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!
December 19th: Activision Blizzard King President and Chief Operating Officer Daniel Alegre was announced to be leaving the publisher on March 31st 2023 with the end of his current contract. There is no successor for the position currently confirmed. Alegre was later revealed to be joining the Bored Ape Yacht Club blockchain and NFT corporation as CEO.
ABK mobile department and Candy Crush titan King, the K in ABK, announced that it was fully shutting down its 2021 mobile Crash Bandicoot spinoff, On the Run, on February 16th 2023.
December 20th: Ten individual everyday gaming enthusiasts elected to exercise their rights to the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 by joining the Federal Trade Commission and together filing a lawsuit against Microsoft to halt the ABK buyout for its anticompetitive, hyperconsolidating nature.
December 22nd: Microsoft and Activision separately and publicly filed formal responses with the FTC in response to its lawsuit over the buyout deal. The original, full 37 page draft of Microsoft’s response can be read at The Verge, but a revision was filed in January to remove all text which made the highly questionable, incendiary accusation that the FTC’s actions were violating the Constitution itself.
December 27th: With Blizzard Albany’s formal victory as ABK’s second unionized studio now in the books, support dev subsidiary Proletariat (roughly 60 developers who worked on WoW: Dragonflight) stepped up to bat to announce themselves as the third ABK studio filing to unionize, complete with cheeky jokes about the studio’s name along the way. The Proletariat Workers Alliance privately asked ABK for voluntary recognition the Wednesday before the announcement, and is attempting to make its own ABK history and games industry union history by being the largest studio so far in which all non-management staff are unionizing, rather than just the QA departments like at their sister ABK studios and ZeniMax at Xbox. Proletariat’s main demands as a union include flexible paid time off, no mandatory overtime, remote work availability, and DEI policies. Proletariat opened in 2012 as a venture capital startup indie from Zynga, Insomniac, and Harmonix veterans, and their 2020 battle royale Spellbreak led into the acquisition by ABK in June 2022.
January 3rd: Per Reuters, the first pre-trial hearing between the FTC and Microsoft + ABK occurred on January 3rd, with the full internal FTC trial scheduled to occur in August 2023, past the deal’s previously intended deadline. The FTC’s attorney commented at the hearing that there’s been no current headway towards a settlement that would cancel the trial, no substantive settlement talks from either party yet.
Chile’s Fiscalía Nacional Económica regulator became the latest minor national regulator to approve the Microsoft-ABK deal, after a phase one investigation concluded.
January 5th: The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority extended its deadline for completing the ABK buyout investigation and releasing their final decision, delaying from March 1st to April 26th, although that’s only the latest it can publish now, not the only date it can be published.
December 12th: Warner Bros, Outright Games, and developer PHL Collective announced their new family friendly game DC’s Justice League: Cosmic Chaos, a co op open world action game launching March 10th 2023 for PC, Xbox One/Series S|X, PS4/5, and Switch. PHL Collective dedicatedly fulfills the now oft-neglected niche of cheap licensed kids’ games with Ben 10 and CGI Addams Family games preceding this new title, among others.
Nintendo announced and released the third and final free update for Mario Strikers: Battle League, adding Birdo and Bowser Jr. as playable characters, as well as another new stage and new gear.
Following the Game Awards reveal trailer, FromSoft president Hidetaka Miyazaki and the game’s director Masaru Yamamura discussed Armored Core 6 in an interview at IGn. Following from the blueprint of the last Armored Core game Mikayazaki worked on more than a decade ago, the game will be a synthesis of the series’ traditional design and Soulslike elements, rather than completely going over to the more popular Soulslike style.
13th: Capcom debuted the previously teased second main trailer for Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection, announcing that it will launch for all confirmed platforms on April 14th 2023. The collection’s two digital volumes cost a whole $40 each, making the $60 physical release for Switch and PS4 the vastly better deal.
In the midst of new presentations on the game, WB and Avalanche Software gave an update on the last-gen release windows for Hogwarts Legacy: the PS4 and Xbox One versions will release April 4th 2023 and the Switch version will release July 25th 2023, following from the previously announced PC/PS5/Xbox Series S|X launch of February 10th.
Alongside Limited Run’s long-anticipated physical release of the former finally happening, Night in the Woods and Overland saw native 4K60fps PS5 ports announced and shadowdrop released.
