Welcome back to your monthly report of game news, where I do my best to compile everything into one convenient ad-free place, so you don’t have to worry about the pesky cracks that info can fall through at other publications!
Thanks and credit for the banner image as always goes to the Avocado’s one and only Space Robot!
March 22nd: Illfonic, developer of Friday the 13th: The Game and Predator: Hunting Grounds, announced their new title in the same asymmetrical licensed multiplayer mold, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, which will launch in Fall 2022 for PS4/5, Xbox One/S|X, and Windows PC. If you thought that the guys who made Friday the 13th had already announced a Texas Chainsaw Massacre game at the 2021 Game Awards; that game is by Gun Media, the publisher of Friday the 13th. They’re both still doing the same basic thing, just independently.
In the midst of backlash to the company over its interest in blockchain tech, Kickstarter’s CEO Aziz Hasan announced that he was stepping down immediately. It wasn’t directly stated in the announcement, but the common understanding internally at this time is that as Hasan goes, so too does any work with crypto and NFTs at Kickstarter.
April 7th: In a major victory for the workers of Activision Blizzard King, the abusive megacorp announced that it is promoting 1100 remaining US-based contractor QA testers into full employees at a minimum salary of $20 per hour with full bonuses and benefits, increasing the corporation’s total full-time workforce by 25%. It quickly came out via several direct sources and as well as reports like Bloomberg’s that Raven Software’s handful of actively unionizing QA workers are not included in the mass-promotion.
ABK defends itself by arguing their hands are legally tied to certain NLRB rules about union petitions, but let’s see if they can back that up after the election is over in a month. In the meantime, the message to all workers is obvious. ABK leadership continues to think it can make unionizing seem unnecessary and detrimental when all this ultimately demonstrates is that ABK is scared out of its pants and will go to any length to counter the union effort. Even if it weren’t for the overt unionbusting strategy aspect of this decision, all credit for the positives of this action exclusively goes to the workers who fought for this with their whole chests in organizing over the past 9-10 months. Period.
April 13th: Jason Schreier at Bloomberg reported that top state government lawyer Melanie Proctor, assistant chief counsel for the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, had resigned in protest of how state governor Gavin Newsom had interfered in their case against Activision by firing her boss at the DFEH agency. It was quickly determined that Governor Newsom was interfering on behalf of ABK boardmember Casey Wasserman, who last year donated $100K in support of Newsom’s successful anti-recall campaign. Wasserman is the founder and CEO of an eponymous marketing and management company and on the boards of Los Angeles’ Olympics and Super Bowl organizing committees. Soon after these reports, on April 21st, Wasserman was announced to be departing ABK’s board of directors, as part of a broader PR-friendly reorganization which removed Wasserman and Hendrik Hartong while newly adding two women, VPs at Substack and Bacardi.
April 19th: Blizzard announced the next World of Warcraft expansion, Dragonflight, adding a new land and new playable people. The Overwatch 2 PVP beta launched the week after, featuring only one new playable character (the first whatsoever in two years) and all of four new maps. The Warcraft mobile game will be fully revealed the day after I go to print.
April 21st: A new Wall Street Journal report exposes that Facebook/Meta and “LeanIn” executive Sheryl Sandberg spent years protecting her then-boyfriend Bobby Kotick by helping him bury multiple attempts to report on a restraining order filed against him by a different former romantic partner, because he kept appearing at her home and harassing her.
April 22nd: After two months of deliberation, Raven QA’s union election will go through after the National Labor Relations Board delivered its ruling in their favor. Voting begins before the end of April and the official ballot count will occur on May 23rd.
April 28th: A new employee complaint against ABK was filed with the NLRB, declaring that they were just threatened by a manager after actively discussing ABK scandals and accountability, as part of a broader pattern of retaliation against workers expressing their legally protected rights.
ABK shareholders officially and overwhelmingly voted in favor of the proposed acquisition by Microsoft with 98% approval. The day before the vote announcement, Activision’s stock price fell to its lowest point since the buyout announcement the day before, leaving some more skeptical than ever of the deal’s capacity to go through, between the FTC investigation and effects of said financial instability .
April 29th: Per French publication Gamekult and Games Industry Dot Biz, workers out of the dissolved Blizzard subsidiary studio Blizzard Versailles have won their court case against the company. The appeals court ruled that Blizzard Versailles’ redundancies strategy was unjustified, thus determining that the contesting employees are potentially entitled to compensations equal to at least six months salary.
April as a whole: From the start of April, throughout the month, as several in our community, including myself, witnessed and participated in firsthand, the Xbox Series X console became publicly accessible on a level previously unseen for next-gen hardware. It was listed through official channels at retail price at Walmart and Amazon without instantly selling out, instead taking many hours and even days before running out of stock. New supply orders arrived at big box retailers. When the consoles did sell out, both physically and online, they quickly restocked as well.
My partner and I bought the last unit at a local retailer in the first week of April, and before the work week was over, that store’s supply had already been fully refilled. This basically stayed consistent for the whole month, creating a surge of revenue for Xbox as PS5 languished behind. You can’t buy what you can’t find, and a lot of folk are buying what they can find. Microsoft’s latest fiscal briefing projects that its supply will see some returning further constraints in the summer quarter due to the manufacturer lockdowns in China over COVID outbreaks. This goes to show what I’ve been trying to get across for ages now: these manufacturing problems aren’t going to fully disappear for many years, if ever. There’s nothing to wait out anymore, for players and console producers alike, this is just the status quo now, especially with more improvements on the horizon.
