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!
January 10th: In an inevitable move, Activision Blizzard King executive leadership, and Proletariat’s own heads as well, rejected voluntary recognition of the Proletariat Games union. If this had followed the pattern of Proletariat’s two predecessors at ABK, this would’ve moved them into yet another needlessly drawn out NLRB election despite already having a supermajority of yes votes. Instead, the union petition was withdrawn entirely. In the widely reported framing of the CWA and employee Dustin Yost, the petition was withdrawn because CEO deliberately Seth Spivak broke down the voting body with intimidation tactics. One cofounder and some other workers at Proletariat have publicly disputed that account, in short arguing that a vote was preferred over a card check by some workers because they felt uninformed, pressured, in serious disagreements, and in need of more time, saying that the CEO was just trying to help resolve differences, and accusing the CWA’s “adversarial communication” of damaging its own support. Current and former workers then fired back in turn, arguing that Proletariat has a seriously abusive workplace culture of constant insults, bigotry, and ‘toxic positivity’ coming straight from its management and founders, and that the leadership is just preserving their own power and freedom to mistreat workers with abandon by fighting the union.
It’s rare that I give this much equal space to ‘both sides’ of a debate like this, but I felt a need to be transparent in the process of how I investigated this story and experienced its development over time.
January 12th: Per several reporters at Bloomberg, the Federal Trade Commission spoke with representatives of both Google and Nvidia regarding the ABK buyout, providing information that could go towards building the cases for and against it ahead of the trial scheduled later this year.
January 13th: NetEase committed further to the end of its partnership with Blizzard by fully dissolving its team dedicated to supporting Blizzard’s games, and sending multiple public petty messages shortly afterward which included livestreaming the teardown of a World of Warcraft statue at its headquarters. A skeleton crew will remain in the short term for customer service support regarding the games’ delistings. Days later, details emerged of Blizzard offering a new six-month extension to the partnership, the terms of which NetEase rejected as disrespectful, over-demanding, and commercially unsound for them.
January 16th: Foo Yun Chee at Reuters reported that the European Commission was preparing to file a formal antitrust complaint against Microsoft and the ABK buyout as part of its investigation, including what’s known as a charge sheet, a list of objections and concerns to the buyout that Microsoft must observe before the EC will hear any concessions and solutions proposed by Microsoft, as the EC’s April deadline bears down. On February 3rd, it was confirmed that Microsoft had been formally issued the EC’s aforementioned antitrust warning.
January 20th: Per Axios’ Stephen Totilo, the lawsuit by individual gamers against the ABK buyout will move forward to a preliminary, motion-to-dismiss hearing on March 9th 2023, after a judge ruled against Microsoft’s motion to freeze that lawsuit until after the FTC case concluded. The ‘gamers’ lawsuit’ since subpoenaed Bobby Kotick, Jim Ryan, and Doug Bowser for testimonial in the trial.
January 23rd: Jason Schreier reported for Bloomberg that WoW Classic lead developer Brian Birmingham had suddenly departed Blizzard over his refusal to enforce the company’s ‘stack-ranking’ system and policy. Stack ranking works at base like this: it places all employees on a bell curve of performance which in turn determines their total financial compensation by influencing their profit-share bonus percentage as well as their chances of raises and promotions. Blizzard makes this already awful practice worse by mandating that at least 5% of the total workforce be categorized under this lowest rank of performance evaluation even if some of those employees are actually performing better, intentionally underpaying workers to siphon even more money towards top positions. This is what drove Birmingham to raise his objections in a staff-wide email and threaten to quit if the policy wasn’t reversed, at which point he was punitively fired. Birmingham’s email underlined how damaging this policy is to morale and cooperation, and discussed that he’d deliberately avoided practicing the policy for several years until it was recently more strictly enforced.
