A Big Month For RPGs On Game Pass, But The Departures Hurt, Too

Another month, another set of games coming and going from Xbox Game Pass. If you’re an RPG fan, you have a lot to look forward to, but if you’re a murder mystery fan, you’re quickly running out of time to play a real gem of a visual novel before it leaves the service.

As promised when the ports were first announced, Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden are joining Xbox Game Pass on January 19, with Monster Hunter Rise to follow the next day. If you’ve never played either of the classic Persona games, those are two meaty RPGs with great dungeon crawling, social elements, and banger soundtracks. While they might not be as modern as Persona 5 Royal, which launched on Game Pass back in October, they’re still really strong games in their own right, and these are the “definitive versions” of both games, and are the closest in the series to Persona 5 in terms of quality of life changes.

But as Game Pass giveth, it taketh away. Six games will be leaving Game Pass on Sunday, January 15, and one of them in particular is worth your time as a Game Pass subscriber to get the most out of your subscription. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a murder mystery visual novel that spawned the cult-hit series that rapidly became an internet phenomenon in recent years.

For the next five days only, the first of the series’ murder mystery entries (there’s a spin-off puzzle shooter that never came to Xbox, for some reason) will still be available through Game Pass, but that first game is foundational to the other games. Danganronpa isn’t a series you can really jump into wherever you feel like, as the story of each game is deeply intertwined with its predecessors.

Trigger Happy Havoc is set in a high school called Hope’s Peak Academy, where students from around Japan are scouted for their talent in their respective field and promised further success just by having graduated from the school. But once there, the students find themselves trapped by an animatronic teddy bear called Monokuma, who tells them that, in order to leave the school, they must kill one of their classmates without being caught in a mock trial. It leads to some fascinating mysteries, twists and turns, and directly into the sequels that fine-tuned the format and created even more incredible mysteries.

Right now, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is just a few short days away from leaving Game Pass, but if you start now, you can likely finish it before it’s gone, and jump right in to Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, which doesn’t seem to be in danger of leaving the service any time soon. I just got a handful of friends to finally try out Danganronpa on the heels of watching Glass Onion and looking for a good murder mystery, and they got hooked in the first case. Trust me, you will be, too.

The full list of games leaving Game Pass in January are as follows:

  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Cloud, Console, and PC)
  • Nobody Saves The World (Cloud, Console, and PC)
  • Pupperazzi (Cloud, Console, and PC)
  • The Anacrusis (Game Preview) (Cloud, Console, and PC)
  • We Happy Few (Cloud, Console, and PC)
  • Windjammers 2 (Cloud, Console, and PC)

Xbox Is About To Get Some Big Energy Saving Updates

Today, Microsoft announced a bunch of energy-saving updates coming to the Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. Naturally, these updates came packaged with the humble brag that Xbox is the first carbon-aware console.

Read More: Video Game Companies Vow Action On Climate Change, But Critics Say They Need To Do More

Back in the halcyon year of 2019, 21 gaming companies, including Microsoft, Sony, and Google Stadia (RIP), announced their commitment to becoming more environmentally conscious under an industry-wide initiative called Playing for the Planet. During the United Nations Climate Action Summit, Microsoft vowed it would get gamers involved with sustainability efforts in tandem with its 2012 commitment toward making carbon-neutral Xbox consoles.

“We not only hold ourselves accountable to the carbon emissions in the production and distribution of our products, but to the emissions created with the use of our products in the homes of our fans as well,” Blaine Hauglie, Xbox technical programmer wrote in a recent blog post. “So, the way we design our hardware and software to be more efficient and optimized for renewable energy can have a big impact.”

The rest of the post details upcoming energy-saving updates for Xbox Insiders members (basically a fan with access to work-in-progress content) coming to the Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.

The first new update is the shutdown energy-saving power option. According to the blog post, this new option “cuts power use by up to 20X when it’s off compared to Sleep.” Although this update won’t affect the performance, gameplay, or overnight update capabilities of an Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One consoles will take a bit longer to boot up.

