subscribers will also get early access to new capabilities while Brave indicates more models may be integrated over time, allowing users choice.
Leo was initially launched for Brave Desktop 1.60 and will come to Android and iOS in the coming months. Brave says it is committed to user privacy and providing secure, personalized assistance. The ability to substitute different models into Leo shows Brave's vision of users selecting among options for their AI interactions through the browser.
LinkedIn Unveils AI-Powered Premium Experience
LinkedIn has introduced new AI tools powered by OpenAI to provide personalized summaries and writing assistance to users. Initially available to Premium subscribers, the tools aim to enhance the LinkedIn experience and engagement. Users can apply the tools to their article feeds, write comments sharing content, or use them for professional correspondence like job applications.
LinkedIn is tapping OpenAI APIs through Microsoft Azure, combining OpenAI's large language models like GPT-4 with LinkedIn's proprietary user data. This personalized AI outputs differently for each user based on their profile and activities. Options allow framing summaries around questions to provide alternative perspectives.
The tools seek to help users more easily create and interact and overcome the challenges of solely professional networking where open self-expression can be limited. This aims to increase clicking, posting, and overall time on the platform. It also keeps LinkedIn relevant in an era where AI capabilities are increasingly expected.
While generative AI may initially attract through novelty, LinkedIn hopes it leads to valuable insights and networking. The expanded features additionally support LinkedIn's growing Premium business, which saw 55% year-over-year revenue growth and comprises an unspecified proportion of overall profits. Based on positive engagement, the company will evaluate expanding the tools to all users. Other media like video were also noted for future AI applications.
In Other AI News…
Disney’s ‘Dreamlight Valley’ Launch Announcement, Move from F2P to Paid Game
In a recent blog post, Gameloft studio announced "Disney Dreamlight Valley: A Rift in Time," launching on December 5th. To showcase the upcoming content, an informational livestream will be held on November 1st where details on the expansion will be unveiled, including a new explorable island called Eternity and additional characters, environments, and gameplay features.
December 5th will also mark the occasion of Disney Dreamlight Valley exiting Steam Early Access as it launches worldwide. Existing early-access players will maintain access to the full game in addition to keeping their saved data and in-game currency. Going forward, the title will remain a premium paid experience rather than transitioning to a free-to-play model, allowing the developers to continue delivering regular free updates at their standard of quality.
New editions for purchase will be available come December 5th for new players, such as the base game or "Gold Edition" bundle containing the expansion pass, exclusive cosmetic items, and bonuses. Additionally, all cosmetic rewards from the Gold Edition will be given to those who acquired a founder's pack before December 4th as a thank-you.
With much excitement for what's next shared in the announcement, fans can look forward to further details on Disney Dreamlight Valley's expansion and launch plans during the upcoming showcase presentation.
EA and Ubisoft Announce Sunsetting of Games, Online Services
EA announced plans to end support for Battlefield 1, Battlefield 5, and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 on Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 starting November 30th. The company said it can no longer guarantee the functionality of these titles on older operating systems after this date. This decision aims to ensure safe play for all players.
EA has been active this year withdrawing online support for several older games. In March, servers were shut down for Battlefield 1943, Battlefield Bad Company 1, and 2 following their removal from digital stores in preparation. Games like Crysis 3, Dante's Inferno, and Dead Space 2 have also had their online functionality retired from EA's catalog.
Separately, Ubisoft outlined plans to decommission online services for ten older titles in January 2024 across Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. This included the Assassin's Creed trilogy games, Splinter Cell Conviction, Ghost Recon Future Soldier, Heroes of Might, Trials Evolution, and more.
For the impacted titles, decommissioning will prevent players from engaging in multiplayer, linking Ubisoft accounts in-game, or using other online features. It will also make connected rewards on Ubisoft Connect unavailable. Ubisoft noted retiring services for older games is necessary as the underlying technology becomes outdated, though not a decision they take lightly.
Both EA and Ubisoft show the inevitable sunset of online services for legacy games on aging platforms and operating systems as companies reallocate support to newer titles and platforms.
