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Monday, June 24, 2024

Epic is closing its Houseparty video chat service

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Houseparty, a video chat service that launched in 2016 and was acquired by Fortnite studio Epic Games in 2019, is going away. Epic said goodbye on the Houseparty blog, announcing that the software has already been removed from app stores, and that the service itself will be shut down in October.

“We created Houseparty to let people feel like they’re together even when physically apart, and we can’t thank you enough for turning to Houseparty for the important moments in your life,” Epic wrote. “From birthday parties to proposals, marriages, family game nights and more, you did it all on Houseparty. And, in a year when we couldn’t be physically together, we’re even more honored that you turned to Houseparty to laugh, play games, and create memories while apart.”

There was a spot of drama following Epic’s acquisition of Houseparty, as rumors began to surface that it was being used to “hack” into users’ Netflix, PayPal, and Spotify accounts, and that the only way to avoid the risk was to delete the app entirely. The Houseparty team suggested that the reports might actually be part of a “paid commercial smear campaign” to damage the software, and went so far as to offer a $1 million reward for proof that such a campaign was taking place. 

Nothing ever came of it, but according to BBC News reporter Joe Tidy more than 1 million users ditched Houseparty because of the claims, which “hit the app HARD at a time when it was on a massive Zoom-like trajectory.”

I spent a long time trying to find the source of this misinfo at the time. I found no evidence of a deliberate smear campaign, Houseparty’s claim. Closest I came to the source was a Scottish woman who wrongly claimed on FB that HP had ‘hacked her phone’ https://t.co/mikV8YEn7WSeptember 10, 2021

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Epic integrated Houseparty into Fortnite in late 2020, enabling players to see and chat with one another over their mobile phones while they’re playing. Anticipating potential issues, Houseparty’s Fortnite mode was cropped to focus solely on player faces with a Fortnite-themed background, and parental controls in the game enabled it to be turned off entirely. I said at the time that integration with Fortnite would be “a big shot in the arm” for Houseparty, but clearly it wasn’t big enough.

The Houseparty team is now “working on creating new ways to have meaningful and authentic social interactions at metaverse scale across the Epic Games family,” which means that it can no longer support the existing app as required. Thus, it’s gone—but “we hope that the memories you’ve made will last a lifetime,” Epic said.

Epic also helpfully provided a list of Houseparty alternatives, including programs like Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype, and of course Discord. For gaming-related usage, I would definitely recommend Discord—for now, at least, while it’s still good.

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