For a brief bit of transparency about something that I know y’all probably already trust me on: I promise I won’t let the fact that I now own a Series X affect my reporting on Xbox, on the newer hardware, or on new software. I’m not going to suddenly advocate for everyone to stop supporting the older and less powerful consoles. I’m not going to become a shill. I am consistent in my principles of accessibility and proper critical journalism. My personal rule was that I’d only adjust my terminology, from next-gen (PS5) and current-gen (PS4) to current-gen and previous-gen respectively, once both the Series X and PS5 were significantly more widely available. The Xbox has finally started getting there, but the PS5 still needs to, and the Xbox needs this to last for more than just one month straight. I was expecting I could make the switch by this fall, but I’m starting to worry it might not be until 2023 at this rate. When Lass and I traded in our One X to offset the costs of the Series X, the store manager did have some optimism about incoming PS5 restocks to his location, but that’s obviously not much on its own.
April 4th: In continuation of the “big news happens right after I go to publication” running gag, Lucasfilm Games, Devolver Digital, and writers/designers Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman officially announced Return to Monkey Island, a new entry in the adventure game series coming later in 2022. This is Gilbert’s first contribution to the series since Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, as he left LucasArts for Humongous Entertainment, and promises to be both the Monkey Island 3 he always discussed/threatened and to dovetail carefully with the previous sequels. The announcement trailer features Murray the Demonic Talking Skull, a beloved character from after Gilbert’s tenure on the series, to confirm his role in the game and vaguely convey the unique position the story will occupy. It isn’t currently announced, but the game as developed by Terrible Toybox and published by Devolver is expected to release on all current platforms.
Later, on April 25th, Kyle Orland of Ars Technica interviewed Gilbert and Grossman, providing some new details on the new game, including gameplay information. In the interview, Gilbert discusses the backstory of how the game came together, and explicitly underlines just how different his ultimate choices were from what he underlined in an infamous old blog post, from artstyle to mechanics. Devolver proposed the general idea of new Monkey Island game to Ron Gilbert and handled most negotiations with Disney and Lucasfilm Games from there. The game will feature new approachability mechanics, namely both a casual mode and a carefully designed and implemented hint system so that people aren’t, I’m paraphrasing here, ruining the fun by having to use online walkthroughs. The creators want the hint system to make sense within their world, “in the fantasy.” They also discussed the new artsyle, new cinematic flourishes, new UI, each along with the gameplay additions being part of their overall desire for looking forward and “building a game for the future, not necessarily the past.”
Wargaming, developer of the World of Tanks series, announced that it has closed its studios in Belarus and Russia in protest of the ongoing assault on Ukraine and Belarus’ support for it. They are now headquartered in Cypress and have divested all of their Russian business assets in spite of the significant loss to revenue the act represents.
Eric Barone discussed new gameplay details for his next project, Haunted Chocolatier, on a recent livestream, explaining that it has a greater emphasis on combat than Stardew Valley, including the new addition of boss battles.
April 5th: Epic Games hosted a State of Unreal presentation which officially announced and released the fully public 1.0 launch of Unreal Engine 5. As part of the presentation’s partner showcase, Square Enix and Epic announced the next new mainline Tomb Raider game, which will be among many* upcoming AAA games in being fully built in Unreal 5.
*(The Outer Worlds 2, Hellblade 2: Senua’s Saga, Dragon Quest 12, Redfall, the new Witcher, and reportedly the new Mass Effect and new BioShock)
Hypnospace Outlaw studio Tendershoot announced two new games in the series, a direct adventure game follow-up titled Dreamsettler focused on the early 2000s internet, and a first person shooter spinoff called SlayersX focused on and “made by” the teen edgelord character Zane from the original game. The indie studio Noble Robot is supporting Tendershoot on Dreamsettler. Both games are said to be coming soon to PC and consoles.
Highly acclaimed ‘destruction game’ Teardown saw its 1.0 launch date announced as April 21st. The game offers 40 bespoke missions, a sandbox mode, and strong mod support, and currently remains exclusive to PC via Steam.
Indie dev Pathea Games announced that their new game My Time at Sandrock, sequel to the life sim My Time at Portia, will launch in Early Access on PC on May 26th 2022.
Major titles Chinatown Detective Agency, Life is Stange: True Colors, and Lost in Random amongst others were all announced and released for Xbox Game Pass. Later on the 19th, Assassin’s Creed: Origins was announced to be coming to Game Pass by the end of Spring 2022 alongside the more immediate additions.
April 6th: Remedy Games and Rockstar announced that they will together release a AAA next-gen exclusive remake of both original Max Payne games, which has just entered concepting and pre-production given Remedy’s very busy schedule. Remedy will develop the game in their modern Northlight engine while Rockstar funds and publishes. The response to the announcement was so strong that it crashed Remedy’s website.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman decided to expand his stake in SNK Corp’s stock, via his EGDC, to the tune of a whopping 96% majority ownership. No diversified portfolios or entertainment industry associations change the abysmal human rights record of the Saudi Arabian monarchy, which brutally, murderously targets multiple groups of which I’m a part.
