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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Houseparty is over: video chat app that boomed in lockdown meets its end

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Houseparty, a video chat app that surged in popularity when lockdowns were first imposed last year, is to close down.

The platform allows people to virtually drop in to video chatrooms with friends and experienced a spike in demand during the first wave of Covid restrictions, reporting 50m sign-ups in one month. Houseparty is owned by the same company that makes Fortnite and it was integrated into the smash-hit game last year, allowing users to hold video chats while playing.

The app’s chief executive had described Houseparty as “the next best thing to hanging out in real life” and it became even more popular when meeting friends became impossible throughout much of 2020.

Announcing the closure, Houseparty’s owner, Epic Games, said it could no longer “give the app or our community the attention that it deserves”.

“We do not take the decision to discontinue the app lightly,” Epic Games said. “The team behind Houseparty is working on creating new ways to have meaningful and authentic social interactions at metaverse scale across the Epic Games family.”

At its peak, Houseparty was hit by an unproven social media rumour that claimed the app caused users’ other online accounts – including Netflix, eBay, Instagram and Spotify – to be hacked. Epic then offered a $1m (£720,000) reward to anyone who could prove it was targeted by a smear campaign, although the bounty went unclaimed.

The firm has withdrawn the software from all app stores immediately, before closing fully in October to any remaining users who still have it installed.

Epic acquired Houseparty for a reported $35m in 2019 but it is now concentrating on the new buzzword in tech, the metaverse, or virtual reality shared space in which the real and digital worlds are blurred.

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