Is Playbyte the Future of Mobile Games?

Okay, real talk –> it’s easier to just try Playbyte than read about it. So start there. Or at least watch this TikTok about it. Now then…

With the rapid rise of UGC metaverse games like Roblox and Minecraft, we’ve reached an era where the democratization of game design and social networking have coalesced to redefine the notion of  a “game.” Partner that trend with the mainstream adoption of mobile gaming in the U.S. and the rise of disposable content shared via discovery algorithms, and we’re poised for the next level of social gaming. Playbyte may be a signal where that could be headed.

Unlike Subway Surfers or Candy Crush, which require mobile app downloads and a full game studio to develop new levels, Playbyte serves up user-created mobile games in a vertical scroll feed that can be casually browsed via a TikTok-like swipe up. After selecting and playing a game, users can Like, Comment, or Share, with many of the comments are begging for “Like for Part 2” or “Comment what should be in the next level.” Or you can just swipe to the next game.

The Playbyte games themselves are designed via blocks, emojis, and images from your camera roll. They feature single screen, multiple-screen, or puzzle-based plots, and can be remixed or built upon by other users. Similar to Roblox and Minecraft’s UGC games-within-the-game, many lack instructions or require intuitive skills to discern how to play and win. They borrow from gaming tropes, Among Us-style missions, classic puzzle games, or can be completely chaotic and indecipherable.

Rob the Bank by @Br0-y0 (LINK)

Playbyte’s selling point is a low-effort, disposable game design that requires little effort to create or play, matched with discovery algorithms and social sharing. It’s easy to imagine major platforms adding this kind of gaming experience to their product stack (e.g., TikTok, Facebook, YouTube). It’s like Newgrounds for 2022.

Unfortunately, like a lot of early UGC metaverse games, there is a lack of moderation and a startling amount of violence (e.g., bank robberies, plane hijackers, murder) and dark humor in these initial Playbyte games. To be fair, that maybe says more about the world Gen Z is growing up in and how they process compounding stress and trauma through games, humor, and content than anything else. But it will need to be addressed.

But its creators are building Playbyte to a social app for the long term and more than just a casual gaming engine, telling Tech Crunch:

Basically, we want to make it really easy for people who aren’t as ambitious to still feel like productive, creative game makers… The key to that is going to be if you have an idea — like an image of a game in your mind — you should be able to very quickly search for new assets or piece together other ones you’ve previously saved. And then just drop them in and mix-and-match — almost like Legos — and construct something that’s 90% of what you imagined, without any further configuration on your part.”

That sure sounds like the future of gaming to me. -Greg

Ray-Ban Stories: Smart glasses from Facebook and Ray-Ban are official -  World Weekly News

Are you buying Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories glasses, Greg?

They’re stylish. Moderately affordable. Subtle. And they have the world’s largest and most important social and advertising platform pushing them. They’re called Ray-Ban Stories, and they are Facebook’s first consumer-forward product in “the race to the face” (my term – sorry; not sorry) for smart glasses.

While I’m incredibly bullish on smart glasses (read my editorial in SHOTS about the future of augmented reality glasses here), I already own sunglasses with video (Snap Spectacles, see my video) and eyeglasses with audio (Amazon Echo Frames – read about my experience here) and was a Google Glass Explorer (interview here). But these are different, and comparing them to early adopter technology is missing the point of this launch. The legacy of the launch of Ray-Ban Stories will be about mainstreaming an inevitable technology through stepping stone training products at a global scale.

Partnering with Luxxotica + Ray-Ban for specs that look good and aren’t bulky or awkward was a significant choice. Making Ray-Ban Stories available in-store and online (not invite-only or through some weird vending machine) will drive significantly more adoption than competitors. And the price point is on par for the brand and category.

In fact, I’m seeing people in my feed who hated on Google Glass immediately order these. Soon you’ll see face-camera content on your feeds, and you can imagine the Facebook algorithm may prioritize that content in your newsfeed. This is the power of a company the size of Facebook pushing technology into the mainstream. And I have to say that face-camera content is pretty damn compelling and fun. Especially when it’s your own.

Yes, Facebook is behind compared to competitors. This is a make-up product, true. But it’s also a training product. A stepping stone toward AR specs but not yet the actual smart glasses we think about putting a digital layer on the physical world all around us a decade from now (or less!). Apple has famously been working on smart glasses for some time, but just like iPhone wasn’t the first smart phone, they are content holding back until they have the perfect product and consumers are ready to adopt.