Sega delayed college sim Two Point Campus from May to August 9th on all platforms for additional polish.
As Ubisoft officially ended support for Ghost Recon Breakpoint the day before while threatening further NFTs in future Ubi games, Ethan Gach at Kotaku reported on the development of the next entry in that series. The game’s been in development for over a year at Ubisoft Paris and is likely to be the next to release, despite a free to play COD Warzone wanna-be being announced in its stead on the series’ 20th anniversary last year. This new game was also previously one* of the many upcoming games accurately leaked from Nvidia’s database.
*I never found a good time or place to cover that story with the depth it needed, but to clarify something and make a very long story as short as I possibly can, all of Nvidia’s data across various servers serving various purposes does intermingle in a single larger database, which resulted in different info from different places all being clustered together with no organization in the leak. Many of those were the actual PC builds or prototypes of those games uploaded early by their publishers ahead of announcement. The featured Square Enix catalogue falls in that category, as I hope is obvious by now between Chrono Cross and Kingdom Hearts 4. But other entries came from other places, places like the servers for the Nvidia Shield with its Nintendo ports, or servers used by fandom wikias, which gave us “Injustice 3: Gods Will Fall.” So, some of them are accurate leaks, and some of them aren’t, but not because of deliberate misleading on anyone’s part.
April 7th: Just like Activision Blizzard King, Riot Games tried to pull some shit when it ordered employees of the Los Angeles HQ office to fully end work from home without any mask or vaccine mandates. Clearly this is a workplace which is transforming itself for the better and takes safety of any and all kinds seriously, what with the reckless risking of people’s health and lives and all.
Rogue Legacy 2‘s 1.0 launch date was announced as April 28th on PC and as a timed console exclusive for Xbox platforms.
April 10th: The Kingdom Hearts 20th Anniversary Event premiered, announcing that the next two entries in the JRPG series, 3D mobile game Kingdom Hearts: Missing Link and mainline entry Kingdom Hearts IV are currently in development. Kingdom Hearts 4 formally begins the Lost Master Saga, the second in Tetsuya Nomura’s planned ‘trilogy of trilogies’. Sora begins the game still trapped in the alternate, more grounded world of Quadratum while Donald and Goofy try to bring him home. Heartless are shown to return as enemies in the faux gameplay footage, with a new kaiju sized form appearing as well. The game is still relatively early in development, but it will be where Nomura puts the vast majority of his time and energy going forward, as he has publicly, explicitly stepped back from his role in the FF7R series.
April 11th: Capcom announced its latest retro collection, Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium, for release later this year.
April 12th: Nintendo and Koei Tecmo released the second trailer for Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, revealing new narrative and mechanical details: the mysterious purple-haired character is Shez, and they’re the main player character, with a grudge against Byleth, making the setting’s previous protagonist now its seeming antagonist. Each of the three available routes is pitting Shez and their chosen Lord against Byleth and a corresponding enemy Lord, making this game effectively about experiencing the other sides of each of Three Houses‘ routes. New gameplay included a traveling war camp hubworld, several previously unrevealed playable characters, two characters’ attacks combining as Partner Specials, the integration of adjutants, class-changing for Shez, and other aspects which further synthesize Fire Emblem Warriors with not just Fire Emblem but specifically Three Houses‘ gameplay. Both Shez and Byleth’s genders are chosen by the player. Lastly, a heretofore unseen major Three Houses character, Hilda’s brother Holst, is featured.
Vertigo Gaming announced the latest entry in its hit indie series, Cook Serve Forever, on social media, with an Early 2023 scheduled launch.
The launch date for action RPG Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising was announced by its indie team on social media: May 10th 2022. Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes was also confirmed to still be on track for a 2023 launch.
After an extended period of PlayStation and Epic Store timed exclusivity, developer Young Horses announced that Bugsnax is releasing for Xbox One and S|X (as a Day One Game Pass title), Nintendo Switch, and Steam on April 28th, alongside the release of the free Isle of Bigsnax expansion update. This spring has been a big milestone for the headlining third party exclusives of this new generation, with PlayStation exclusivity ending for not only Bugsnax, but also Gearbox’s Godfall, while The Ascent arrived on PlayStation from Xbox.
NIS and Vanillaware announced that their 2000s RTS GrimGrimoire is returning as the remastered port GrimGrimoire Oncemore for Switch and PS4. It releases on July 28th in Japan and a Western date is expected to be announced soon. George Kamitani and Vanillaware have explicitly cited the game as an influence on their more recent hit, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. 343 Industries announced that it has recruited developer Certain Affinity as a support team for Halo Infinite multiplayer, in order to better pace new updates for the FTP live service game. Certain Affinity has been doing multiplayer support contractor work for Halo, Call of Duty, and the modern Doom games among others since 2007. The studio is reported to be dedicated to finishing a certain major new mode in order to allow 343i to focus on other parts of the game.
April 13th: In another victory for long-term support of remote work in the games industry, Bungie announced that it is reorienting to a ‘digital-first’ structure where “most current and future roles will be fully remote.”