The second environmentally conscious update is an update to the console’s active hours setting. Although Insiders with Xbox Series X/S will have their active hours automatically enabled based on the player’s active playtime hours, Xbox One users will have to configure their active hours manually.

At the end of the blog post, Hauglie encourages Xbox users to become more environmentally conscious by selecting the shutdown (energy-saving) option, making it so games automatically update, and customizing the power options on consoles so the time duration of their shutdown is quicker.

Who would’ve thought being an environmentalist would be as easy as letting your console update? If only Microsoft could convince stop ignoring my pending Windows updates, we’d really be getting the ball rolling. The ball being Earth.

New Assassin’s Creed Is Smaller Because Past Games Got Too Big

The last few Assassin’s Creed titles have been gigantic games that can easily take over a hundred hours to fully complete, with huge maps crowded with POIs and tons of side quests to distract you from the main story. According to Ubisoft, Assassin’s Creed Mirage, the upcoming spin-off, is smaller and more “intimate” because fans grew tired of these giant RPGs. And the devs were more than happy to go in this direction with the latest game in the franchise.

While I’ll be the first to say that modern Assassin’s Creed games have been a lot of fun, I’ll also admit that recent entries in the series like Odyssey and Valhalla have become far too big and bloated. More recent Assassin’s Creed games, starting with Origins, have evolved the franchise from a series of smaller, stealth games set in large cities into a collection of massive open-world RPGs often filled with hundreds of quests, side quests, collectibles, and places to explore. And if you, like me, long for a smaller, more focused Assassin’s Creed, well, we aren’t alone.

In an interview with GamesRadar, Assassin’s Creed Mirage’s creative director Stéphane Boudon explained that while Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla were all “great games” that let players “live an epic journey” it was clear that those players were longing for something different and smaller.

“Amongst our fans, we started hearing the desire for a character-driven story, focused on the core pillars of the first ACs in a more intimate scale,” explained Boudon. “It resonates with us as well, as developers, and this was the starting point of the project.”

Read More: How Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s Creators Snuck In Connections To Older Games

Boudon also said that while Mirage came about from a “convergence of several inputs” the biggest driver behind the upcoming spin-off’s smaller scale and focus on narrative came from what the community was asking for after years of huge RPGs.

Further, Mirage pays homage to the OG Assassin’s Creed game starring Altair. Mirage is set in a similar part of the world—the Middle East during the 13th century—and features actual assassins and not proto-assassins as seen in recent games.

I think all of this is a great direction to take the franchise. I want to keep playing these games, but after Valhalla, I’m not sure I need yet another 200-hour epic RPG. This could really help mix things up and keep the franchise feeling fresh and fun. I hope this is the start of a new trend where we see a mix of bigger, open-world entries (Valhalla, Origins) and smaller games focused on stealth. The franchise can support this mix and it would help avoid burning out fans who play every new game AKA me.

Assassin’s Creed Mirage is set to release sometime this year for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

Updated: 07/31/2023, 10:55 a.m. ET: In an interview with French YouTuber Julien Chièze that PCGamesN then translated, Ubisoft lead producer Fabian Salomon said Assassin’s Creed Mirage won’t take up all your time. Instead of the grand epics of Odyssey and Valhalla, both of which could easily soar past the 100-hour mark for a full completion, the Baghdad-set Mirage’s length will be closer to Black Flag and Syndicate when it drops on October 12.

“Given that we do a lot of playtesting internally at Ubisoft, it’s part of our process, we really want to get as close as possible to the players, so we’ll say that the latest playtimes we’ve received average at around 20-23 hours,” Salomon said. “That can go up to 25-30 hours for the completionists, and we’ll say that those who will be rushing the game will be around 20 hours.”

This is a welcomed change from more recent Assassin’s Creed games, with 2020’s Valhalla—the game Mirage protagonist Basim Ibn Ishad was first introduced in—clocking anywhere between 60 and 143 hours to beat in full.


Everything We Saw At Xbox’s Big Developer Direct

Today Microsoft held its Developer Direct presentation, focusing on a number of new games coming to Xbox, PC, and Game Pass. We got a fresh look at some anticipated titles, as well as a neat little rhythmic surprise from the developers of The Evil Within. But enough chatter, let’s get into what Microsoft showed off today.