So at the moment, Facebook is setting the pace. They are unlocking the idea of cool-looking and easy-to-use face technology at a global scale unlike we’ve never seen. And with that globoal attention and adoption will come the privacy implications. Bad people using these for bad things. People filmed without their consent. All the things Google’s PR couldn’t push past with Glass in 2013. Apple will be watching. We’ll all be watching what post-launch adoption, fallout, and/or pivots come in Q4.

So will I buy v1 of Facebook’s smart glass product line? Well, I’m not the target audience. The technologists and early adopters like me were initially disappointed with how basic Stories are and cannot wait for v2 with AR built in (like the new Snap Spectacles). But they are not targeted to me. They’re for everyone else. So maybe I’ll buy them, but not today. After all, the new iPhone 13 comes out next week, and I need to buy that! Furthermore, if you’re buying Ray-Ban Stories, I would love to hear why.

Reads of the Week: 1) What brands can learn from LGBTQ+ storytelling in gaming; 2) Millennials and Gen Z Are Hooked on a $46 Billion Shopping App; 3) Fluid audio is here, and music is about to meet its next mp3 moment; 4) Six Strategies for Exhausted Working Parents.

Quick Hits:

See you on the internet!

Immersive Van Gogh is art, and you can post that

Last weekend we attended the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit you’ve probably seen all over your Instagram feeds, no matter what market you live in.

The Star Tribune art critic eviscerated the show, saying it was 1) “creating a spectacle out of [Van Gogh’s] art and exploiting it for marketing purposes,” 2) that “anything educational had been sucked out,” and 3) that “the marketing team of ‘Immersive Van Gogh’ asks visitors to take pics and post on social media, thus creating free advertising for the show.”

Having just watched Netflix’s Bob Ross documentary about a beloved artist whose family isn’t earning anything on his likeness and residuals, I can sympathize the thread about following the profits. Tickets were quite expensive for my family of five to attend ($354), and the gift shop was selling $12 button magnets and $30 journals (that we bought).

Having helped produce immersive art and music exhibitions myself, I also sympathize with the investment of technology, creative, and music to recoup. But here’s the kicker, Van Gogh’s paintings are not copyrighted, and there aren’t residuals because the artist has been dead for a long time. This means that Van Gogh’s paintings are now a part of the public domain. It’s fair use. There are three immersive Monet shows in production, so you can bet this won’t be the last of these. Or want to start one yourself? You can. That’s the beauty of public domain.

But I completely object to the second point about lack of education about the artist or his pieces. The exhibit’s accompanying mobile app was filled with deep background for all attendees and features a free audio tour, too. My family listened to the aural exhibit preview en route to the show, we studied each artwork and read the backgrounds in advance, and had SO MANY conversations about technique, mental health, and the nature of misunderstood genius on the drive home. The soundtrack was incredible and full of culture in both historical and modern genres. You can stream it on Spotify here.

And as for the Star Tribune’s third complaint about how people take photos and share them on social media being bad because it creates free publicity for the show — I’m sorry but that’s called modern marketing for modern times. If you attend an art exhibit in 2021 and don’t share a picture of it, did you even attend an exhibit? Don’t me going on that one. More exhibits should facilitate social sharing. In fact, the Minneapolis Institute of Art praised my daughter and I for highlighting their collection on YouTube to share art with those who don’t have access to physical galleries. There are a lot worse things on our collective feeds than art these days.

There’s a quote in the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit’s audio preview that says something like “it’s impossible to be passive when experiencing this show,” and that’s completely true. Although certainly not a substitute for viewing art in a museum, supporting your local galleries, or buying local art – it was an incredible complement to those and modern celebration of creativity. And yes, I was wearing my hat that reads “WILL TECHNOLOGY ENHANCE HUMAN CREATIVITY?” It will. And does.

With the lockdown and everything that’s come after, it’s been too long since I stood in an art exhibition and became overwhelmed and overjoyed to the point of happy tears.

I needed it. Badly. Maybe we all do. That’s what art is all about. -Greg

This week a long-form interview I did for the Mixing Board Studio Session Series published here. Mixing Board founder Sean Garrett and I chatted for almost an hour about the intersection of where culture, the internet, and brands are going.

We talked about the need for modern marketers to be lifelong students, generational tension in platforms and social behavior, influencers, NFTs, and how a brand can stay in tune with changing digital trends. You know, just a few things. They cleaned it up into a nice little recap you can read by clicking on my face above. 😎

In other news, a video I took of a bottle flipping robot at SXSW 2017 got used in an Astonishing Studios’ YouTube video about a DIY LEGO bottle flipping robot. You can watch that here.