After Schreier published the report, both Birmingham and colleague Josh Greenfield spoke out on social media to say that Schreier had chosen to make the report while including his full name in the article without speaking to him at all, without receiving his permission, without any concern for its effects on his career. Birmingham focused on directly, publicly giving his further thoughts on his experiences at Blizard and the larger problems within ABK.
As part of ongoing pretrial proceedings with the FTC over the proposed ABK acquisition, Microsoft subpoenaed Sony to provide documents, relevant information, and potential testimonial for its case for the trial over the deal. Sony had until January 27th to respond to the subpoena.
January 25th: Leah Nylen reported at Bloomberg that multiple sources claim the fast, sudden filing of the FTC’s lawsuit against Microsoft and the ABK deal was strategically motivated to change circumstances for the European Commission, after it had discussed plans to move forward with a settlement on the buyout in a phone call just hours before the FTC filed. Though highly unconventional, this alleged impulsive action would’ve effectively helped give the European Commission the freedom to go ahead with its own antitrust complaints as discussed earlier in the Roundup.
January 27th: Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan was reported by Reuters to have met with the European Commission’s chief for the ongoing ABK deal investigation. Shortly after, Microsoft’s Chief Communications Officer publicly accused Sony of misleading EU regulators on Micosoft’s Call of Duty deal offers to Sony. It seems most likely to me that there was no intentional deception, just a disagreement between Xbox and PlaySation over the definition of true parity.
February 3rd: The Securities Exchange Commission officially reached a settlement with ABK after its extended investigation into its widespread workplace misconduct; ABK agreed to pay a $35 million penalty on its violation of the SEC’s whistleblower protections and to accept a cease-and-desist order. The SEC’s conclusion also found ABK’s misconduct investigations and reports to be faulty.
February 4th: The latest entry in the New York Times’ business newsletter Dealbook commented on the ongoing ABK-Microsoft debacle, suggesting further corroboration between the three main national antitrust regulators on top of what Bloomberg reported, and claiming that Microsoft’s legal team already anticipates the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority to oppose the deal as well.
January 5th: An article at Wololo mistakenly reported that keeping your PS5 console vertical would inherently cause long-term damage due to thermal paste leaking out onto other parts, but this misinformation was quickly countered by other reporters and the engineer they were citing: this issue is no more common than your average form of console failure, and the extent to which vertical orientation affects it is untested, as the engineer was only discussing a fraction of the PS5s submitted to him for repair.
January 7th: The recently launched, critically acclaimed indie survival horror game Signalis has a physical release confirmed for Switch and PS4, launching with standard Western retailers at the end of February.
January 8th: Mark Gurman at Bloomberg reported that Apple’s biggest gaming project to date, the Reality Pro VR/AR/mixed-reality headset, is scheduled to be revealed this Spring for a Fall 2023 launch as its big new product of the year. The Reality Pro has been in development for seven years and had its launch delayed through every year since 2019, siphoning resources from other engineering departments along the way. It’s also reported to be featuring its own new unique OS and full App Store integration, and to already be in the hands of a select few high profile software developers. Per previous Gurman reports on Apple, the headset is expected to cost between $2000 and $3000.
January 9th: Five former employees of Striking Distance Studios spoke with Brendan Sinclair at GamesIndustry.biz for a report that roughly 20 developers total, themselves included, were all omitted from the credits for their recently launched project The Callisto Protocol, a practice which has grown increasingly infamous in the games industry for its effects on morale and getting new work. The devs report that the studio never communicated any policy of credits omissions, and that “senior developers, leads, and directors” at Striking Distance and Glen Schofield’s previous studio Sledgehammer Games (one of the three main COD studios) are all affected by the decision. The credits more generally are described as designed around playing favorites based on relationships rather than the actual work involved.
January 10th: Several major lead developers on the Forza Horizon series announced their departure from Playground Games for the formation of a new studio, Maverick Games, which has secured significant initial funding for operations and its first project, a AAA open world multiplatform game.
Facebook/Meta officially announced the end of support for the original Oculus/Meta Quest after its launch four years ago. Major bugfix and security updates will only continue for it into 2024.