Minecraft Legends

We first learned of Minecraft Legends last year. A spin-off of the ultra-popular sandbox survival game, Legends is, perhaps unexpectedly, a multiplayer action-strategy game. Legends will have both a narrative co-op mode, as well as a PvP mode with procedurally generated environments, which is much of what we saw today. Check it out here:


Forza Motorsport

The folks over at Turn 10 showed off some wildly pretty footage of the upcoming Forza Motorsport, which is expected to arrive this year. This presentation focused on the finer details of Motorsport’s visual flair, including highly detailed dirt, damage, and “battle scars” that’ll build up on your digital cars, as well as extra detail added to the game’s dynamic time of day and trackside vegetation. Cars are also expected to get more realistic physical behaviors, with improvements to the suspension and exhaust.

Read More: This Racing Game Promises The Best Dirty Video Game Cars You’ve Ever Seen

Forza Motorsport – Developer Game Overview

Forza Motorsport – Developer Game Overview

Hi-Fi Rush

Surely we’ve all thought “why can’t we take down corporate overlords in a brightly colored action game with rhythmic action cues? Oh, and made by the folks who did The Evil Within.” Well think no more: Hi-Fi Rush was today’s biggest surprise, putting players in the role of an aspiring rock star with a rhythmic robot arm who kicks butt on the beat with a flying V guitar…which makes sense as that’s about all a flying V is good for. It looks like good fun, and by the way, it’s coming out today! On Game Pass, even.

Read More: Horror Devs Surprise World With Bright Action Game, On Game Pass Tonight

Hi-Fi Rush – Launch Trailer

Hi-Fi Rush – Launch Trailer


Arkane, the studio that brought us Dishonored, Prey 2017, and Deathloop is currently working on Redfall, an open-world, sandbox FPS with four-player co-op. With some friends, you’ll wield appropriately gothic firearms to take down oodles of blood-sucking vampires. Arkane describes the setting as its largest world yet. While it does look very much like Left 4 Dead with vampires, today’s gameplay dive showed off Arkane’s immersive sim strengths, meaning there are a variety of ways to take on foes and objectives, with some uncertain outcomes. Redfall is expected on May 2 of this year.

Microsoft / Bethesda

The Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom

ESO continues on with a new expansion: Necrom. Expect a brand new class, the Arcanist, and some terrestrial and extraplanar adventures as there’s a new peninsula to explore in the mushroom kingdom of Morrowind. You’ll also get to go for a jog in Apocrypha, one of the Elder Scrolls’ lovely hellish realms. Coming on June 5 and June 20 for PC and consoles, respectively.

Microsoft / Bethesda

While last year was a little lacking in terms of exclusives for Xbox and Game Pass, with High On Life being perhaps the most notable, 2023 is certainly looking a bit more action packed. Bethesda’s much-hyped, much-delayed Starfield is also supposed out, in June no less. Think they’re gonna stick it this time?

Big Huge Dong Makes Brief Appearance At Streaming Awards Show

Image for article titled Huge Dong Makes Appearance During Streaming Awards Show

Screenshot: Twitch

Spanish streamer TheGrefg is one of the biggest stars on Twitch, so much so that he recently held his own awards show that drew almost two million viewers. And everyone watching was, for a moment, treated to a big ol’ ASCII penis.

First, some background. TheGrefg has almost 20 million YouTube subscribers. Over 11 million Twitch followers. Even if you don’t know who he is because he doesn’t’ speak your language, the dude is one of the most popular streamers on the planet; we wrote about him in 2021 when he “obliterated the all-time Twitch viewership record” in a clip…revealing his own Fortnite skin:

For years now, Twitch’s record for most concurrent viewers on a single streamer’s channel has been hotly contested, with streamers topping each other in slow-building increments. Today, however, Spanish streamer TheGrefg made everybody else look like they’d been wrestling for discarded peanut shells. As of writing, he topped out at nearly 2.5 million—a new all-time record that beats not just individual channels, but entire games.