And my kids went back to school this week, attending IRL for the first time in 18 months. Their new school district is BYODevice, so we sent them with new Samsung 15.6″ Chromebooks with 4GB Memory and 128GB eMMC Flash Memory. The screens are HUGE, and they’re pretty light. We’re pretty hard on technology at my house, so our goal is they get two years out of them. Battery life will be key. I’ll keep you posted.

Here’s what else I’m tracking this week…

TikTok Announces 'TikTok World' Showcase Event for September 28th – iDea  HUNTR

Mark Your Calendars for TikTok World, Sept 28: Most major platforms host annual events to share data milestones, demo new product features, and offer marketers and developers insights into where trends are headed (e.g., Facebook F8, Snapchat Partner Summit, Apple WWDC). TikTok is joining that tradition with the announcement of TikTok World, a “bespoke virtual platform and our inaugural event where we’ll look into the future of creativity, community and commerce.” Register to attend here.

GIF by Michael Houtz, The Atlantic

Dead Internet Theory Isn’t Entirely Far-Fetched: The Atlantic published a piece called Maybe You Missed It, but the Internet ‘Died’ Five Years Ago that is based on“dead internet theory,” which suggests that the internet has been almost entirely taken over by artificial intelligence.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that some of the same content, memes, themes, and comments are being recycled month-over-month, year-over-year, and seem to be posted by questionable users. Are we all interacting with bots that are using algorithms to keep us busy as some kind of government gaslighting? Probably not. But then again, we know social media is flooded with bots and inauthentic content, some openly driven by foreign governments. In 2018, the New Yorker wrote, “Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot.” More recent reports indicate just over 40 percent of web traffic is from bots, and some of those bots are doing helpful things (help refresh your feeds or figure out how to rank Google search results).

But as Huffington Post’s Andy Campbell pointed out, the number of fake breaking news accounts has skyrocketed from humans and bots combined: “Unconfirmed reports of shots fired, and within seconds there are fifty BREAKING 911-type accounts filling the lull in news with random false information.”

Luckily, the platforms and media partners are actively fighting bots and A.I. manipulation. But that same focus and effort aren’t quite so prevalent on Reddit, message boards, and dark social chat rooms where trends start, news spreads, and disinformation can run rampant.

Key quote: “If I was real I’m pretty sure I’d be out there living each day to the fullest and experiencing everything I possibly could with every given moment of the relatively infinitesimal amount of time I’ll exist for instead of posting on the internet about nonsense.”

Deepfake Modeling is the New Stock Photo Modeling: Stock images are marketers’ favorite shortcut, especially in the social media age. But sometimes the stock image models themselves experience regret about lending out their likeness for short-term cash only to find themselves on everything from pet food to period products. Now, people are hiring out their faces to become deepfake-style marketing clones that are used as AI-powered characters that say or do anything, in any language.

Will deepfake models have the same regrets as stock photo models? Probably. Although SAG-AFTRA is already getting involved to offer some protections.

Key quote: “The firm does not let people have a say in how their likeness will be used or what words will be put into their mouths, but it has an ethics policy specifying that it will not work with certain industries… We’re pretty conservative about the types of businesses that we work with… That means no gambling, no sex, and no politics.

NFT PFPs Coming to an Avatar Near You: You may notice profile pictures of people from LinkedIn changing from their traditional portraits to cartoon characters of animals that don’t look like them in the slightest.

Versed’s Meta Mike flagged this emerging trend and noted that these avatars do, however, represent their status: “This trend comes after a growing volume of NFT Profile Picture (PFP) projects that are taking the Metaverse by storm. For those who have adopted early and own a trending PFP NFT, they are now expressing their individuality through their community ties. Who knows, Jane Smith may soon be better known as BAYC 5975!”

Reads of the Week: 1) The Final Frontier of the Text Inbox; 2) So Your Brand Just Bought Your First NFT, What Next? 3) Who Runs Twitter’s @Twitter? 4) TikTok Is Impacting The Luxury Resale Market, Here’s How; 5) Twitter Thread: “I once read that your manager has a greater impact on your health than your doctor and I think about it a lot.”

Quick Hits:

See you on the internet!

If you like this, click and “LIKE” it. And share it. Or don’t. Be that way.

You’ve heard of Free Little Libraries, but have you heard of (little) Free Blockbuster?

