This week: What Roblox teaches us about the creator economy and we’re talking about AR and VR yet again.
Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.
The stories this week
09:42 – What is Roblox and what do you need to know?
22:56 – 20% of Facebook’s workforce is working on AR/VR
Other stories we bring up
Bids reach $2.5m for Twitter co-founder’s Jack Dorsey first tweet
NFT by the artist Beeple sold at Christie’s for $69 million
Recently sold NFT digital house in a transaction valued at more than $500,000
UK Uber drivers get minimum wage, holiday pay and pensions
Spain to trial a four-day work week
Our previous discussion of the 4-day work week during the COVID-19 pandemic
Our previous discussion of experimenting with the 4-day work week
Stanford researchers identify four causes and some solutions for ‘Zoom fatigue’
Zoom Escaper lets you sabotage your own meetings
Our 2017 discussion of AR/VR, our other 2017 discussion on everyone getting into AR/VR and AR/VR about to have its make or break moment again in 2018
More on what you need to know about Roblox
Roblox valued at USD $45 billion
Roblox is the world’s largest user-generated games site and all those stats
Roblox CBO Craig Donato on his company’s IPO
20% of Facebook’s employees are working on AR/VR
More on Facebook’s 10,000 employees working on AR/VR
The future of surgery in AR/VR
Microsoft debuts its AR/VR meetings platform Mesh
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Our theme music was composed and played by Linsey Pollak. Additional music in this episode by Lil Nas X.
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Disclaimer We'd like to advise that the following program may contain real news, occasional philosophy and ideas that may offend some listeners.
Sandra So, it's been two weeks since our NFT episode and a lots happened in NFT world.
Kai Yes, we've auctioned off more art, Tweets, virtual houses, lots of things.
Sandra For sometimes record breaking prices. So the NFT that Beeple sold at Christie's went for 69 million US dollars, which does set a new record, not only for NFT, but it kind of rivals prices for, like, Picassos and Monets. And it also makes Beeple one of the most valuable artists alive.
Kai I've got nothing to say to that.
Sandra Jack Dorsey is also auctioning his first ever tweet, that's still up for auction for another couple of days. If people want to get in on the action, Jack Dorsey is accepting bids until the 21st of March, which is a couple of days away.
Kai I'm thinking about auctioning of one of my Tweets, I haven't decided which one.
Sandra You could make a lot of money, his is up for $2.5 million at the moment. That's where bids are. So there's still time.
Kai Well, if you divide that by the number of followers and put that in relation, I could still be in for a couple $1,000. So, why not?
Sandra If you do want to list your Tweet though, you will have to go to something like Valuables By Cent, which is the company that's got Jack Dorsey's Tweet up, which is a marketplace for Tweets, which did not exist three months ago. And we will mention that Jack Dorsey is intending to give all proceeds to charity. But this space is changing very, very rapidly. And speaking of spaces, there was the other NFT, the house NFT that sold for half a million dollars.
Kai Not a real house, you can't really live in it. It is a virtual house. But presumably because we're spending so much time online, we're living in the digital world, why not spend a half a million dollars for a virtual house?
Sandra Yeah, 288 Ether will get you a wonderful NFT digital house.
Kai And now you've just got to go and shop for furniture. And I'm sure we can put that up on the NFT, maybe that's an idea. We should, after this podcast, put some virtual furniture up on the blockchain so that people with their virtual houses can actually you know, decorate.
Sandra I think that's what they're doing with the Beeple...
Kai Hang it up on the virtual wall?
Sandra Yeah. Speaking of virtual worlds, and virtual houses, there is a couple of stories which should do today. One is Roblox, which could become part of the metaverse and you could have your NFT house up there. And there's also been quite a few stories around augmented and virtual reality.
Kai But before we do that, there's a couple of runner ups this week that deserve a mention. Wired reports that, "We finally know how bad for the environment your Netflix habit is".
Sandra Can I just say, that was a very misleading title, because it turns out it's not that bad.