TMnT: Shredder’s Revenge surprise released for mobile devices on Netflix as the media giant’s latest gaming get. The mobile version is locally single player but still supports online multiplayer.
January 11th: Ubisoft announced its latest fiscal results and new managerial decisions in response to said fiscal results, which reported the complete 2022 calendar year as a major disappointment for the floundering, overextended publisher. The current fiscal year’s forecast was slashed from a 10% growth to a 10% decline, at least three more games were newly canceled on top of the previous four projects killed less than six months ago, and the launch of Skull and Bones was delayed yet again. Additionally, more than $500 million in costs were written off and a plan of more than $200 million in cost reduction were announced. Ubisoft is framing this as primarily responding to the underperformances of Rainbow Six Extraction, Roller Champions, Just Dance 2023, and Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, as last year’s major releases, as opposed to broader obvious structural problems like excess of scale and cost or the massive ongoing hemorrhage of workers due to an untreated systemic toxic workplace culture.
Skull and Bones was delayed from March 2023 into the next fiscal year that starts in April, with Ubisoft releasing 30 minutes of new gameplay footage and promising the new specific release date will be announced ‘very soon’ as a failed reassurance on a game so costly it needs the interference of a whole government just to ensure it releases. A week after the announcement, Tom Henderson’s reporting forced Ubisoft to officially confirm that Project Q, a multiplayer game it had already announced, was among the projects newly canceled in order to allocate its resources and personnel elsewhere. Suspicions abound that Ubisoft will sell off some IPs and studios to keep afloat, especially as multiple sources confirm that previously reported efforts to attain a merger have failed, because they would saddle the candidate companies with excess debts, far too unwieldy a developer slate, and a desperately clinging to power Yves Guillemot.
As reported by Schreier at Bloomberg, head of Amazon Games San Diego John Smedley announced his departure from the developer and publisher after six years of operating the studio with multiple projects canceled. He will be replaced by Andrew Sites, with whom he worked at Sony Online Entertainment before moving to Amazon together.
The president of developer Piranha Games revealed that they are working on their third consecutive new entry in the Mechwarrior series set to be formally revealed later in 2023. It will be a single player game like Mechwarrior 5 but is being framed as stand-alone rather than a sequel.
A limited physical release on all existing platforms for Return to Monkey Island was announced.
January 12th: In my last news roundup, I criticized the AI art practices used at developer Squanch Games on High on Life, just days before far, far worse became much more widely known. As reported first by NBC news, prolific writer/voice actor/Squanch cofounder Justin Roiland was arrested in 2020 on charges of felony domestic violence and imprisonment of a woman he was dating, with a protective restraining order filed against him and a series of pretrial hearings held over the years, with no current trial date set after the most recent hearing on 1/12, the same day the news fully broke publicly. In the weeks between this initial report and when Roiland’s departures from Adult Swim, Hulu, and Squanch Games were confirmed on January 24th, numerous former colleagues and contacts of Roiland’s made numerous further allegations against him and published screenshots of DMs from him, from workplace harassment to the grooming of minors. Furthermore, Squanch Games was revealed to have settled a 2018 lawsuit for workplace harassment and wrongful termination, with Sarah Doukakos accusing colleague Jeff Dixon of mistreating her and the studio’s heads of ignoring her complaints, firing her, and pressuring her into signing a liability release in order to receive severance.
A new PlayStation blog post and trailer for Season: A Letter to the Future announced the game’s launch date as January 31st for PS4/5 and PC while providing new details on the game. As I’ve reported twice before during previous appearances by the game in its marketing cycle and was originally reported by the great Rebekah Valentine, development of the game and its predecessor title was marred by constant brutal, sexist abuse both directly from and abetted by the studio’s cofounders and CEOs towards the rest of its staff.