The event we’re talking about today—called Premios ESLAND—is actually the second year running that he’s been able to host his own awards show specifically for Spanish-speaking streamers, streaming and related events/stunts. And it’s quickly become a huge event; this year’s show drew 1.75 million viewers, and that’s not counting the folks in attendance watching it live.

Look at this crowd! That’s Mexico City’s famous Auditorio Nacional, and TheGrefg packed it out for the show:

Anyway, being the second time he’s run one of these shows—and that he lives on the internet—you might think he or his producers would know not to cut to the live chat on the big screen up on stage. Yet this year he did just that, and as you can see in the video below, he regretted it about as quickly as a human can register the sensation:

In the interests of accuracy and truth in reporting, here is the NSFW image:

Image for article titled Huge Dong Makes Appearance During Streaming Awards Show

Image for article titled Huge Dong Makes Appearance During Streaming Awards Show

Screenshot: Twitch


The Sims 4’s Big Baby Update Is Looking Promising

The latest Behind the Sims Summit gave a look at what’s to come for the life sim franchise across The Sims 4, mobile games The Sims Mobile and The Sims FreePlay, and The Sims 5 (we mean Project Rene). And yes, babies that aren’t objects will come soon.

When are babies coming to The Sims 4?

Teased at the October 2022 Behind the Sims Summit, the massive baby update is coming on March 14. Babies have been a major part of The Sims, but since its 2014 release, babies in The Sims 4 have been mere objects. After your Sim delivered the baby, or babies, they sat in their cradles doing…well, not much of anything. Your Sims could interact with the babies in a very limited fashion, feeding them, changing their diapers, and choosing from a spat of social interactions. But they could never be taken out of the cradle, you couldn’t dress them, and you couldn’t even really distinguish any unique facial features on them.

Beginning March 14, Simmers will have a host of new options. Firstly, there will be customization options, allowing each rugrat to exist as their own person. There are new hair options, clothes, and accessories.

Since babies are now free and unchained from their bassinets, other Sims can interact with the tikes in new ways: holding them, nursing them, playing with them, and even handing them off when to other Sims. They can interact with other Sims of all ages, so now your fictional families won’t seem like a group therapy session waiting to happen. Babies will also get traits. Imagine! A baby with more personality than a static object!

Is there going to be a new Sims 4 Expansion Pack?

Yes! Unfortunately, The Sims team didn’t share anything about it. We’ll have to wait just a bit longer until February 2 for more information. That’s also two days before the franchise’s 23rd anniversary.

However, the upcoming Expansion Pack is largely expected to be a “Generations” Pack. There are many somewhat classic Sims Expansion Packs, and Generations, which adds gameplay and items relating to families, is one of them. This speculation is due to its release close to the big babies update. The Behind the SIms Summit also referenced it with the phrase, “Meet the family.” Luckily, we won’t have to wait long to find out for sure.

What do we know about The Sims 5?

The Sims team gave more updates on the next iteration of the iconic series, nicknamed Project Rene, during today’s Sims Summit. Much of it built upon the scant details fans got during the last Sims Summit in October. Grant Rodiek, game director for Project Rene, discussed cross-play between mobile and PC and multiplayer options.

According to Rodiek, PC will offer players the full Sims experience with more powerful design capabilities, while being able to play on the go on mobile. The game director gave an example of playing on PC at home and on mobile while out at a park with his toddler.

For multiplayer, the largely single-player franchise, Rodiek stressed that The Sims 5 is not going to go the MMO route, but will instead allow players to invite friends as they want. This sounds much like Animal Crossing, for example, which is a single-player game that allows players to invite friends over to their islands when they want, and to keep things a solo mission if they don’t.

Since the announcement late last year, the team began rolling out limited playtesting “small snippets of the game,” including apartment customization, multiplayer customization, and uploading furniture and item design.

But the team was still adamant that development is still ongoing. Rodiek specifically said the next generation is “years out.”

Are there any updates to The Sims Mobile and FreePlay mobile games?

Both mobile games, yes there are two, are getting some love.