December 14th: Almost immediately following the previous demise of Fuser, Epic Games announced that it will kill online support for or entirely delist more than 20 back-catalog titles, including the majority of Harmonix’s other games and the Unreal Tournament series. Five Rock Band games (1, 2, 3, Beatles, Green Day), five Unreal games (Unreal Gold, Unreal II: The Awakening, Unreal Tournament 2003/2004/GOTY Edition), Dance Central 1-3, Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess, 1000 Tiny Claws, and Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars, will all permanently lose online servers between the announcement date and January 24th 2023. The games being outright shutdown are DropMix, Battle Breakers, SingSpace, Rock Band Blitz, Rock Band Companion, and Unreal Tournament Reboot Alpha, and subsidiary MediaTonic’s Hatoful Boyfriend/HB: Holiday Star has lost its Linux and Mac versions but not its Windows release, after the games were previously delisted from the PlaySation store. Rock Band 4 as is will continue to be supported, and Unreal Tournament 3 is being relaunched as the free to play UT3X via Epic Online Services.
Two new PlayStation Blog posts made the latest announcements for PSVR2 ahead of its February launch: 6 Japanese developer partners revealed new PS5 and PSVR2 games, most notably Fantavision 202X, the first sequel to the unique, oft-memed first party PlayStation 2 launch title after 23 years. Developed by Cosmo Machia Inc., the new action puzzle game built in Unreal 5 will build on the original’s fireworks themed gameplay with 4K resolution, the POV VR provides, and haptic feedback.
Falcom revealed Ys X: Nordics for PS4/5 and Switch, which will launch in 2023 for Japan and sometime later worldwide. Falcom promises major gameplay additions like ship-based traversal and multiple changes to combat they proclaim to be a “drastic revamp.”
Take-Two’s smaller scale publishing label Private Division had a new announcement in time for its 5th anniversary: it will publish the next survival horror game by Bloober Team after Layers of Fears and Silent Hill 2 Remake in 2023, a new original IP which will launch in calendar 2025 or later.
December 15th: Developer Crystal Dynamics, publisher Amazon Games, and notably not CD’s new parent company Embracer Group, unexpectedly announced that Amazon Games is co-funding, publishing, and distributing the next Tomb Raider game, an early in development project which was previously originally announced at Epic’s April State of Unreal presentation as a Unreal Engine 5 game. The multiplatform single player story-driven action game is described by Crystal Dynamics as the “biggest, most expansive Tomb Raider game to date” and one which will “unify the timelines of the prequel/reboot trilogy and the original games.” This isn’t the first rather unique collaboration before and after the Embracer acquisition, with Crystal Dynamics having also taken over lead development on Xbox’s Perfect Dark and Eidos providing support development on major Xbox games like Fable.
Daedalic Entertainment and Yaza Games announced that Inkulinati, the multiplayer turn based strategy game in the same kind of illuminated manuscript artstyle as Pentiment, will release in Early Access/Game Preview for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and Game Pass on January 31st 2023. The game will arrive for Switch at its 1.0 launch.
Sony and Insomniac Games started the full marketing cycle for Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 by confirming a Fall 2023 launch window for it long after that became the most obvious and likely target.
Nintendo announced and released four more Sega Genesis games for nSO Expansion Pack as December’s only nSO addition: Virtua Fighter 2, Golden Axe 2, Alien Storm, and Columns.
Justin Roiland revealed that the harmful, controversial practices AI algorithm generated art and voice recording were both used in Squanch Games’ High on Life which just launched to massive success on Game Pass.
December 16th: Seven members of Congress wrote and delivered a letter addressed to the executive leadership of 15* major games publishers asking for more information on their policies addressing online harassment and extremism in the communities within and around their games. Axios publicly leaked the letter’s contents.
*Activision Blizzard King, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Microsoft, Riot Games, Sony, Square Enix, Take-Two Interactive, Tencent, Ubisoft, Valve, Among Us‘ Innersloth, PUBG‘s Krafton, and Roblox Corp.
Very fresh off completing her contributions to God of War: Ragnarok as a gameplay producer, Hannah Foell announced that she was departing Sony Santa Monica to join Nintendo of America in third party management, dedicated to fostering new partnerships with AAA developers and publishers and bringing new games to Nintendo’s consoles.