January 16th: Very shortly ahead of Atomic Heart‘s February launch, developer Mundfish was faced with a mounting series of criticisms and controversies, building off allegations back in November of extensive crunch, mismanagement, and unpaid bonuses. What kicked off in January was claims of their connections to sanctioned Russian companies, the Russian government, and funding from the government, and the association of this to the developer’s “apolitical” public stance on the war in Ukraine, accusations which escalated further with the discovery of their Russian online store which stated that they harvest personal user data and send it to Russian government agencies like its Federal Security Service, akin to the US’ Homeland Security. Mundfish calls the store’s info “outdated and wrong.”
Major racing sim developer Motorsport Games reached a climax to a series of mounting internal difficulties which started with withholding employee wages, as one employee has been alleged by Tom Henderson to be blackmailing the studio’s heads with a threat to publicly release the source code of all four of their games if developers aren’t finally compensated their unpaid salaries by a January 25th deadline.
Developer Blue Wizard Digital announced that due to a failed licensing renewal, their game Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle would be delisted for all platforms on January 23rd, while remaining available to preexisting owners.
January 17th: French national trade union Solidaires Informatique, (which we’ve previously covered regarding their activities in support of victims of workplace misconduct at Quantic Dream) called for the Ubisoft Paris branch to go on strike in response to Yves Guillemot’s poor leadership and his comments pinning the publisher’s fortunes turning around on devs working harder. On January 27th, at least over 40 workers did just that, with an untracked number of remote workers also participating in the strike, adding up to allegedly at least 15% of the total workforce. Ubisoft Paris workers and Solidaires Informatique are planning further strikes to come for key moments in production cycles.
Following the previous major layoffs last summer, Unity announced that it was firing 284 more employees.
Toge officially, finally announced the launch date of visual novel sequel Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly as April 20th 2023 for all platforms, PC, Switch, PS4/5, and Xbox One/Series. A physical release of both the sequel and the original game for PlayStation and Switch by Serenity Forge were also announced, which will debut the native PS5 port of the original Coffee Talk.
Koei Tecmo and Gust delayed the international launch of Atelier Ryza 3 by one month from February 24th to March 24th 2023 for last-minute additional polish.
As development on Remnant 2 continues, its predecessor, the 2019 soulslike shooter Remnant: From the Ashes was announced to be coming soon to Switch by THQ Nordic and Gunfire Games, later confirmed as a March 21st release date.
January 18th: The tech industry’s leading corporations engaged in a whopping series of worldwide layoffs all one right after another, with 11,000 at Facebook/Meta, 18,000 at Amazon, 12,000 at Google and its parent company Alphabet, and 10,000 at Microsoft. This news broke early with various publications before being directly confirmed by the companies soon after. Multiple Xbox departments were soon confirmed to be affected from the latter by Schreier at Bloomberg and Levi Winslow at Kotaku, with 343 Industries being hit hardest by losing nearly 100 people, but Bethesda Game Studios and Gears of War‘s The Coalition being affected as well. This scale of harm to so many livelihoods would be heinous no matter what, but is particularly when strategically timed to goose earnings reports of profit declines preceded by ongoing massive bonuses for CEOs, and occurring in a time of record scale labor organizing.
While the full scale of reporting on the state of 343 Industries post-layoffs will have to be elsewhere in this Roundup, as for The Coalition, we have comments from Jeff Grubb on February 2nd, saying that the developer’s layoffs were a consequence of the studio’s transition from working on three different projects at once to canceling two of them and shifting solely to working on Gears 6, a transition which allegedly has been occurring over the past year.
The closure of Google Stadia officially occurred as of January 18th, accompanied by multiple further decisions to manage its impact, like Google updating all Stadia controllers to function as universal Bluetooth controllers, and necrosoft Games adding their Stadia-exclusive Gunsport to its sequel Hyper Gunsport on Steam for free.