Due to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority investigation into the fairness of subscription service auto-renewals by all three game console corporations, Nintendo and Sony have followed suit from Microsoft in adjusting NSO and PS Plus so that subscription renewal is exclusively opt-in instead of the previous auto-renewal default, and nobody is accidentally spending lots of money without meaning to. The CMA closed its investigation in response.
April 15th: A Nintendo of America employee who had just been terminated proceeded to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against Nintendo and Aston Carter. From there, things have snowballed over the past weeks, with former employees speaking out on social media and to gaming press, most notably right now in a pair of April 22nd reports at Kotaku by Ethan Gach and Sisi Jiang. The story surrounding this incident and the broader work culture at Nintendo is still ongoing/developing and will receive further updates; other reports are most likely in the works but have yet to run at my publication, such as Patrick Klepek’s at Waypoint.
The key message is this: Nintendo, like so many companies in the games industry, treats its contractor employees terribly. This is not incidental or an aberration, it is systemic and it is policy. 10 current and former employees spoke with the reporters at Kotaku, explaining how a strict hierarchy and dichotomy between full employees and contractors is maintained in which the former hold tremendous privilege over the latter, as contractors are neglected, exploited, surveilled, and coerced.
Contractors at NOA are legally classified as part-time even while they are required to match their full-time colleagues in hours, including overtime, while being deprived of the numerous benefits essential and not that those full employees enjoy. The constant vague promise of eventual promotion to full-time is used to convince workers to tolerate their mistreatment without the reward and relief ever being delivered. More often than not, they were fired or got fed up and left instead. A former employee in customer service said she was at NOA for an entire decade without promotion.
Jelena Džamonja has/had been with Nintendo as a contractor for more than five years, going from QA tester to manager and trainer of fellow testers. She agreed to go on record with Kotaku as she shared a disturbing story. While walking to work in a winter storm, she slipped and hit her head, before starting to show concussion symptoms in the office. The onsite clinic turned her away and the office refused to help her travel to urgent care; she’s not on their insurance, so they won’t do anything for her. ““They want to control you like you’re full-time, but not treat you like a full-time worker.”
Nintendo officially claims that the sole reason the complaint filer was terminated was for NDA violation, but his colleagues say this explanation isn’t consistent with their experiences witnessing similar disciplinary incidents; fairly vague comments like the one he made are supposed to only result in a warning. They back his belief that he is being punished for discussing unions in a February meeting.
Several former NOA contractors have also spoken out on social media, usually in addition to already speaking with a reporter. In addition to reiterating what was discussed above like withholding of benefits and going years upon years with no opportunity for promotion, their publicly available testimonials, some going back years, include: constant threats of termination and industry blacklisting over infractions as minor as being stuck in traffic or taking bathroom breaks; being aggressively discouraged from discussing issues like pay, health, and sexism in the workplace; never being credited for their contributions; regular swapping similar stories across regional offices and departments; being fired right after approval for time off; willful executive awareness and negligence towards a case of a full time employee and team lead who was a predator fetishizing and targeting younger Asian contractors; and most damningly, explicitly saying that they had seen Nintendo’s leadership from Japan regularly visiting the Redmond offices, regularly witnessing these problems, and never doing anything.
One of those speaking out on social media was a full time worker but nonetheless lent her voice to having witnessed just how mistreated contractors are at Nintendo. Plenty of other workers have discussed this mistreatment being heavily normalized and common across the industry,1 and I’ve discussed that as well in my reporting; that only makes this industry’s practices all the more unacceptable, it is no excuse.
Elsewhere on the 15th, Business Insider reported on internals plans and partnerships at Xbox for a new in-game advertising program to be used in free games on Xbox systems, set to launch later in 2022. This has of course proven to be very controversial because it’s such an awful idea.
With legal ownership of No More Heroes now fully reverted back to Marvelous-Xseed per the terms of its deal with Suda51 and Grasshopper, the publisher officially announced that it is releasing No More Heroes 3 on PS4/5, Xbox One/S|X, and PC in Fall 2022. Travis Strikes Again was previously released for PS4 and PC, and the NMH1 and 2 Switch ports came to PC, after periods of exclusivity. The extent to which Grasshopper contributes to developing these multiplatform ports is currently unclear, but I’m looking into it.
April 16th: Longtime Ubisoft employee Patrick Plourdes announced that he as departing the publisher for an independent consulting agency. Plourdes had lead roles on Far Cry 3, Watch Dogs 2, Child of Light, and Rainbow Six Vegas among others, but more importantly, per worker activist organization A Better Ubisoft, Plourdes had multiple misconduct complaints against him and yet was allowed to remain until he left voluntarily years later.
April 18th: Takashi Mochizuki’s latest major story at Bloomberg was an exclusive report detailing Sega’s plans for what it calls its line of “super games.” These will be very big-budget multiplatform live service games modeled after Fortnite and the ‘metaverse’ in the social platform aspect and in how successful Sega wants them, nay, needs them to be as its financial struggles continue. The first two games are based on the cult classic Crazy Taxi and Jet Set Radio series, with the former being further along in development at somewhat over one year, and it is scheduled to release in the next two or three years. Sega recently and explicitly discussed that it wants to use both NFTs and cloud streaming technology in its Super Games projects; in November it officially partnered with Microsoft to use the Azure cloud platform in some capacity in these games. Sega is alongside Ubisoft and Square Enix in being the companies most aggressively resisting the massive, wholly deserved backlash to their interest in blockchain technology.