Kai It's not that bad. And it's actually not about Netflix this article, it's actually about a new tool called DIMPACT which was developed by researchers at the University of Bristol. Netflix is using it, so are others and what this tool does it approximates the carbon footprint of certain digital activities. And just so you know, you were wondering how much carbon emissions an hour of Netflix streaming actually causes. It's the equivalent of running a 75 watts ceiling fan for four hours in the US or six hours in Europe, or a typical 1000 watt window air conditioner for about 15 minutes. Of course, you might be running the air conditioner alongside your hour of streaming, which then poses a bit of a problem.
Sandra Whilst having steak in your house.
Kai And we have a tool for that too, because the BBC reports that there is now efforts underway to put a carbon score on different food items, on different food groups. And so the really interesting observation here is that more and more activities, more and more consumer goods are now being carbonised, so to speak, are being carbon calculated, carbon accounted for.
Sandra Well, here's hoping. Although we know that people don't stop using plastic bags and plastic straws unless you really ban them. And speaking of doing the right thing, just following up on our Uber story, which has been a significant change in how we treat gig workers. Uber will pay minimum wage, holiday pay and pensions for its drivers in the UK. There are 70,000 UK Uber drivers, and after last month they lost the case in the Supreme Court, Uber has said that their drivers will now be guaranteed a minimum wage, holiday pay and pension and that this will be a significant improvement in the standard of work for gig workers. But the point again here is that it took a five year court battle for things to improve. But this sets a good precedent for gig workers in other industries and in other jurisdictions, so we'll keep an eye on that.
Kai There's more changes to the world of work, Spain has announced to trial a four-day work week, workers would only spend 32 hours at work with no change in pay. And that's supposed to be a pilot program.
Sandra And this is quite interesting, because we've talked about the four-day work week during COVID as well, we've had an episode on a Corona Business Insights, where the Singaporean parliament was tabling the notion that people would be better off with a four-day work week rather than the traditional Monday to Friday, which we have here. And we've also had the Facebook stream by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who mused on the idea that the four-day work week would help both domestic tourism, so people would have more flexible work arrangements so they could travel more, it could also improve work/life balance. So it's interesting to see that this idea, which has been a fringe idea for quite a long time, and I remember the first time we spoke about it on the podcast was back in 2017, and in 2018, where it really was a fringe idea that some companies including Microsoft, and a few smaller companies have tried, but the pandemic has really brought it into the mainstream. And we've spent quite a bit of time thinking about what these initiatives will entail and how they play out in different countries. What are the reasons? What are the benefits, who are those people who can actually take up this idea and make it a reality and how widespread it needs to be. So we'll put some links in the shownotes, where we have explored this idea in more detail.
Kai But many of us are still stuck in a five days Zoom world. And there's been a study by Stanford University which finds four causes for Zoom fatigue.
Sandra And let's make it clear, it's not just Zoom, it's any video conferencing or video chat platform.
Kai We're brand-neutral here on The Future, This Week.
Sandra The first reason was that there are excessive amounts of close-up eye contact, and that can be very intense, and it's quite unnatural.
Kai The second one was that seeing yourself on the screen apparently is quite fatiguing.
Sandra The third one is that video chat reduces our normal mobility, when we have phone conversations or other conversations, we'd move around quite a bit. Whereas when we Zoom, we just sit very still in front of a camera.
Kai And the last one is that the cognitive load, basically making sense of what everyone says and what they're on about, trying to glean visual cues of a thumbnail-sized video picture is much more fatiguing than, you know, when you're sitting with people in the same room.
Sandra So things that we would do quite naturally like pick up nonverbal communication cues are extremely difficult to do in a Zoom where you might have 10 or 15 participants in small thumbnails on your screen.
Kai And the article comes with solutions to these problems. And we will put the link in the shownotes.
Sandra But there are some more extreme solutions that have popped up this week. As you can hear.
Kai As you can hear all around her, it's pretty loud. And that is actually one proposed solution.
Sandra Which is Zoom Escaper that lets you sabotage your Zoom meetings.
Kai I could barely hear you there. Can you say again?
Sandra Zoom Escaper.
Kai That's a tool that you can use to run your computer audio through when you're on a Zoom call. And then with the push of a button, you can add, say a dog barking...
Sandra Wind blowing or a construction.