The Sims Mobile will celebrate the anniversary of The Sims franchise with a plumbob disco (plumbobs are the, usually green, 3D diamonds that appear over Sims heads indicating how they’re doing). The phone game is also getting ready to celebrate its fifth anniversary with new items tied to a treasure hunt. The Sims Mobile will also see regular seasonal updates and another Sims Festival, which is a monthly recurring event in the game.

Meanwhile, The Sims FreePlay will add a new area to its desert map in the Sims Springs town in April that players can customize. There will be fixer-upper opportunities, according to the Summit, and there will be an amusement park grand prize as you make your way through the map. FreePlay apparently hasn’t gotten any additional music since its launch 11 years ago. The mobile game will add tunes from other Sims games which can be heard via the Sim FM station on stereos.

Survivor Is The Next Big Game Delay Of 2023

A Jedi duels a pilot with a lightsaber.

Image: Respawn / EA

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor got a March 17 release date just last month and it’s already blowing past it. Electronic Arts announced the game will now come out at the end of April instead as developer Respawn Entertainment focuses on bug fixes, performance issues, and generally making sure the game doesn’t come out busted like so many others these days.

“In order for the team to hit the Respawn quality bar, provide the team the time they need, and achieve the level of polish our fans deserve, we have added six crucial weeks to our release schedule,” the studio wrote in a statement on Twitter. “Star Wars Jedi: Survivor will now launch globally on April 28th.”

The studio maintains the game is content-complete and now in the final stage of development. Respawn goes on to say that the sequel is a “direct response” to feedback on the first game, adding that the developers have “pushed ourselves at every level.”

This is the second major game delay of 2023 so far, following a couple weeks after Ubisoft revealed that Skull and Bones, its pirate ship game perpetually trapped in development hell, would be delayed for a sixth time. Both games were originally planned for March, a month that now looks practically barren. Rather than the game release calendar ramping up in the months ahead, things are beginning to spread out a bit more.

At this rate though, we probably haven’t seen the last near-term delay. There were already big questions about whether Forza Motorsport and Starfield would hit in the first half of 2023 as originally planned. Maybe Redfall, which literally just got a May 2 release date last week, isn’t safe either. All release dates are basically placeholders at this point.

Nintendo Still Has A Few More Big Games Planned For Switch

Never count Nintendo out. Or for it to do the most obvious and sensible thing. With the Switch entering its sixth year after becoming the third best selling console ever, you’d think it would be the perfect time for a successor. But there’s still no Switch 2 or Switch Pro in sight, and Nintendo is telling investors the console still has new games in development and plenty of room to grow.

After announcing worse than expected sales, Nintendo was asked repeatedly by investors in a Q&A this week if the Switch is dead, and Nintendo repeatedly said it is not. In fact, Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa believes the company is in “uncharted territory,” and confirmed there are still more games “under development for Nintendo Switch,” and “new titles will continue to be proposed going forward.” Here’s the full excerpt:

Nintendo Switch is coming up on its seventh year of sales in March, and we see this as uncharted territory in the history of our dedicated video game platforms. Under these circumstances it is hard to imagine that hardware sales will continue to grow at the same pace they have to date. However, there are titles under development for Nintendo Switch, and new titles will continue to be proposed going forward. We are seeing both new demand and multiple system demand for the hardware, so we think there is still room for growth in sales. To that end, we want to maintain a high level of engagement with the hardware and create new demand not only by releasing new titles but also by working further to convey the appeal of existing titles.

Following the news that Nintendo would not be attending E3 2023, there was a lot of speculation that the company didn’t have many other big games planned for the console after The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom in May, and Pikmin 4 in June. In fact, maybe the system was running out of juice altogether, with Nintendo preparing to pivot to a new, more powerful system. But it’s clear from its recent investor call that even if sales are slowing, the Switch may have some runway left yet. “We believe that both new titles and evergreen titles can create opportunities for new users to purchase hardware,” Furukawa said.

So what could be left? Despite rumored delays, reboots, and the extended wait after it was teased back at E3 2017, Metroid Prime 4 will probably arrive at some point. We are also due for new 2D and 3D Super Mario games. And of course an HD port of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker or diorama-style remakes of Oracle of Seasons/Ages. Given the company’s deep bench and penchant for surprises, it’s not hard to see another Kid Icarus, Star Fox, or another B-tier franchise getting one last hurrah on the console as well.