FuturLab and Square Enix Collective officially ended PowerWash Simulator‘s timed Xbox exclusivity and announced the game’s release date for PS4, PS5, and Switch as January 31st 2023. In an amusing artifact of the halcyon “before all the IPs got sold off by Square” days, a free Tomb Raider themed DLC for the game on all platforms will release on the same day. A Final Fantasy 7 DLC was announced later.
Obsidian’s CEO Feargus Urquhart had a new interview with Game Pressure conducted in December and published in January, in which he explained, in the wake of New Vegas 2 rumors, that Obsidian won’t be ready to make serious inroads towards another new project until “maybe the end of next year,” or Late 2023, due to having their hands full primarily with their major RPGs The Outer Worlds 2 and Avowed, as well as post-launch support for Grounded.
January 19th: Just four months after Fandom acquired GameSpot and Giant Bomb among other sites from Red Ventures, its CEO held a surprise all-hands meeting which announced the layoffs of 40-50 workers, including two of GB’s three editors, veteran Jason Oestricher and Jess VoidBurger O’Brien, in one of several brutal blows to games media this month.
With the Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden remasters finally launching, the games, especially in their main credit sequences, were exposed as failing to credit many of the translators that worked on their previous and current international localizations, as discussed publicly by some of those that worked on them, including their localization coordinator Katrina Leonoudakis, who recently left Sega. It was specifically the department for FIGS localization, French Italian German and Spanish, that was directly affected by Sega and Atlus’ failings here.
Publisher Paradox Interactive and developer Triumph Studios revealed their new game Age of Wonders 4, the latest entry in the RTS series, which will launch for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series S|X on May 2nd 2023.
Indie developer Sunnyside Games revealed their new game with publisher Dear Villagers, Nocturnal, which is a sidescrolling action platformer set to launch later in 2023 for all current platforms.
Sega and Amplitude announced that Endless Dungeon will launch for PC and cross-gen Xbox/PlayStation on May 18th 2023, with the Switch release coming later at an undefined time.
ArcSys Works announced that Guilty Gear Strive‘s playable debut on Xbox consoles will be via an open beta test from February 3rd to February 6th, which will test the game’s Xbox servers and crossplay with PlayStation ahead of its full Xbox One/Series/Game Pass release later this spring.
PlayStation made yet another announcement about PVR2, finalizing its launch window lineup and featuring another dozen or so games, including ports of Rez Infinite and Tetris Effect: Connected. Except, one game was then punted out of the roster four days later on the 23rd, as Supermassive delayed the launch of fullstop exclusive The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR to March 16th.
Former Naughty Dog lead dev Bruce Straley criticized the new hit TV series’ failure to credit or compensate him as The Last of Us’ co-director and cocreator, saying that it makes a strong case for the necessity of games industry unions.
January 20th: GameSpot and Darryn Bonthuys, via the alleged ‘Bathrobe Spartan’ leaker among other sources, reported on the state of 343 Industries following the previous mass-layoff news, with the big headlining statement being that 343i had been entirely pulled off developing the Halo franchise after a decade, in favor of broadly overseeing fully outsourced Halo Infinite support, spinoff production, and pre-production of a new mainline game, all under more modest budgets after the outrageously expensive and shaggy production of Infinite. The report also alleged that a campaign expansion/story based DLC for Infinite has been canceled for the sake of cost cutting. 343 proceeded to issue a very brief response just for denying that they are no longer making Halo themselves and no other parts of the report.
On January 31st, Jason Schreier issued his own report on the situation at Bloomberg, saying that 343i will keep being Halo’s principal developer, even as outsourced support development will expand, but the the studio’s and the series’ direction are effectively being rebooted yet again. All of its previous leadership is out now between the layoffs and departures, with a fresh team taking over, it is officially abandoning 343’s 15 year-old proprietary Slipspace engine in favor of Unreal 5, ad the budget cuts are indeed real as well. 1 Schreier’s sources went ahead with commenting on most other major rumors about the state of 343 and the Halo series. 343 and Certain Affinity’s main project together right now is indeed the long rumored Project Tatanka, where the switch to Unreal is starting, and it did start off as a battle royale, but it’s not locked in as that yet. There was apparently never any Halo Infinite story-based DLC in the works to begin with, despite the popular rumor and assumption, just various prototypes for new games that have yet to evolve further.