Marty O’Donnell announced on social media that his and Mike Salvatori’s differences with Microsoft have now been resolved amicably outside of court.
April 19th: The latest announcement from Lucasfilm Games is a big and unexpected one: Five years after her Project Ragtag was canceled at Visceral Games and EA, acclaimed game writer and director Amy Hennig2 is returning to Star Wars with a story-driven action game at her Skydance studio, which had previously announced an unspecified Marvel game as well. By all accounts, this new game is Project Ragtag reborn without EA’s involvement.
Nintendo released the second trailer for Xenoblade Chronicles 3, showcasing the ambitious gameplay previously reported on and unexpectedly announcing that the game will launch on July 29th 2022, two months ahead of the September release window previously announced at the February Direct. Xenoblade 3‘s developmental difficulties (delayed out of 2021 for optimization) were already known to be long in the rearview mirror by the time this announcement was made, creating some confusion until consultation between fellow reporters and sources, and a later announcement, helped clarify things. The game wound up going gold faster than Splatoon 3, an entry in a series with a significantly bigger audience, so Nintendo recently decided that the games would swap their respective previous internal release dates, putting Splatoon in September at the furthest edge of Nintendo’s official summer window (July-Sep.) to receive maximal polishing time, and moving Xenoblade to earlier in the same quarter.
Roughly a month after the next-gen versions of GTA5 launched, it’s been more widely discovered and reported that some (not all, there’s still some certain billboards) of the overtly transphobic content previously featured in the game were actively removed from these new versions. The initial announcement of the new versions had renewed calls for addressing criticism of this content, and it seems that Rockstar did in fact listen after all, to some extent. An additional update just added several more positive features as well, though only one of them directly affects my dignity as a human being.
April 20th: After several accidental leaks in the days and weeks leading up to it, Sega released the main trailer for the Sonic Origins remastered collection, announcing a June 23rd 2022 multiplat launch date, and confirming my previous reporting that its version of Sonic 3 and Knuckles is a brand new creation by returning developer Headcannon in Headcannon and Taxman’s Retro Engine. Completing the Retro Engine remasters at long last was sadly somewhat overshadowed by various crappy decisions by Sega like no physical release, convoluted nickel- and-dime content gating, the use of Denuvo DRM in the PC release, and a press release from a week later revealing that on May 20th, Sega is delisting several previous stand-alone releases of these same classic Sonic games, leaving Origins, Sega Ages, and NSO premium as the remaining official options available for the games.
Xbox head of research and development Chris Novak announced that he is departing Microsoft and Xbox entirely after almost 20 years, planning to rest and refocus before going back to work. In his tenure as design director/architect and R&D head, Novak had key roles in designing achievements, Game Pass, and Play Anywhere.
After many delays and false starts, Bandai Namco and Hyde finally announced a specific scheduled launch date for Digimon Survive, July 29th 2022, the same day as XC3.
Developer Tribute updated the release window for TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge to Summer 2022, alongside the announcement that the original four Turtle actors from the 80s cartoon are reprising their roles in the game.
Paradox announced the release date for Shadowrun Trilogy as June 21st 2022, alongside confirmation that the game is releasing not only on Switch, but Xbox and PlayStation platforms simultaneously, at that time.
In its first update since the Game Awards trailer, two versions of a third trailer were released for the upcoming Saints Row reboot which showcased its character creator and broader customization systems at considerable depth. The game is true to the series’ juxtaposition between a legacy of inclusivity and an irreverent tone, by showcasing new additions of asymmetrical face design and monster aesthetics right alongside the new inclusion of prosthetic limbs and a system that’s more trans-friendly* than Cyberpunk. The character creator was confirmed to be released as a demo ahead of launch in series tradition.
*When I reached out on Discord about this, I actually got two answers directly from Volition team members! They proudly declared “no binaries” and explained further thusly: “nothing is locked by gender, so you can have a more feminine or masculine voice with any body type! – body hair, hair styles, top and bottoms — it’s all accessible to you.” We are fully free to ‘mix and match’ to be either as aspirational or as genderfuck in presentation as possible, far more accurately representing the variety of gender presentation seen inside and outside the trans community without any pointless punishments like locking pronouns to voice.
Koei Tecmo announced that it is following in other Japanese publishers’ footsteps in raising base and starting salaries, increasing the former by 23% and the latter by 56,000 yen.
April 21st: During the first day of PAX East, Gearbox announced two brand new games. The first is a gothic roguelike titled Eyes in the Dark that it’s publishing from developer Under the Stairs, which will launch on July 14th 2022 for PC. The second is a brand new follow-up to Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands narrative adventure game, set for a full reveal this summer (at Summer Game Fest) and launch later in 2022.
All of the non-Switch versions of The House of the Dead: Remake (PlayStation, Xbox, PC) were announced to be releasing just a month later on April 28th.