Indeed, some analysts aren’t predicting new Nintendo hardware until 2024 at the earliest, while Bloomberg recently reported that the company is actually boosting production of existing Switches to sell even more in the coming year than the last. And don’t count on a price cut anytime soon. “As we continue the Nintendo Switch business over the long term, we have tried to preserve the value and prices of both hardware and software as much as possible,” Furukawa said this week. “We do not believe that policy needs to be changed at this point.”

Correction: 2/10/23, 2:50 p.m. ET: The headline and text of this story previously misstated the age of the Nintendo Switch. It is soon entering its sixth year.

The Division 2 Isn’t Dead, But It Did Just Break In A Big Way

The Division 2 was recently due to get its season 11 update. Instead, the entire game ground to a halt after the tool the development team relies on to issue updates went completely offline. The damage is now being repaired, with “compensation” planned as players wait for the promised update. How did it happen? Ubisoft’s explanation is a fascinating window into the challenges and pitfalls of live-service game maintenance.

“In preparing for Season 11, we began experiencing a series of delays in our localization process, consequently impacting the experience for many players around the world,” The Division 2 development team announced on February 3. “Therefore, after much discussion, we have made the difficult decision to move the release of Season 11 and the livestream to a later date.”

It seemed like a momentary hiccup and a temporary delay, but on Thursday the developers behind the Tom Clancy loot shooter revealed the damage went beyond just a single update. “This past Saturday, in the process of creating the update which would resolve the issue, we encountered an error that brought down the build generation system for The Division 2,” the team tweeted early yesterday. “As a result, we cannot update the game until this system has been rebuilt.”

Normally, when a new Division 2 season is delayed, Ubisoft simply extends the existing one, looping the weekly mission and loot changes until the new content is ready to go live. “Unfortunately, this is not possible in the current situation,” the team explained, “as we are unable to make server- or client-side updates until the build generation system is restored.”

Now an emergency fix has solved that issue, but Season 11 is still nowhere in sight. We have successfully created and deployed a server-side update,” the team tweeted on Friday. “This is now live and extends Season 10 content. We deeply appreciate your support and patience! More news about Season 11 and in-game compensation will be shared at a later date.”

A great live-service culling at the start of 2023 killed a bunch of online games, but The Division 2 wasn’t one of them. Despite a period of malaise two years into its post-launch life, Ubisoft announced a series of modest updates coming to the game in a new content roadmap published last year. With some players still roaming the streets of a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C., Ubisoft has kept the lights on as it waits for a free-to-play spin-off, The Division Heartland, to finally ship. Whether we’ll ever get The Division 3 remains to be seen.


Big Voice Actors Call Out AI Copying Them Without Consent

Voice actors within the video game, cartoon, and anime industries have come out against the use of AI websites that copy and sell their voices without their permission.

Last Friday, voice actor Steve Blum, known for his role as Spike Spiegel in the English dub of Cowboy Bebop, posted a PSA of sorts to his Twitter followers, warning them not to buy into any AI website that’s copied and sold his voice.

“Hey friends, I know AI technology is exciting, but if you see my voice, or any of the characters that I voice, offered on any of those sites, please know that I have not given my permission, and never will,” Blum tweeted. “This is highly unethical. We all appreciate your support. Thank you.”

Blum wasn’t the only one to share their concerns over AI sites copying and selling their voices for profit without their permission. Actor Sean Schemmel, the English voice for Dragon Ball Z’s Goku, was one of several who came out in solidarity with Blum in a reply saying he’s never given permission for an AI service to use his voice in any way.

“EXACTLY THIS and I’ll go a step further: Anyone who does this without the voice artist’s permission is harming voice actors,” Jennifer Hale, the prolific voice actor who plays the female version of Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect series, wrote in a quote retweet. “Please do not do this, and please do not support people who do. Thank you.”