It didn’t take long after concrete sunsetting rumors took off in late 2022 for Crystal Dynamics and Embracer Group to officially announce that all support for Marvel’s Avengers will end in 2023 after only three years since its 2020 launch. The final content update for the live service will release on March 31st, and all support will end on September 30th. However, the game in both single player and multiplayer will remain playable after September 30th for the time being, it is not remotely accurate to claim that the game is already being delisted this year. The Winter Soldier will be the game’s last new playable character and the game’s final balance changes will arrive alongside him, and at the same time, all cosmetics will henceforth be made free for all players and microtransactions will be removed entirely. At the same time as all the other news, Spider-Man as a playable character was reconfirmed to still never be coming to non-PS platforms even as the game’s support wraps up.
Vox Media fired 130 more employees across various departments, after a previous 2022 round of layoffs. Though it’s presently unconfirmed if gaming and tech departments Polygon and The Verge were affected, it’s yet another tragic blow to the state of journalism all the same. There’s a Vox Media Union GoFundMe active right now in support of those affected. On the same day, Riot Games fired 46 people.
Independent developer Bedtime Digital Games announced that their next game, Figment 2: Creed Valley, will see a simultaneous multiplatform launch on March 9th 2023, having been delayed to avoid crunch.
January 21st: After its initial September 2022 launch, Session: Skate Sim was announced to be releasing for Switch on March 16th 2023.
January 23rd: Mac Walters announced that he had departed Bioware at the end of 2022 after almost 20 years at the RPG studio as generally one of its biggest creatives left standing, including serving as the head writer of Mass Effect 3, director of Andromeda and the Legendary Edition rerelease, and producer of the upcoming Dragon Age: Dreadwolf.
A new presentation by Thunderful Games and developer The Station revealed the next new entry in the genre-spanning Steamworld series, SteamWorld Build, a city builder focused on managing the setting’s mining towns, set to launch later in 2023 for PC, PS4/5, Xbox One/Series, and Switch, with a demo out now on PC.
2K and Visual Concepts officially revealed WWE 2K23 shortly after it was leaked just days earlier, announcing that the game will launch on March 17th 2023 for PC, PlayStation, and Xbox, with the popular Wargames matches making their debut in the game series as a new feature, and John Cena featured on the game’s cover and in its story mode in celebration of his 20th anniversary with WWE, which is currently mired in controversy over Vince McMahon’s return to leadership and his plans for it going forward.
After a whopping almost two straight years since I first reported in March 2021 that the entire series is coming to Switch and Square proceeded to confirm all but one game at E3 2021, a port of Life is Strange 2 for Switch was finally officially announced to release digitally on February 2nd 2023.
Devolver and Flying Wild Hog announced that Trek to Yomi would release for Switch on January 30th, 8 months after its initial launch.
January 24th: As first broke by the New York Times, the Washington Post engaged in plans to abruptly and completely shutter its acclaimed games reporting division Launcher, firing major reporters like Nathan Grayson along the way, in the biggest, latest blow yet to games journalism as a mainstream-supported endeavor. Grayson confirmed that due to union rules, this was an advance warning of the terminations rather than immediate action taken, as he will officially remain employed until Mach 31st.
Riot Games announced that its source code for League of Legends and TeamFight Tactics, as well as League’s legacy anticheat platform, had been stolen in a ransomware server hack. Riot jointly declared that no player data had been compromised in the attack, that the ransom would not be paid, and that updates for the games would resume shortly after a brief period of restoring systems. Riot first confirmed the hack in fewer details on January 20th.
Destiny 2 was fully taken offline on all platforms for almost 24 hours straight due to various recurring major bugs, and other maintenance issues in the week since have opened concerns to the game’s longer term viable functionality.