Due to LinkedIn job listings directly leaking the existence of the project, Sony’s Guerrilla Games went ahead with officially announcing an online co-op focused Horizon spinoff starring new characters which is currently in development at the studio, which is understood to be separate from the Horizon MMO being licensed out to NCSoft. Guerrilla’s post directly distinguishes its three teams and three projects, these aforementioned multiplayer games and the still fully single player Horizon 3.
December 17th: A veteran developer who worked in video games from 1984 to 2009, from Atari to Wii, Archer Maclean passed away at the age of 60, mourned widely by his industry colleagues and the retro gaming community.
Shortly after an ESRB ratings board leak and far, far too long after I first accurately leaked the games and they were originally announced, right on time for the series’ 35th anniversary date, Square Enix finally officially announced the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster Collection releasing for Switch and PS4 in Spring 2023. The series’ original six entries will be available both individually and as a collection on the consoles’ digital stores, and there is a very very limited physical release of the collection in both standard form and mega-expensive anniversary edition. The console release is also rumored to be replacing the controversial default font featured in the remasters’ PC release.
In the wake of the successful launch for Need for Speed Unbound in December, five senior developers from Criterion Games departed the developer and EA, as reported by Chris Dring at GamesIndustry.biz.
John Carmack announced his departure from Facebook/Meta and “the end of [his] decade in VR”, saying that self-sabotage at the highest levels of leadership is ruining the potential for VR development. Carmack, hilariously, is leaving for an AI startup.
December 18th: Riot Games was revealed to be caught up in the recent implosion of major crypto corp FTX, as Riot is now desperately attempting to dissolve a seven-year sponsorship contract with FTX signed in 2021.
December 19th: Epic Games agreed to two separate settlements with the FTC adding up a total payment of a record-breaking $520 million, over Fortnite‘s exploitation of the minors in its playerbase by collecting their personal data and extracting massive amounts of their money without the knowledge or consent of their guardians, among other concerns.
Nintendo hosted a daily news video event for indie games on Switch for the entire week of December 19th to the the 23rd, culminating in the long-awaited shadowdrop launch of Switch exclusive Sports Story that Friday after a December ’22 window was given at the previous Indie World show. The following is every game featured roughly in order: Day 1 – Floppy Knights and Mortal Shell: Complete Edition shadowdropped, Pupperazi coming Early 2023, Roman Sands RE: Build coming Summer 2023, Day 2 – Punchuin by Shin’en, developers of The Touryst, and The Captain shadowdropped, The Gecko Gods and Risk of Rain Returns coming 2023, Day 3 – Sonority and Sail Forth shadowdropped, Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator coming Spring 2023, Tin Hearts April 20th 2023, Day 4 – Melatonin and Hyper Gunsport shadowdropped, Smile for Me Spring 2023, Afterimage April 25th 2023, Day 5 – Sports Story shadowdropped, Undying Spring 2023, Dust & neon 2023, and major JRPG Sea of Stars coming Summer 2023.
Sports Story‘s launch sadly did not end the woes that started with the five year wait and many delays, as the game saw mixed reviews over its severe technical issues and bumper crop of additional sports to play. A hidden room of developer commentary offered insight into development and what led to its launch state, illustrating a major disagreement over how many new sports they should do, with the argument that focusing on only a few additions would’ve allowed for far greater technical and design polish.
Considerable amounts of gameplay footage repeatedly leaked from Ubisoft’s China-set mobile Assassins Creed game Project Jade.
December 20th: Developer Sloclap announced, following a Spring 2022 PS/PC release and November Switch release, that its latest game Sifu will release on Xbox One and Series S|X (and Steam) in March 2023. A free update to all platforms carrying the new Arenas mode will arrive alongside these ports.
Former Valorant diector Joe Ziegler revealed that he had joined Bungie to work on Destiny 2 very shortly after his departure from Riot Games.
December 21st: Square Enix unexpectedly announced that the fifth update for its live service kart racer Chocobo GP would be its final major update, killing support entirely after only 9 months, though the game will remain playable for now.
Feral Interactive waited until the end of 2022 to formally confirm that they had delayed the release of their Switch ports for Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris from 2022 to 2023.