“I concur and am disgusted that our lifetimes & bodies of work are being pirated,” Charlie Adler (Red Guy from Cow and Chicken) wrote. “NO site has been given permission or has been authorized to use my voice AI or otherwise! I was alerted to fakeyou yesterday. I did not EVER consent to my voice being sold ! FRAUD !”

“I’ve been warned by friends that some of my characters’ voices are on these AI sites, I would also like to make it clear that if you see any site that has my ‘voices’ offered, it is without my permission and I am explicitly against it,” SungWon Cho, God of War: Ragnarok’s Ratatoskr wrote in a quote retweet.

Read More: Popular Female Twitch Streamers Targeted In Deepfake Pornography Scandal

In the past, the use case for AI voice sites seemed limited to YouTube parody videos where content creators produce extra lines of dialogue for a famous celebrity to punch up the humor of their videos. However, much like with deepfake porn of Twitch streamers, the upward trajectory of AI-generated voice technology’s improvements combined with legal systems’ slow pace to bring laws up to speed with AI technology, especially those used without consent, has created a massive headache.

AI-generated voice harassment campaigns

In a recent Vice article, four victims of AI-generated voice recounted how the technology was used in harassment campaigns against them. One example of AI-generated voice misuse saw Twitter accounts share actors’ private information like their home addresses using an AI-generated voice of Agent 47 from the Hitman series.

“What was the bigger frustration was how ineffective Twitter’s support system was in removing the post,” Tom Schalk, a voice actor from the horror puzzle game Poppy Playtime told Motherboard. “Regardless of the stolen identity, private information posted publicly and the racist slurs, Twitter’s support system deemed the post and the account as perfectly fine.”

The AI-generated voice site at the center of these controversies is ElevenLabs, an artificial intelligence company that says it has “the most realistic and versatile AI speech software, ever.” According to Vice, ElevenLabs has sent Twitter DMs to the victims of harassment campaigns and acknowledged that the technology used for the Agent 47 voice was their audio, but denied that the voices that doxed them were made using its technology.

In the past, AI voice sites like ElevenLabs have been used to create audio clips of Harry Potter actress Emma Watson’s voice reading Mein Kampf, Ben Shapiro making racist remarks about U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rick and Morty’s Rick Sanchez saying “I’m going to beat my fucking wife Morty,” according to Vice. The last example is particularly uncomfortable considering Rick voice actor Justin Roiland is currently facing two felony domestic abuse charges from 2020.

Read More: The Aftermath Of Twitch’s Deepfake Porn Scandal

Vocal Varients solution

While the misuse of AI-generated voices presents a clear problem for voice actors, it hasn’t stopped the community from rallying together to help solve this new technological crisis. Transformers: Rise of The Beasts voice actor David Sobolov and Sailor Moon voice actress Stephanie Sheh suggest that voice actors send cease and desist emails to the voice generator sites and notify Vocal Variants, an advocacy group of union and non-union voice actors who are concerned about actors signing contracts that ask them to sign the rights to their voices to AI clients.

Vocal Varients is made up of actors like Yuri Lowenthal (Peter Parker in Marvel’s Spider-Man), Cissy Jones (Lilith Clawthorne in The Owl House), and Keythe Farley (Thane Krios in Mass Effect). According to its website, Vocal Varients’ goals include:

  • Creating a standardized definition of this type of work, implementing protections for performers, and doing educational outreach to the creators and users of AI/Synthetic voice technology to foster fair and equitable work for everyone.
  • Actualizing legal preservation of vocal likeness and performance integrity, and identifying the industry-wide risks of AI/Synthetic voice technology around vocal identity misuse and/or malpractice.
  • Educating performers and their representatives about the future implications of AI/Synthetic voice automation, and amending problematic contract terms
  • Creating a standardized contract or set of contract clauses that properly protect against abuse

Kotaku reached out to Vocal Varients and ElevenLabs for comment but did not receive a reply by the time of publication.

“If you find our voices on AI voice apps please let us know. Their databases are often only visable to subscribers or people who have paid for the app,” Sheh tweeted, with the hashtag #protectrealvoices. “Please let us know if our voices are being stolen.”

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