April 22nd: Judge Laurel Beeler of the District Court of North California ruled to give a qualified dismissal of the class-action gender discrimination lawsuit filed against PlayStation. The ruling declares that chief plaintiff Emma Majo failed to support her personal claims, but by refusing to strike without prejudice due to the additional testimonies added late to the complaint, the case is currently left open with room for an amended, improved complaint to be filed and reopened within 28 days.
At Bloomberg, Ruth David, Dinesh Nair, and Giles Turner exclusively reported on several private equity firms (such as Blackstone and KKR, the two largest private equity firms) eyeing Ubisoft for acquisition. No serious negotiations or formal offers have yet occurred, but there has been preliminary exploration from both sides. The corporation’s single biggest shareholder, the Guillemot family, have long been seen as very likely holdouts for any such deals, as Ubisoft has always been their family business first, and that family pride famously led to fending off the attempted hostile takeover by Vivendi four years ago.
But the company has taken significant damage since the widespread reporting on systemic abuses in its workplace back in 2020, its value having been significantly reduced by a precipitous 41% fall in stock price just over the past year (down by $70+ dollars since 2018), plus the ongoing struggles with high employee turnover, inability to proportionally replace departing workers, and the fallout in game development from those. There is, as a result, significant pressure to reassure and satisfy investors.
When Ethan Gach for Kotaku reported on the news and Bloomberg’s article, they offered the additional insights of their personal sources at Ubisoft. Those senior current and former Ubisoft developers believe Ubisoft will eventually sell to someone, and suggest there are signs for this beyond the obvious aforementioned external pressures and internal struggles. Per these sources, “Ubisoft has been working closely with several outside consultancy firms in recent years to audit various parts of its business.” These kinds of arrangements can be long-term growth preparations, but they can also be getting all your ducks in a row, preparing your finances to be cleaner and more attractive for sale.
The sources suspect the latter because of the combined context of all these issues, Activision now setting the standard for cashing out, cutting and running on your own rampantly dysfunctional and abusive workplace with someone else now responsible for a very steep mess, and lastly, most strikingly of all: they believe from their own experiences that even CEO Yves Guillemot himself has grown tired and reached the point of being willing to at least consider selling. They point directly to one big reason why which transcends all other obstacles for Ubisoft: in April 2021, his son Charlie left Ubisoft, leaving what started as a family business decades ago with no direct option for continuing as that family business past Yves’ lifespan.
On the latest Grubbsnax episode in the last week of April, Jeff Grubb backed up Kotaku’s comments and offered some additional, broader insight about the internal state of the games industry: the Activision announcement in January caused panic meetings at most to all publishers, meetings about responsive strategy, about getting assets in a row, preparing potential terms of sale, and preparing defenses as necessary. Activision had fended off all offers for decades, especially all offers from Microsoft specifically, and now even they fell. If they could, any of them could. Everyone feels more vulnerable than ever. A new reality of consolidation and power players swinging money around has set in.
Look, I was never particularly convinced there was going to be a better available solution to Ubisoft than every worker leaving and the company dissolving. Private equity firms are extremely likely to do just that, but they would only accomplish it in the worst, most mercenary, most harmful to workers way possible. Because that’s exactly what they do, by and large. They are vultures picking dying corporate behemoths clean, willfully stagnating them to hasten the process and feed their ceaseless money hunger, with dead-eyed disinterest in literally anything else. They put extra burdens on the workers who bend and break to now sustain not just one, but two companies’ dead weight. And then they put those workers out in the cold with no warning and no support.
The fourth major trailer for Splatoon 3 was released, showcasing extended, uninterrupted gameplay of the signature Turf War multiplayer mode, and announcing that the game will launch on September 9th 2022. I already explained the backstory behind the surprising release date above. The trailer was accompanied by the announcement that the Splatoon 2 story DLC Octo Expansion had just been added to the premium NSO tier.
One of the superstar games reporters I follow, Shannon Liao at Washington Post, reported on Neftlix Gaming’s latest moves after the large company saw its first net loss in subscribers ever and subsequent major stock drop. In the wake of project cancelations and employee terminations elsewhere in the company, Netflix did not yet hesitate on its investments in gaming, as it sees this as a growth opportunity, for now. Netflix plans for its library to expand to nearly 50 games by the end of 2022 off smaller and third party titles while its larger first party development gradually progresses.
After adding Mario Golf for N64 the previous week, three more Genesis games were released for NSO Expansion Pack: Sonic Spinball, Shining Force 2, and Space Harrier 2.
April 23rd: Via the PlayStation Blog, Sony announced the (targeted) release dates for the PS Plus service overhaul: The update is scheduled to arrive in Asia on May 23rd, Japan on June 1st, North America on June 13th, and PAL regions on June 22nd. The countries newly receiving cloud streaming support at launch were announced as: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. It’s also now been revealed that games on the PS store sold at a wholesale* cost of $34 USD or higher (€33 in Europe, ￥4000 in Japan) are now all required to have timed trials to serve as a feature available in the PS Premium tier. At first the concern was that individual developers, including small indie teams, were all going to be forced into extra work, but now it’s been clarified that Sony has an internal team which will produce the timed trials for each dev and game. The trials must be a minimum of two hours long, the first three months after launch are given before the timed trials have to be ready, and timed trials can be taken down after 12 months of availability. Now, only one concern remains, that Sony is monetizing ($18 a month!) this content based on these developers’ games without providing any share of the revenue.
