We started branch over a year ago with a simple goal: to save remote work from the monotony of fatiguing zoom calls. When approaching the problem, I thought about where I spent most of my time as a teenager. Obviously, it was playing games online with my best friends. Many of which, I never actually met in person.

We set out on this mission to gamify remote work, and bring serendipity back to remote teams. This worked - there are many teams happily using branch today as their virtual office. We are very happy that we could craft an experience that recreates the feeling of being close by in a physical space whilst being physically distant - a must during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, what we discovered was that branch was also being used by other people not just for work - they were using it for fun. branch has always had a sense of being a mix of a workplace communication app and a video game, but as time went on, we noticed that more of our users interacted with branch like it was a video game with proximity chat. There were two ways to go about it. We could try to make branch an explicitly workplace communication app, or we could embrace our causal users who wanted a space to make their own with their friends.

Really, there is one common interest among all of our users.

Today, we are branching out and welcoming everyone to branch. Yes, branch can be used for your office. But as you have shown us, branch can also be used for your event, coding groups, study groups, classrooms, birthday parties, and just about community and any thing you can do with your friends.

We are updating our pricing model to reflect our new focus. Starting today branch will no longer be priced according to the number of users in your branch. In other words, branch is 100% free to use!

What's changing on branch?

  • You can now create a branch for anything! branch is no longer just for the office, it's for everyone.
  • Branch is 100% free to use!
  • Building no longer requires acorns.
  • You no longer need an account to join a branch. This significantly lowers the bar for anyone who just wants to log onto a branch to hang out without having to go through the additional hoop of creating an account. However, if you want to keep any progress you have made so far, you will want to claim your account any time later in your session. This also means that guests and members have converged into a simpler entity.
  • We are tying acorn balances, levels, and quest progression to your global branch account instead of being specifically per-branch. As part of this process, we have reset all acorn balances, levels, and quest progression. We are working on new ways for you to earn experience and acorns. This will open new opportunities for people to use branch in new, more creative and fun ways. And now, your balance and XP will travel with you as you explore a world of endless branches.
  • You can now switch between branches easily. Whereas you'd previously have to go back to the login page or bookmark the branch's page to switch between branches, we have introduced a new sidebar on the very far left of the screen that can be used to switch easily between the branches you're a member of.

In addition to these changes, we have fixed several bugs and continued our work to improve branch's speed. We're happy to say that loading times for loading new branches has significantly improved. Which means you can switch between them really fast!

We are working on several new features for branch as well. Keep an eye out for upcoming minigames, character customization, and incredibly immersive and interactive features.

What's new in this update

Our new desktop application is here!

Our desktop app has been in the making for a while. We have been carefully testing the desktop app internally to make sure that it will provide the same Branch experience you know, but in a more convenient package.

Last week, we made our desktop app available for Intel Macs and Macs with Apple Silicon. Today, we made our app available for Windows users. You can download the app from our website. Keep an eye out for our native Linux app!

Roles and permissions

Before today, there were only two levels of access to a branch: members, who could do anything, and guests, who could not change anything but could move around the branch and interact with things. This week, as many of our users have requested, you can finally control what a user can do in your branch. You can set up roles with permissions for what a user can do in your branch, and assign them to the users in your branch:

Labels

Another requested feature was the ability to add labels to rooms. Simply open up the builder mode to add a label anywhere you want, whether you want to mark what a room is used for, add inspirational messages, or just to spruce up your branch a little!

Performance improvements

We kept the possibly the most exciting thing we have to share with you this week for last: we rolled out a series of performance improvements to the app. Everything from logging onto a branch to moving around and talking in it just got even faster and more considerate on your computer.

Were you tired of having to wait on your branch to load up when nobody was on it for a while? Not anymore! We've made the process of loading branches that were idle for a while more than 10x as fast in most cases. Of course, if Branch is too busy, you may still have to wait a while - however, wait times should be significantly reduced for most people logging onto Branch. Even when your branch is already ready to go, our new branch switcher and further optimizations we've made to branch itself will make moving between branches even speedier.

We also made major strides in optimizing our voice and video chat performance, further bringing down the resource usage of Branch in all scenarios. We know how important it is for your laptop to stay as quiet as possible so you can focus on your work.

The full list of changes

  • Added roles and permissions
  • Added labels
  • Added the ability to build walls, windows, and doors
  • Added the ability to send an invite by email
  • Added new loading page
  • Added custom statuses
  • Added footstep sound effects
  • Added various sounds effects to UI components
  • Added reaction picker
  • Added screenshot shortcut (F2)
  • Added sidebar support for brb marbles
  • Added a cursor indicator when hovering over interactable entities
  • Added an outline around interactable entities
  • Switched emoji picker to use native emojis
  • Released desktop application beta for Mac and Windows
  • Improved bulldozer mode
  • Improved in-game menus
  • Improved proximity voice fading to be more accurate
  • Improved media player with new controls and features
  • Improved doors, locked doors can now be opened by anyone from the same side they were locked
  • Improved voice and video performance
  • Improved branch startup speed
  • Improved branch creation flow
  • Fixed password resetting
  • Fixed a bug preventing laser task completion
  • Fixed a bug with media player play/pause
  • Fixed various bugs with builder mode
  • Fixed various bugs with brb mode
  • Fixed tile pixel bleeding
  • Fixed various crash bugs