Developer Tower Five and publisher Microids revealed a new RTS, Empire of the Ants, set to launch in 2024 for PC and consoles, with a wishlist page already on the PS store. For my lovely friends in the Rabbit community reading this, no, this is not based on the HG Wells story or the shitty 1977 movie based on it which we showed last year. It’s actually based on an unrelated 1990s novel by Bernard Weber.
After surviving the extended process of being acquired and shut down by Google, reforming as new developer Raccoon Logic and successfully negotiating ownership of their IP back from Google, the developers of Journey to the Savage Planet officially announced the native current-gen port and free upgrade for the game as launching for both PlayStation and Xbox on February 14th.
Some months after being first announced, the rerelease of eurojank cult classic RPG Risen was shadowdropped for Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.
Indie metroidvania Curse of the Sea Rats saw its full multiplatform launch date announced as April 6th 2023 by Petoons Studio and PQube.
After two years’ worth of delays, Daedalic and Nacon’s The Lord of the Rings: Gollum received a new release window for between April and September 2023, AKA the first half of the next fiscal year.
In typical fashion for live services, developer Fatshark announced that Warhammer 40K: Darktide‘s seasonal updates and Xbox Series S|X will be indefinitely delayed as they focus on catching up with addressing the launch state of the game.
January 25th: EGM Now, the latest incarnation of Electronic Gaming Monthly Magazine, was announced to have shut down immediately and laid off all staff.
Right before its initial Japan-only, Switch-only launch this January, the international multiplatform launch date for Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life was announced as June 27th 2023.
Due allegedly to an abruptly filed title trademark complaint against the widely anticipated MMO The Day Before, developer Fntastic delayed its launch to November 10th 2023 and delayed further game trailers until the legal situation is resolved. This was only the latest controversy for the game, from the frustration of barely any marketing since 2021, to more serious criticisms of its use of unpaid labor and allegations that it was using various stolen assets in its trailers. The promised new gameplay trailer did finally arrive on February 2nd.
In reporting on AEW Fight Forever‘s launch, a minor wrestling publication made the unconfirmed allegation that the game is in release limbo due to the company applying for a desired T for Teen rating which the ESRB has repeatedly rejected due to the extent of its violent content.
In commemoration of the game’s fifth anniversary, a new physical release for Celeste was revealed by Extremely OK Games and Fangamer, with both standard and deluxe editions for Switch and PS4.
Finally, the very first Xbox Developer Direct premiered, after being announced two weeks earlier and being rumored for months since Fall 2022. I among many other reporters learned last year that, in order to better manage marketing and news for first party projects and partner games, Xbox began shoring up its video production department for year-round Nintendo Direct style video presentations which will now supplement the annual June Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase. The fact that they’ve turned out to be literally called Xbox Directs is hilariously audacious, but the general move was smart and obviously overdue. When this general Direct was officially announced, Xbox also confirmed that there’s a dedicated Developer Direct for Bethesda’s Starfield currently in production for a Spring premiere.
Earlier that day in the leadup to this presentation, Rare and Nintendo independently released the Xbox and Switch versions of the full trailer for Goldeneye 007, which launched on the consoles’ respective services on January 27th 2023 after such a long wait. As previously reported, online multiplayer for the game is only supported on Switch, while 4K resolution is only supported on Xbox.
The presentation proceeded apace through its previously confirmed segments from Mojang and Blackbird Interactive for Minecraft Legends, Turn 10 for Forza Motorsport, Tango Gameworks for their brand new game, Zenimax Online for Elder Scrolls Online, and Arkane Austin for Redfall. Minecraft Legends was announced to be launching for all platforms on April 18th 2023, with the action-RTS’ multiplayer support also detailed, featuring online campaign co op and competitive team-based PVP, where two sets of human players battle not only each other but also AI enemies. Forza Motorsport saw no updates to its 2023 release window, raising concerns that it will miss the previous H1 2023 target, and there’s already rumors of a delay to summer or fall. Starfield of course also remains at risk of another delay.