April 25th: Keywords Studios, a contractor QA studio in Canada with history at Blizzard, EA, Sony, Square Enix, and BioWare, announced that it has filed to unionize. The studio’s QA contractors who are currently working on Dragon Age 4 for Bioware Edmonton have publicly confirmed that they are part of the prospective union. Ethan Gach at Kotaku interviewed a representative for the union to get more details on the story: the announcement of yet another mandatory return to office starting May 9th despite the mass of COVID infections in Alberta is what inspired the devs to unionize. Keywords’ contractors have no access whatsoever to paid time off even when quarantining due to COVID, and they’re dissatisfied with how underpaid they are for their work. They have already been targeted by superiors since the union announcement. The Alberta Labor Relations Board will complete its review of their union application on May 3rd, and preliminarily both the vote and vote count are expected to occur before the end of May.
The PS5 firmware update to support Variable Refresh Rate for compatible games was announced to be arriving that same week. The following games were compatible at release, with more to follow: Astro’s Playroom, Call of Duty: Vanguard, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Deathloop, Destiny 2, Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition, DIRT 5, Godfall, Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Resident Evil Village, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, Tribes of Midgard.
In the evening, Shigeru Miyamoto abruptly announced via Nintendo’s social media that he and Chris Meledandri have delayed the release of their animated Mario movie from late 2022 to April 2023. This is a part of a larger movie schedule reshuffle by Universal Studios. Seemingly accurate leaked details about the film resurfaced and spread more widely soon after.
April 26th: Lead developer and co-owner of the Pokémon franchise Game Freak announced that it was introducing a 4-day work week option, exclusively meant as a help for working parents rather than an office-wide policy. (Employees have to prove eligibility.) Furthermore, Game Freak won’t be rebalancing salary for these employees, which is how this policy has worked elsewhere. Workers have to sacrifice a day’s compensation in order to be able to have extra time for your family. This is despite the studies showing that four day work weeks are often more productive overall due to less stress on the workers.
Indie developers Out of the Blue, who debuted with Call of the Sea, one of my all-time favorite games, announced their second game, American Arcadia. It’s a first person adventure game with side-scrolling platforming segments, set in a 1970s Truman Show style dystopia. The game’s full reveal will be at Summer Game Fest 2022.
After widespread coverage began of seemingly more than 90 Ubisoft games seeing their online services abruptly delisted earlier in the month, Ubisoft responded by clarifying that most of those games were actually delisted last year, and several others were only being taken offline for maintenance.
Crytek announced that it was permanently installing remote work as an option for all current, future, part-time, and full-time workers in its workforce. 80% of its developers are currently working remotely while the rest are at its Istanbul and Frankfurt offices.
As the closure of the Bethesda PC launcher and corresponding library transfer to Steam began, Bethesda released several additional classic games (Elder Scrolls: Arena, Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard, and Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire) to Steam, with the first three being available for free at this time of writing. Since the start of the transfer process, some users have reported their saves being completely lost as a result.
April 27th: Cecilia D’Anastasio reported for Bloomberg on policy updates currently under consideration over at Twitch, and these prospective policies immediately saw a considerable backlash from big and small streamers alike because they significantly affect most streamers’ revenue (with partnered streamers’ revenue going from 70% to 50%) while making it more difficult than ever to grow as a smaller streamer. The 70/30 split has already been unavailable for any partnered streamers who joined in the past few years.
A next-gen exclusive and optimized version of their signature game, This War of Mine: Final Cut, was announced by 11bit and Crunching Koalas to be releasing on May 10th.
Normally I’d save this for an Insider Nonsense newsletter or for after the game’s trailer debut next month, but this news came very shortly after the new newsletter, it’s a game I’ve covered a lot already, and it’s significant enough information, so I’m going ahead with it this time. Via the latest episode of Grubbsnax at Giant Bomb, Jeff Grubb said with full confidence and that he could confirm two new details about the sequel to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, that after targeting holiday 2022 for a long time, Respawn had to internally delay its launch to 2023, and that the game on consoles is exclusive to next-gen hardware, Xbox Series S|X and PS5.
April 28th: As reported by Shannon Liao for Washington Post, Cher Scarlett filed a complaint with NLRB against Epic Games, charging the Fortnite megacorp with hiring discrimination, believing that after four rounds of interviews with the company, she wasn’t hired because of her public record of labor organizing. Scarlett was one of the first of many women who’s spoken out on being sexually harassed while working at Blizzard, and she labor organized at Apple. The NLRB has opened an investigation.
A shocking late development arrived in the case of one of last year’s most infamous games, Balan Wonderworld, when director Yuji Naka announced on social media that because there was no longer an active court case over the game, he could publicly discuss it again, and boy did he have a lot to say. Naka says that in 2020, he fought with Square Enix and Arzest over sticking to the game’s previously announced release date because they all knew just how unfinished it was, and so he had already been removed as director as punishment by September, six months before the game’s troubled launch. He has been suing Square Enix over this treatment and that is the legal case which has just resolved. He expressed regrets that he was legally obstructed from warning prospective buyers about the game’s quality.