Kai And you also get access to a couple more sounds which we're not going to play here on The Future, This Week.
Sandra Or you could just have an echo or a bad connection sound.
Kai Or the developer of Zoom Escaper also developed the nuclear option called Zoom Deleter. That's a little program that runs in the background and whenever someone like your IT department reinstalls Zoom, it will wipe it off the hard disk straightaway. So there's one way to get rid of Zoom fatigue, you could play Roblox instead or join your colleagues in a VR meeting.
Sandra And there are those two stories that we're gonna try to discuss now. So let's do this.
Kai Yeah, let's do it.
Intro From The University of Sydney Business School this is Sydney Business Insights, an initiative that explores the future of business and you're listening to The Future, This Week where Sandra Peter and Kai Riemer sit down every week to rethink and unlearn trends in technology and business. They discuss the news of the week, question the obvious and explore the weird and the wonderful.
Kai Our first story comes from the conversation and it's titled "Why is kids’ video game Roblox worth $38 billion and what do parents need to know?". The article was written by Marcus Carter here at the University of Sydney in digital cultures. And Jane Mavoa, who is with the University of Melbourne.
Sandra So Roblox is a video game, or rather a game platform, a free platform where people can go in and out of virtual worlds virtual games, but they can also create their own games. And it has really come to the forefront over the last year and during the COVID lockdown, and it just recently listed on the stock exchange, and it's valued at what is now a staggering $45 billion now.
Kai And there's a number of things that are remarkable about Roblox. On the one hand, its statistics, but also, on the other hand, the very concept of this kind of platform. So let's unpack this a bit.
Sandra So we said a virtual game platform, it's a free platform, you can dip in and out of any game you want from any device. So it doesn't matter whether you're on a mobile phone, or on a laptop or an Xbox.
Kai So it's really hardware agnostic. And that has led to quite remarkable user numbers, which sit at about 33 million active daily users. For comparison, the popular Fortnite game only has about 25 million users.
Sandra And we encourage those of you who have not come across it to check it out. It's packed with millions of different games of different genres and different levels of interactivity. And for many of us difficult to understand, in the first instance, quite what makes it so popular, because the graphics are fairly simple, some of the gameplay is not really straightforward, it's still buggy in places.
Kai Yeah, but that's not the point of it. It's really good fun. And anyone really can create games, about 8 million of those users have dabbled in developing games or made careers in quite seriously developing multiple games. It's also worth mentioning the user statistics, so 54% of all users are under the age of 13, which is the cut-off date which is displayed inside the game, you're either below or above 13. And those gamers spent an enormous amount of time up to 2.6 hours on average per day. Partly, of course, because much of the world is still in lockdown, but that compares to use our stats for the various social media platforms, including TikTok, which all come in at well below an hour per day.
Sandra And let's again stress that Roblox has been released a very long time ago. So it's been around since 2006. But it really has been during COVID that Roblox became really, really popular, much like Zoom, and user numbers really shot up during the various lockdowns around the world. And for Roblox that meant 50 million more active users, and 5 million active creators that joined the community. And it really is the most popular game in the US, according to Wired magazine, for kids five to 12. And I mean, Kai, you've played it with your daughter. And it's topped the spending charts in the UK. And that's ahead of Fortnite ahead of every other game.
Kai And I have to put on the record that she is 13 she will not tolerate me putting her in the five to 12 bracket. And it is a really simple game, you basically sign up to it in a web browser, your profile, everything lives in a web browser. There's a list of games in a web browser. And then you just click on it and a little window opens and you go straight to the respective game. And they come in all different types of flavours. There's escape rooms, there's hide and seek, there's game show type things, virtual worlds to explore. But the important thing is that you play alongside other people, so it has a very strong co-player or social aspect to it.
Sandra Or you could indeed play it on an app or you could play it on a console, you could play it on an Xbox, which in part was responsible for daily active users jumping by 85% last year for Roblox. But why are we talking about it on The Future, This Week?
Kai Because it's a really interesting different kind of platform concept. We've talked a lot about digital platforms, the Facebooks, Amazons, Googles, Apples of the world that all organise two-sided marketplaces, in a way where you have suppliers of certain services and then customers at the other end. Roblox has that as well, but it has amalgamated a unique blend of different aspects of those platforms.