@WashingtonPost on TikTok covers the news

This week The Washington Post announced it is increasing investment and capabilities on TikTok by adding two new positions. I’ve been a massive fan of what creative producer Dave Jorgensen has done on the platform for the newspaper from the beginning (watch his TikToks here). And when I reached out to him during the Iowa Caucuses to see if he would be interested in meeting with Drake University students, Dave made time to visit the Drake Digital Media Strategies class and made TikToks for both the @washingtonpost and the @drakejmc accounts during the class. What a guy.

So anyway, I’m a fan. In part because what Dave is pulling off at the Washington Post didn’t fit anyone’s expectation of how a 144-year-old newspaper would treat social media. And thus, I really enjoyed this thread of how to manage highly creative and entrepreneurial people through the example of the Washington Post TikTok. Some of my best bosses said YES to me, and I strive to be that kind of leader, too. Read the story behind the guy who said “Yes” to the Washington Post TikTok guy’s plan here. And try to say YES more often.

Early next week I’m closing out my 2021 Q3 Spotify Playlist, as I start yet another quarterly playlist of moody tunes from scratch set to working-from-home-during-a-global-pandemic. You can listen to the 2021 Q1 hereQ2 here, and 2020’s cumulative playlist here. 🎶

Here are the social signals I’m tracking this week…

Facebook Reels are Coming: Video accounts for almost half of all time spent on Facebook, and that’s about to increase, with implications for brands. This week Facebook announced it is beginning to test Facebook Reels, which will give Facebook users the ability to create and share short-form video content directly within the News Feed or within Facebook Groups. Reels on Facebook will work similarly to Instagram Reels, with increased features added over time.

Key quotes: “Reels, which is Facebook’s answer to the growing threat of TikTok, first launched to global audiences a year ago… For Facebook, TikTok represents an existential threat to its business…. Facebook said it will announce additional bonus programs and seed funding in the months ahead that will pay out bonuses for Reels on Facebook.”

This means soon brands will need to consider their short-form, vertical video strategy for TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, Snapchat, and soon, Facebook Reels.

Tesla Bot and Treating Autonomous Cars as Animals: Last week Telsa unveiled a humanoid robot called the Tesla Bot that runs on the same AI used by Tesla’s fleet of autonomous vehicles. A functioning version of the robot didn’t make an appearance during the reveal, although a performer dressed like a Tesla Bot did.

Key quoteTesla Bot would eliminate “dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks,” and Musk provided an example, suggesting the robot could be told to “go to the store and get … the following groceries.” Not that such a task is particularly dangerous, but you might find it repetitive and boring.

In more short-term realistic A.I. news, Tesla also shared that they are treating autonomous systems for their vehicles by designing a synthetic human visual cortex, and they see the car as an “animal” that is roaming around the street. Super interesting theory. Watch here!

Do Not Do The Milk Crate Challenge: Every year or so we get a massive viral trend or challenge that seems to permeate everywhere, like planking, the Harlem Shake, Tebowing, the Ice Bucket Challenge, the Bird Box Challenge, and bottle flipping. The meme of the moment features everyday people scaling a rickety pyramid of stacked milk crates and trying to run down the other side before it all crashes. But you will have to watch Milk Crate Challenge compilations here on YouTube, because TikTok has now banned the challenge, after doctors have warned that the challenge is tantamount to “elective injuries” and could result in injuries with “lifelong implications.” Another example of “Black Creativity” fueling massive viral trends, the #MilkCrateChallenge shows the simplicity and stickiness of a simple and accessible idea matched with the shareable nature of modern social.

Take a Movie; Leave a Movie: You’ve heard of the Little Free Library, but have you heard of Free Blockbuster? A Free Blockbuster is a little kiosk where people can leave movies so other people can borrow them. It’s similar to Little Free Libraries where you can take or leave a book, but for VHS tapes and DVDs (and anything else you want to share with your neighbors). Find one near you here, or buy and register one yourself for <$200.

Reads of the Week: 1) Tim Brunelle’s Without a Brief, Everyone is Just Guessing; 2) Popular Online Businesses Are Opening Storefronts Thanks to TikTok; 3) Influencers Are Taking Desperate Measures To Recover Their Instagram Accounts; 4) The Rise of the TikTok Tour Guide; 5) Bad News: Selling the Story of Disinformation; 6) Are You Ready for Sentient Disney Robots?

Quick Hits:

See you on the internet!

If you like this, click and “LIKE” it. And share it. Or don’t. Be that way.