Naka went all the way on burning bridges with not only the publisher but also his own studio he founded more than a decade ago (two if you count its previous Artoon iteration). Naka is known for being a bully to his subordinates, so I’m unconvinced that we’re getting the full story vis a vis “all these different department heads united together in kicking me out.” Based on his attitude in the thread, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn he was also making unhealthy demands on Balan’s devs as part of the proposed fixes to the game. Lastly, I’m also not sure if just more time and better polish would’ve completely salvaged the game on its own. There were issues at the core design level. He at least clearly has at least some good points and concerns here about the industry prioritizing financials over game quality and audience satisfaction.
Our first Post-E3 E3-season officially started being underway with the announcement that the Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase will occur on June 12th 2022 at 10 AM Pacific/1 PM Eastern.
April 29th: Roughly six minutes of playtest footage from Ubisoft’s long-gestating pirate live service Skull and Bones leaked online, showcasing how the game has finally been refined after years of stagnation and internal chaos in its development. Due to both the massive financial cost of the game at this point, reportedly more than $200 million, and a contract with the Singapore government, Ubisoft has just about run out of patience with the game and will launch it soon enough (they want it to be this fiscal year), regardless of what state it’s in. However, that hasn’t stopped from already delaying the re-reveal and release multiple times this year alone. Shortly after the leak occurred, Ubisoft publicly acknowledged it on social media while teasing that the game will be officially showcased again soon, 4 years after its previous public appearance at E3 2018.
This (formerly) next and final major headline of the Roundup came with the explicit notation that there wasn’t enough sourcing and confirmation to justify formally reporting this story yet, so I urge you to take it with a bigger than average grain of salt, for now. It would’ve gone into my rumor roundup if it came out early enough. Now: Fanbyte’s Imran Khan has stated that, following this month’s closure of the WB-Discovery merger and subsequent installation of all new executive leadership at WB, the new management has renewed negotiations to sell off its internal game development studios and solely participate in games via licensing out its IPs. Khan says that interested parties which might have already taken meetings on this include: Microsoft and Sony, Tencent and NetEase, PUBG Corp, EA, and Take-Two. This information tracks with the already confirmed info that new CEO David Zaslav has pledged to cut $3 billion dollars in costs at the company due to his conservative business strategy, and per Emily Rogers, he as an older, traditionalist media executive neither particularly understands nor cares about video games, he sees no need to spend money on them.
The company would face the same obstacles it did the last time WB explored this option under AT&T’s ownership: it’s not easy to convince someone to pay once for a dev by itself, and then keep paying to use the IPs with which that dev prefers to work, and which WBD definitively aren’t selling off. Obviously a lot of these dev3 have a prestige and record of profitability to them which provide value, but that only goes so far relative to how much WBD could demand for them. Unfortunately, if this is all true and Zaslav won’t back down from this plan, then the worse, only alternative to selling developer studios would be closing them outright. And what of MultiVersus?!
EDIT: Well, fuck me, I woke up at 6:30 this morning, my time, just to see another huge, awful story staring straight ahead at me. And on an impulse I just decided to put it in now instead of letting it sit all month. This running gag of huge stories happening after I publish has gone too far.
May 2nd: EMBRACER GROUP BOUGHT MOST OF SQUARE ENIX WEST. In the middle of the night for us Americans and early morning in Europe, Embracer Group, which owns THQ Nordic, Gearbox, and a vast, swollen mass of individual developers, announced that it has arranged a deal to purchase the developers Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montréal, and the now former Square Enix Montréal, in turn buying the IPs of Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, Thief, Legacy of Kain, and several dozen4 back catalogue games/series, all for only $300 million dollars. The deal is expected to close in the next quarter of the current fiscal year, between July and September 2022. Those three developers add up to roughly 1100 employees worldwide across various studio offices, and *sighs deeply* bring Embracer as a whole to more than 14,000 employees, 10,000 developers, and 120 internal studios total. Square mismanaged these studios and their games for years, misspent millions of dollars on what should be an unimpeachable franchise, and now they’re punishing these studios for not matching needlessly inflated costs and expectations to their exact satisfaction. At least they didn’t close everything and fire everyone.
Square Enix has clarified that it still owns, publishes, and supports several Western-oriented developers and series like Eidos’ Just Cause, Outriders, and Life is Strange, this is not a full offload of its Western branch. It also doesn’t affect Hitman, which Eidos published and owned at one point, as IO now owns that outright. Square has also effectively just kicked out everyone who worked on the two AAA Marvel games released in the past two years, for those keeping track. I’m not clear on the status of their Marvel license. Is it expiring anyway? Is a Japanese dev tackling it next? We’ll see.
Reporters as we speak are laying out what led to this and unsurprisingly saying that Square had been planning to sell them somewhere for a while. Embracer in its IP farm ways makes perfect sense as a buyer candidate now too. Square sees this deal as a more efficient reallocation of resources (i.e., it was never easy to balance supporting the Western and Eastern branches of the publisher) as well as a revenue injection which they will put towards further investments in technology including blockchain. Yes, to be reductively pithy, but correctly dismissive about it, they basically just sold Deus Ex to fund fucking cryptocurrency bullshit. They’re going to waste a lot of the money they’re getting anyway. That’s Square Enix for you.
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