Triangle Strategy officially passed 1 million copies sold.
Nintendo announced that from here on out as of its then-forthcoming next Splatfest event in early January for Splatoon 3, the TriColor Turf War mode will be tweaked in a few ways, most notably that it will now be consistently available as a TriColor-battles-only option.
December 23rd: Metaverse and VR developer and part-time social media empire Facebook/Meta reached a $725 million settlement on the class action lawsuit over its personal data dealings with Cambridge Analytica, the largest ever for Meta and for data privacy cases.
December 27th: A now-deleted NHK article reported that Yuji Naka and Taisuke Sasaki had both been formally indicted for their multiple charges of insider trading, with no current word of a trial scheduled and Square Enix cooperating with the investigation of their former employees.
December 30th: Skunkape Games officially announced their third and final rerelease of Telltale’s Sam & Max adventure games, Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse Remastered, coming later in 2023 with no currently confirmed platforms. The series’ finale entry notoriously missed some of its predecessors’ platforms by only coming to PC, PS3, and iPad in 2010. The first two remasters came to all last-gen consoles between 2020 and 2022.
Developer Massive Monster announced and detailed a free Major Content Update coming to their hit Cult of the Lamb later in 2023. Further technical fixes for console versions are also planned.
December 31st: Jordan Fragen at VentureBeat reported that Youtube’s latest policy update seemed to be directly leading to an increase in demonetizing of gaming videos, particularly due to violent game content.
January 1st: Fumito Ueda and developer GenDesign of The Last Guardian, successors to Team Ico, effectively confirmed via social media that their next project, published by Epic Games, will be revealed in 2023, “finally a year with lots to talk about [for us].”
Square Enix President Yosuke Matsuda’s contribution to annual new year’s festivities was to once again, for the second year in a row, publish an open letter extolling the virtues of the blockchain tech industry, this time even insisting that the industry’s failings in 2022 will only make it better and worth further investment just like the obstacles other “great innovations” faced. He very effectively demonstrates the point that I’ve been consistently trying to make for ages now, that unlike the fairweather games industry leaders that can be dissuaded by enough collapse in the market, he is a crypto true believer and the only way for Square’s relationship with blockchain tech to go away is a seismic change in the company and its leadership.
January 2nd: In a new Kickstarter update, Nightdive Studios announced that they had allegedly truly locked in a March 2023 launch for System Shock Remake, acknowledging that it’s far from the project’s first release window, but insisting that they have reached the last few steps left after all the extra polish applied thanks to additional funding from Prime Matter.
January 3rd: With a winning supermajority of votes counted after December 31st and recognition from Microsoft, the 300 QA devs of Zenimax Workers United fully became Xbox’s first gaming union and the largest union in the games industry. At this point, the greater, more challenging milestone for game developers’ labor rights will be the first actual successfully negotiated union contract.
Jason Schreier at Bloomberg reported on a major update to Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast’s video game project plans, claiming that the corporations have canceled at least five separate unannounced games from the previously promised seven or eight total, as a severe scaledown of investment due to Hasbro’s sales downturn in 2022. An official WOTC spokesperson told Schreier that fewer than 15 employees would lose their jobs from the decision, but that deliberately omitted the impact on independent commissioned studios such as Otherside and Hidden Path. Hidden Path publicly denied that their open world D&D game had been canceled, but Schreier in his response cited two sources including the aforementioned spokesperson to dispute their statement.
China’s games industry took a major step forward back into growth when 44 foreign titles and 84 local games were newly approved for domestic release over a year after the regulatory game approval process was most recently suspended, and nine months after domestically produced games first began being approved again. The new releases include Valorant and Pokémon Unite, both through Tencent, as well as seven South Korean games, more than tripling the total of those officially released in China.
Game Freak announced that its acclaimed ten year old cult classic with an impending 3DS-shop-based demise will see a new edition release to salvage its existence after all. Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On! will internationally release for iOS and Apple Arcade on January 20th, after a previous failed Japan-exclusive mobile release in 2014. Pocket Card Jockey and HarmoKnight on 3DS were the beginning of Game Freak’s ongoing Project Gear Initiative for modern small-scale original game projects, allowing its portfolio to expand and its developers to refresh and gain new experience on breaks from Pokémon entries.