Microsoft Improves Xbox App for Handheld PCs
Microsoft is testing updates to the Xbox app on Windows 11 aimed at improving the experience on handheld PCs and smaller screens. A new compact mode significantly reduces the sidebar when activated, benefiting devices like the 7-inch Asus ROG Ally. While a minor UI change, it addresses the cramped Windows 11 experience on handhelds.
Earlier this year, Microsoft employees internally prototyped a "Windows handheld mode" concept featuring a floating taskbar, improved game launcher, and Xbox app modifications. This suggested the potential for dedicated handheld optimizations prior to devices like the ROG Ally release.
The ROG Ally is emerging as a portable Xbox accessory for PC Game Pass users. Xbox head Phil Spencer has praised the handheld as his "Xbox on the go." However, more could be done to enhance the experience according to Spencer.
In July, Spencer tweeted Microsoft is focused on making Xbox and Game Pass great for handhelds like the Ally, though more improvements are needed. The company also signaled interest in features like Quick Resume and cross-device game resuming for Windows gamers.
While small, the new Xbox app updates may indicate the first steps towards more substantive handheld optimizations envisioned in Microsoft's earlier prototype. This could notably improve the Windows experience on portable PCs.
Planetarium Labs to Launch ‘Nine Chronicles M’ on Mobile on November 22
Planetarium Labs will launch the mobile version of their Nine Chronicles (9C) blockchain game on November 22nd. Called Nine Chronicles M, it will bring the popular PC game's immersive and customizable features to mobile platforms for increased accessibility.
The company aims to not only provide players with earning opportunities and gaming experiences but also contribute to Web3 adoption in a user-friendly way. CEO JC Kim stated the goal is to deliver the best experiences to the widest audience possible. Nine Chronicles M will be available on Android and iOS with in-app purchases.
A pre-registration event offers daily mini-games to earn rewards like the NCG token. Early participants can earn more through referrals.
Planetarium Labs raised $32 million last year and recently announced new projects Verse8, an open-source roguelike RPG protocol, and Immortal Rising 2, a competitive idle RPG. Animoca Brands CBO Alan Lau praised the developer's expertise and believes Nine Chronicles Mobile could surpass the PC version's success in driving Web3 adoption.
Going forward, Nine Chronicles will expand to new blockchains by integrating Omnichain's wrapped NCG standard, allowing cross-chain transfers. The mobile launch underscores Planetarium Labs' commitment to growing accessibility and adoption of Web3 gaming experiences.
Bungie Layoffs—Nearly 100 Employees Lost Their Jobs
Bungie was reportedly affected by layoffs that impacted around 100 employees, which is approximately 8% of its 1200 staff. CEO Pete Parsons had earlier indicated cost-cutting measures would be implemented, including salary freezes and limiting travel. Staff laid off will receive severance pay and health insurance, as well as prorated bonuses.
The community management and publishing teams seem to have been particularly impacted, with their work to be outsourced to a third party moving forward. Earlier this month, Bungie staff was warned that Destiny 2 was underperforming financially and in popularity compared to projections.
Parsons cited issues with Destiny 2's Lightfall expansion and feedback regarding the upcoming The Final Shape expansion. IGN reports The Final Shape has been pushed back to June 2024, while the previously announced game Marathon has been delayed until 2025.
However, Bloomberg believes the layoffs are part of a larger cost reduction initiative from Bungie's parent company Sony. Parsons released a statement thanking departed employees for their contributions to Bungie's games and culture. Their impact would continue to be felt at the company long-term.
The layoffs come as Bungie experiences a difficult financial time with Destiny 2 falling behind projections and key games facing delays. Leadership is reportedly seeking ways to cut costs across the organization.
NetEase and Greg Street Launch New Studio ‘Fantastic Pixel Castle’
NetEase Games announced the opening of a new development studio called Fantastic Pixel Castle alongside industry veteran Greg Street, who will serve as studio head. The remote-based studio is already working on its first game, an unreleased triple-A fantasy MMO codenamed "Ghost."