Sandra So on the one hand, it's got the gameplay experience that platforms like Fortnite would have, but it's also got the creator aspect that the platform like TikTok, or like YouTube or like Instagram would have. But more importantly, I think we're talking about it because it is the biggest social network for people under the age of 13. Whenever we tend to think about social networks, we naturally gravitate to Facebook or to WeChat or to TikTok, but increasingly young people spend their time on Roblox. And by time, we mean a lot of time, two and a half hours a day is a lot of time, not only playing the games, but socialising. Which means that the platform can enable other types of experiences, not just the gameplay. So for instance, Roblox has increasingly been used to host parties. And most famously, in November, Lil Nas X of Old Town Road fame, performed a virtual concert, which was attended 33 million times.
Kai Old Town Road, yes. The social aspect of Roblox is really important. So as you play the game, you can befriend other users, you can also of course, have your friend network of you know, your social group, and meet on Roblox and play together, join the same games. And that really enables Roblox to become a platform for all kinds of shared events. So it's often not the playing the game, but the social aspect, the being in an event in a shared space together.
Sandra And that signals that this is a generation that might think differently about where are the spaces in which they consume entertainment or how they consume entertainment, not only how they play, but maybe also how they learn or how they work together.
Kai And the learning aspect is really important because Roblox is a really good platform to learn your way into coding. As we said, about 8 million people have dabbled in creating their own games and Roblox has the developer environment, Roblox Studio, where you can in a very visual way learn the basics of how you basically code a game or you create a space and imbue it with the kind of logic that enables people to then play in that space.
Sandra And it's also a significant way to earn money in Roblox. The developer community was set to make about $250 million in 2020. That was up from about $100 million back in 2019. So a significant way to earn money.
Kai And more than 1250 developers have made at least $10,000 in the game, with a small number of people making millions of dollars.
Sandra And this is not the established game companies, but rather individuals who create these games.
Kai So Roblox has created a lively in-game economy, players can purchase what's called Robux, which is the currency that exists in the game. You can either purchase certain items in the game directly, such as items to personalise your avatar, which basically serves a social signalling effect like you do on Instagram, where you want to portray yourself in a certain light. You can also have a subscription of Robux, where parents could set up a payment plan, where the child receives a set number of Robux every month.
Sandra And this is how the developers and Roblox make their money where players in the various games use the Robux to make purchases in the game, developers receive a share of those proceeds.
Kai And what is really significant about Roblox is that the CEO has announced when the company went public that this share that is paid out to developers might actually grow over time. So unlike other platforms, such as Amazon, which are known for squeezing their suppliers, Roblox is really interested in keeping the developer community alive and looking after the creators on the platform. So their allegiance is really with those developers, they're a creator platform, because the platform success depends on the steady stream of games that come in and then go viral.
Sandra So let's look at what are the implications of a phenomenon like Roblox for the future, because it does go beyond a new form of gaming and a new form of entertainment.
Kai So as a platform Roblox success is set to depend on a vital creator community. There's lots and lots of little games that are created all the time, which provides the spaces for people to have their social experiences. But there's also now more and more professional developers, people who have grown inside the space, have incorporated, now run studios and create more and more professionalised games inside the platform.
Sandra And let's remember, we also said that this is one of the most important social spaces where young people hang out. So this idea of creating things, making things and monetizing them, will probably give rise to a very different generation. And let's remember that there's been a rise of such platforms, things like Substack, where you create and then you monetize things within the platform, or platforms like Patreon, where people have been able to create content and then monetize that content in a very democratised way. So easy access, easy ways to join the platform and easy ways to start making things. You will have a generation of people who have grown up making the things that they're interested in and getting paid for it. So there might be significant implications in how these people will come to think about where they consume and how they consume education, or even how they consume and where they access entertainment or how they work in the future.
Kai So the idea of user-generated content not just as a way to participate online, but also to make your first steps into a digital kind of entrepreneurship. For the platform, it remains to be seen whether it can retain this grassroots feel to it with lots and lots of small games, or whether it will go the way other platforms have seen such as Instagram, which started out as a platform for fairly mundane photos and is now dominated by professional influencers. So the platform might have to do a bit of work to keep the long tail of developers alive, as more professional games appear that have more graphics appeal, and more complex gameplay.