IO Interactive announced that as of Hitman 3‘s second anniversary, it will fully fold the most recent Hitman game trilogy into a single World of Assassination Trilogy launcher on January 26th, in an effort to further streamline players’ experience of the game series while the developer focuses on its separate new projects, Project 007 and Project Dragon. This $70 launcher pack contains all three base games for all new players and as a free upgrade for all existing owners of Hitman 3 alike, as the single main product now available. All existing players of Hitman (2016) and Hitman 2 will still have access to individually playing those games, but those games are otherwise removed from individual sale. DLC for games 2 and is alternatingly available both individually and as a $30 bundle based on ensuring players don’t end up paying for the same content multiple times.
Roger Kean was announced to have suddenly passed away from motor neuron disease just four months after his life partner, cofounder and illustrator Oliver Frey died of cancer. Kean and Frey were veterans of the UK gaming magazine and game guide scene, and Frey was a legend of the gay art and comics worlds.
January 4th: Sony had several announcements at its CES 2023 presentation, most notably Project Leonardo, an intensively designed, customizable, dedicated accessibility controller for PS5, which is currently in development with no release window. A free Gran Turismo 7 VR mode was announced for PSVR2 alongside a Beat Saber port, and the first trailer for the Gran Turismo movie was shown. Lastly, while speaking at CES, Jim Ryan proclaimed the PS5 shortage and confirmed that the PS5 passed 30 million consoles sold during the 2022 holiday season, or at least 10.7 million total in the fiscal year.
EA publicly commented on the sudden widespread corruption of Madden 23 save files, confirming that it was due to a data storage issue which has sadly rendered up to 60% of total player data unrecoverable.
Embracer Group via Gearbox announced their acquisition of 3D capture studio Captured Dimensions.
January 5th: The FTC continued its major moves by voting 3-1 to give preliminary approval to its newly proposed outright ban on non-compete clauses in the US workforce. This would be a huge sea change for workers’ rights and does directly affect the games industry, as these have previously been weaponized against developers by game publishers in high profile cases in North America and Japan.
CD Projekt Red officially settled the class-action lawsuit against it for $1.85 million, paying out to investors over the deliberately misleading presentation of Cyberpunk 2077‘s technical quality in the lead up to its launch, on the condition that the publisher won’t actually have to directly admit wrongdoing.
Following a confirmed loss of almost $5 million USD in 2022, major visual novel game developer Mages saw its chairman and director Chiyomura Shikura resign and transition to an executive producer position. Among many titles, Mages created Steins;gate and produced the Famicom Detective Club Remakes for Nintendo.
Right before AGDQ 2023, Games Done Quick founder Mike Uyama announced that he will be departing the company after 13 years and $40+ million in charity fundraising, replaced by Matt Merkle as owner and director.
The native current-gen ports/free upgrade for World War Z: Aftermath will release on January 24th alongside a new mode exclusive to these versions, the Horde Mode XL.
The modern independent games magazine Wireframe by Raspberry Pi Press was announced to be ending circulation after four years, though its online version will remain available and with some extent of ongoing support.
January 6th: NetEase announced its acquisition of SkyBox Labs, a Canadian developer who primarily contracts support dev to larger publishers like Xbox and EA. Those partnerships will continue as SkyBox joins other acquired NetEase studios like Quantic Dream and Grasshopper Manufacture.
Supertrick and GungHo announced that they will end online support for the very recently launched Deathverse: Let It Die on July 18th, but this case is unique from some other recent cases like this: rather than immediately, fully abandoning the battle royale, they currently plan to significantly redevelop and rerelease the game in an undefined window. Of course, Anthem can tell you how that kind of thing can go.
Baba is You developer Hempuli released a brief, free joke “sequel”, Baba Files Taxes.
January 8th: Very brief footage alleged to be of an unannounced first party PlayStation game in development leaked online, showing a Mass Effect like RPG and third person shooter. The game’s development is said to be a collaboration between Sony’s XDEV and an unknown external partner.
At age 81, character actor Earl Boen, original voice actor of Monkey Island‘s Captain LeChuck, was reported to have passed away from lung cancer. Having played the character in Curse, Escape, and Tales, Boen retired from voice acting in 2017 and when approached by Ron Gilbert for 2022’s Return, he gave his blessing to be replaced.
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