Street has previously worked on major titles like World of Warcraft and Riot Games' unreleased League of Legends MMO. The rest of Fantastic Pixel Castle's founding team also brings experience from renowned games such as Guild Wars 2, Fortnite, Valorant, and Overwatch.
In a statement, Street highlighted some advantages the new studio has, such as being fully remote to hire top talent globally. It also aims to stay small to quickly iterate designs. Street emphasized the goal of showcasing the game early and regularly to solicit community feedback.
Currently, Fantastic Pixel Castle is recruiting additional team members. Not many details about "Ghost" have been revealed aside from it being a fantasy MMO. To help foster a relationship with new players, the studio will hold a Twitch AMA on November 8 where they may share more information and take questions.
NetEase's support in launching Fantastic Pixel Castle connects a veteran MMO developer leading the new remote studio with a focus on community involvement, promising an ambitious new entry to the genre.
In Other Gaming News…
Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs
OpenSea Lays off Half of its Staff, Prepares for “Opensea 2.0”
OpenSea, the largest NFT marketplace, has laid off 50% of its staff as it shifts focus to building the next version of its product. In a Twitter thread, CEO Devin Finzer explained that OpenSea was one of the first NFT marketplaces when the concept was still nascent in 2017, but it now needs to move faster as a leader rather than a follower.
Finzer said the company took a step back to reimagine its operating culture, product, and technology from the ground up. OpenSea is now orienting the team around "OpenSea 2.0," which will include major upgrades to the platform's underlying technology, reliability, speed, quality, and user experience.
Part of this transition involves building a new technical foundation to allow for faster innovation, with a smaller team that has a more direct connection to users. As a result, OpenSea is parting ways with a number of employees. While this is the most difficult part of the changes, Finzer expressed gratitude to departing teammates for their past contributions, which helped get the company to this point.
The CEO emphasized that OpenSea will continue supporting existing products during the rebuild of OpenSea 2.0, which will involve iterative testing with the public to remain nimble. The changes aim to refocus the company on prioritizing its community and becoming a true leader again in the evolving NFT and crypto space.
Steve Aoki Dropping Digital Sneakers in STEPN
Mobile game Stepn has announced a collaboration with electronic musician Steve Aoki to launch an exclusive digital sneaker collection as NFTs. The alliance ties into Aoki's A0K1VERSE membership club providing benefits to NFT holders.
The Steve Aoki x Stepn collection includes 300 sneakers across four designs - Walker, Jogger, Runner, and Trainer. Stepn will release 60 editions of each design via their marketplace from October 31 to November 4, priced around $695 each. An additional 60 NFTs will go to Aoki's fan community.
Aoki stated the collaboration is an exciting step in linking the metaverse and the real world by creating a co-branded digital sneaker collection that serves as a bridge to the future. In Stepn, users earn rewards for physical activity by purchasing and equipping NFT sneakers to their phones.
Stepn claims over 2 million monthly active users. Find Satoshi Lab COO Shiti Manghani praised Aoki as revolutionary for pushing boundaries and said the partnership demonstrates their commitment to innovation.
Beyond Stepn, Find Satoshi Lab is preparing to launch their next game called Gas Hero, a social mobile and web game challenging players to battle amid a dystopian world caused by a rogue AI's nuclear strike.
Animoca Brands Acquires Azarus to Bring Streaming to Web3 Games
Animoca Brands has announced the acquisition of a majority stake in Web3 streaming platform Azarus to expand metaverse gaming. Azarus pioneers blockchain game streaming, and integrating its innovative technology will enhance streaming capabilities within Animoca's portfolio of Web3 games.
As a leader in Web3 investing and development, Animoca wants to strengthen its position in the growing space. Combining Azarus' streaming expertise with Animoca's experience in developing and publishing digital games will allow harnessing Web3 to create a player-owned economy empowering creators, gamers, and streamers.
Azarus' technology enables gamers to earn revenue and reward audiences, incentivizing followers while viewers direct funds to favored creators. This drives engagement and rewards audiences, naturally promoting off-stream games and brands.