Sandra There is one other thing I wanted to raise around content. And it actually takes me back to the story we had with the NFT. And the house, the half a million dollar digital house that was sold as an NFT. Because the artist that created the house actually mentioned that she hopes that one day this can be uploaded into a metaverse, into one of these immersive worlds like Roblox. And that points to a very interesting shift in what platforms make these days and what type of content gets created on these platforms. Because for a very long time, we've had Instagram, we've had Facebook, we've had YouTube, where we've consistently seen the same types of content being created and being uploaded. So people playing with images, with videos, or with written content. But now with games and experiences and things like NFT, the types of digital worlds that we're creating look very different to what we imported from the pre-digital world.
Kai The degrees of freedom for creation are much, much higher. And of course, the idea of the metaverse is that at some point, we're going to create these virtual worlds that overlay the real or the physical world. Which incidentally brings us to our next topic.
Sandra So before we wrap it up today, we thought we'd have a quick look at AR/VR. Or maybe it should be titled, "We're doing this again, AR/VR".
Kai AR and VR has made headline news in the past couple of weeks. Apparently, it is yet again time for AR and VR to finally become mainstream.
Sandra So our last story is from The Information and it centres around the fact that nearly 10,000 people at Facebook are working on developing augmented and virtual reality project that is nearly 1/5 of Facebook's total global workforce that is devoted to augmented reality and virtual reality. And this wasn't really the only story around augmented and virtual reality, so in the past week alone, we've seen a number of stories around augmented and virtual reality.
Kai So The Verge carried a different aspect of that Mark Zuckerberg interview where he says that realistic avatars or digital human representations of users are their next big bet in virtual reality. So the idea being that you would create a realistic looking real time virtual representation of yourself, you can then join a virtual space with other users and interact with them in fairly naturalistic ways. So the Oculus hardware is being updated with eye tracking and mouth tracking hardware which would then basically allow to drive your avatar with natural face expressions.
Sandra Microsoft also debuted its AR/VR meetings platform called Microsoft Mesh, which is one of their new products that tries to use the AR HoloLens platform and their VR mixed reality platform as a shared platform for enabling meetings, and it allows people to interact with 3d content in what is a shared space, with a number of people sharing the same experience.
Kai And finally, Digital Trends reports on the use of augmented reality AR, again, the HoloLens technology in surgery, in medical contexts where doctors who are operating on a patient would wear HoloLens glasses, and would then see certain information projected onto the patient's organs, for example, the artery flow or the 3d image that was taken of the patient's internals, to aid them in operating on the patient.
Sandra But just before we get into so what's new this time around into the story, we'll remind our listeners that we are doing this story again. And we have been talking about augmented reality, virtual reality and hype around these technologies for as long as we've been doing this podcast. Back in 2017 we spoke about it a few times, I believe it was just stories of Facebook and Microsoft with pretty much the same forays into the same realms. We did it in 2018, we did it in 2019. VR was on the hype cycle for Gartner back in 2013. So this has been around for a long time. Back in 2017, the headlines were that everyone is getting into augmented and virtual reality, and it's a technology whose time has come. So today, we're in a very similar place with the stories where these technologies have made significant forays into very specific domains, but there's still a very long way to go. So what's new?
Kai So first of all, it is quite remarkable that the three stories are all collaborative use cases. So we've moved away from VR for just gaming, or for just exploring a virtual world to different kinds of use cases that all involve the interaction between people. We also see the digital human space, which was popularised by deep fakes and the technology of neural rendering now coming into this space, the idea of creating photorealistic avatars, all of which points to creating new collaborative experiences that create work environments that could be used for meetings or for any kind of collaborative work.
Sandra Indeed, many of the ways we've seen AR or VR being discussed or being showcased over the years has been in single use applications. So we've seen applications that either try to augment the experience for single users, such as trying on clothes or trying on hairstyles, or it's been around fitness, we've seen game consoles exploring fitness and VR, we've seen various types of goggles or glasses that try to introduce the idea of augmented reality, or even games that made use of individuals being immersed in full 3d environments.
Kai But the trend really seems to be going to collaborative uses of VR and AR. And it is interesting to see that across the three stories we mentioned, there are actually three different ways in which this technology is being used. So Facebook talks a lot about virtual reality spaces and photorealistic avatars, where you would come together as a group of communicators or collaborators in a dedicated fully VR space. And so people could be located in different parts of the world, but you come together in this one space, then we have the augmented reality case where people are actually co-located, they are basically around the same object or table or patient in the surgery context where their goggles will overlay information and pin it to the physical environment such that you can walk around it, and everyone sees it in the right place from their perspective. So that's the augmented reality case. And then there's Microsoft with the Mesh technology, which basically blends the two, they are overlaying things into the physical environment but they're bringing in people who are not co-located. So this all gets relatively complex. But the idea is that I'll be in my room, in my office, other people join me as at the moment cartoon avatars, and they're placed in the room and I can walk around and they will stay in the same spot. And we can have a virtual table, say, or a virtual whiteboard, that is in a particular point in the space that we can all go to, and then, say, pin virtual posted on it or manipulate virtual objects that are on a virtual table. And the technology is now so good that for example, the audio will come from the spot where these avatars are located in my physical space where I can see them with my glasses to create a movie mixed reality collaborative experience.
Sandra And I have to step in there for a second to say that one of the first times we did AR/VR back in 2017, we were discussing the distinctions between the terms used back then virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, extended reality and immersive computing.
Kai And while that is true, we're now finally seeing those applications come to fruition. At least Mesh presents an interesting concept that gives us an idea of what mixed reality might look like in a collaborative context.
Sandra And sure Microsoft's brought in director James Cameron and the co-founder of the Cirque du Soleil and PokemonGo developers to showcase this technology. But it also admits, like it was the case back then, that for this technology to really become widespread and democratised, and for us to be able to bring our 3d photorealistic avatars to the table, so to speak, and have a virtual meeting with realistic post-its, this would require the commoditization of a whole range of technologies, including very complex hardware that is today needed to make these things a reality that is not quite there.
Kai And it also needs something that is again and still conspicuously absent from the whole discussion on AR and VR. And that is the kind of social or anthropological research, which would go into depth as to where these things would actually fit into our everyday world. Remember Google Glass? People started wearing them in pubs and restaurants, elicited a really adverse reaction, people just didn't want to be filmed by people wearing camera glasses. So what is really missing is research that goes beyond solving technical problems. Any kind of problems around VR/AR seem to just be couched as yet another technological step needed to finally make it a success. And I think we really need to change the conversation at some point.
Sandra Or have it changed for us. Let's remember COVID brought on Zoom, and we do have Zoom fatigue. And we know it's not better than real face-to-face meetings. But alas, we are heading to a Zoom meeting after this.
Kai Which also poses the question, what do we actually gain from VR/AI experiences that we don't already have with a Zoom meeting, when it comes to actually materially improving the actual collaboration that is going on? A lot of research will have to be done that goes beyond just the technical development of these solutions.
Sandra So much like we've left it in previous years, all these companies are predicting very big advances in the very near future, including Facebook planning to release smart glasses sometime later this year. And also very much work still to be done, including the fact that people like us with the glasses don't fare really well with this technology.
Kai And so I'll be installing Zoom Escaper now, and head into my next Zoom meeting.
Sandra But that's all we have time for today.
Kai I see you've already installed the filter.
Sandra Don't forget to follow us and leave us a comment on your favourite podcasting platform...
Kai Which will help others to also find the podcast.
Sandra Thanks for listening.
Kai Thanks for listening.
Outro This was The Future, This Week, an initiative of The University of Sydney Business School. Sandra Peter is the Director of Sydney Business Insights, and Kai Riemer is Professor of Information Technology and Organisation, connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Flipboard, and subscribe, like or leave us a rating wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any weird and wonderful topics for us to discuss, send them to email@example.com.
Sandra We'll remind our listener that it is the...
Sandra We will remind our LISTENERS.