Animoca executive Yat Siu said the deal attests to believing in Web3's transformative power, comparing Azarus to early The Sandbox with upside potential. Together they will redefine streaming as more interactive, rewarding, and aligned with the open metaverse.
In Other Web3 & Metaverse News…
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
Sam Bankman-Fried Guilty on all Charges
Sam Bankman-Fried, the co-founder and former CEO of FTX and Alameda Research, has been found guilty on all seven counts related to fraud and money laundering by a jury after a five-week trial.
The charges stemmed from Bankman-Fried's alleged wide-ranging scheme to misappropriate billions of dollars of customer funds deposited with FTX and mislead investors and lenders. The DOJ had charged Bankman-Fried about 11 months ago following FTX's collapse in November 2022.
That month, a faulty Alameda balance sheet unveiled by CoinDesk sparked industry panic over FTX's liquidity. It was later revealed executives allegedly stole over $8 billion in customer funds.
In his testimony, Bankman-Fried claimed he didn't defraud FTX customers or take their funds, saying Alameda "borrowed" money from the exchange. Prosecutors argued he made false promises and was responsible for billions lost by thousands of investors, with many opportunities to come clean.
The jury found the DOJ's December 2022 indictment stating Bankman-Fried knowingly defrauded customers by misusing deposits to invest in other companies and pay off lenders and expenses to be true.
The seven guilty verdicts carry a total possible sentence of 115 years in prison. Bankman-Fried's sentencing was set for March 28, 2023, by Judge Lewis Kaplan. The case marks a dramatic fall from grace for the former crypto star.
EY Report Sheds New Light on Global AI Regulatory Landscape
A recent report from the accounting firm EY analyzing AI regulation in major jurisdictions is receiving renewed attention after Biden's new executive order on AI. The report examines eight countries/regions that have shown significant legislative activity on AI: Canada, China, EU, Japan, S. Korea, Singapore, the UK, and the US.
It finds that despite different contexts, these places generally aim to maximize AI's benefits while minimizing harms and align with OECD principles on issues like ethics and transparency. However, some divergences exist - for example, the EU proposes mandatory high-risk AI requirements while the US previously focused on voluntary guidance.
Notably, the report's analysis of loose US regulation is now outdated due to Biden's order, considered the most significant government action on AI globally. It will require testing and oversight of powerful systems and addressing issues like immigration and labor.
Developments since the report also include the UK's new regulatory framework principles. This dynamic landscape requires staying updated on new rules and initiatives. Still, the report offers insights on best practices like risk-based oversight tailored to uses and cross-cutting issues.
It concludes more dialogue is needed between stakeholders to balance regulation and innovation, providing a valuable resource for navigating complex AI ethical challenges internationally.
SafeMoon Team Responds to Situation as Founders Get Arrested
The DOJ has unsealed an indictment and the SEC has filed civil charges against SafeMoon executives Braden John Karony, Kyle Nagy, and Thomas Smith. Karony was arrested in Provo, Utah, and Smith in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, while Nagy remains at large.
The indictment and charges allege the executives fraudulently misled investors about the locked liquidity being inaccessible to them and executives' personal holdings and trading of SafeMoon tokens. While SafeMoon's market cap reached over $8 billion, prosecutors say executives illicitly diverted millions meant for locked liquidity to purchase luxury items for themselves like a $860,000 Porsche for Smith.
If convicted, the executives face up to 25 years in prison. The DOJ alleges they used complex transaction routing and anonymous exchange accounts to mask their activities. The SEC and DOJ investigations into SafeMoon are ongoing.
In response, SafeMoon addressed the situation in a statement, saying their teams are actively developing and remain committed to users. They will work to promptly resolve the matter.
Previously in March, SafeMoon was exploited, resulting in a $8.9 million loss from a smart contract vulnerability introduced in an update. This raised suspicions of potential insider involvement. The individual responsible initially wanted to return 80% of stolen funds but the funds have since moved through exchanges.
In Other Legal & Regulatory News…
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