With the Xbox ports of Ghostwire Tokyo still on the way after its launch in March 2022, project director John Johanas and studio founder Shinji Mikami introduced the surprise reveal and shadowdrop launch of Hi-Fi Rush for Xbox Series S|X, PC, and Game Pass, a rhythm-action platformer in cel-shaded full 3D with a licensed soundtrack which has been widely appraised since its launch roughly two weeks before I publish this article. Hi-Fi Rush had been in production since 2018 from a smaller secondary team alongside Ghostwire, being planned with complete secrecy to avoid skepticism over such a change in direction for Tango and Bethesda. That secrecy was largely maintained up to the reveal, outside of a title and logo leak the day before.
A cinematic teaser revealed the new ESO expansion: Necrom, coming June 5th 2023 for PC and June 20th for consoles and featuring the new Arcanist player class. This news was accompanied by a full dedicated ESO Twitch stream after the show for more details and all previous DLCs for the MMO becoming free for a limited time. Lastly, Arkane had a new extended gameplay showcase for Redfall featuring both critical path missions and side quests, revealing the previously leaked fifth and sixth playable characters as post-launch paid DLC and confirming the previously leaked May 2nd, 2023 launch date on PC, Game Pass, and Xbox Series S|X.
January 26th: Kotaku’s Ethan Gach and Tom Henderson reported that two new Far Cry games are in development at Ubisoft Montreal for a currently scheduled 2025 launch and were discussed in an internal company-wide memo earlier in January, these games being Far Cry 7 and a spinoff multiplayer live service title. Per Henderson, the multiplayer part of Far Cry 7 was broken off into its own game after former series overseer Dan Hay departed in 2021 for Blizzard, similar to what happened at Naughty Dog with The Last of Us Part 2 and its forthcoming multiplayer spinoff. The multiplayer game will likely be set in the Alaskan wilderness with survival mechanics. Per Gach, Far Cry 7 is retiring the series’ previous aging Dunia engine in favor of the proprietary Snowdrop engine introduced with The Division and currently in use at many forthcoming Ubi games.
Annapurna Interactive and developer Giant Squid confirmed the final release date for the Switch and cross-gen Xbox versions of The Pathless as February 2nd.
UK-based independent support dev Studio Gobo announced that they were joining work on Sony’s Horizon franchise.
January 27th: Following early January leaks of Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast’s planned 1.1 update to the D&D Open Game License, and a massive public outcry to the anticompetitive, highly exploitative nature of said changes, both the 1.1 update and its revised 1.2 version were permanently dissolved in favor of preserving the original OGL and releasing the SRD5.1 under an irrevocable Creative Commons license effective immediately.
In conjunction with the Amazon Games deal for the next Tomb Raider game, Lesley Goldberg at The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Amazon has secured a multimedia licensing rights deal for the franchise in one of its biggest purchases after MGM and LOTR, with plans for a singular cross-media universe consisting of the new game along with a new movie and a TV series written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Later, on February 1st, the long gestating roguelike mobile game Tomb Raider Reloaded was announced to be launching on February 14th for Android, iOS, and Netflix.
January 30th: Kat Bailey exclusively revealed at IGN that all three console publishers, Xbox, PlayStation, and nintendo, are not participating in the E3 2023 event whatsoever, neither digitally nor on the Los Angeles Convention Center showfloor, in a huge blow to the ongoing attempt to revive E3. Per Bailey’s sources, the past issues of distrust towards the ESA and poor communication and organization have both continued with no end in sight, keeping major partners away from E3 for yet another year and making very challenging for ReedPop’s incoming event management to make any real difference or change for the embattled ESA and its event. Independent digital marketing will likely continue as the preferred approach for some time.
Guerrilla Games’ recently confirmed co op spinoff for Horizon saw gameplay footage and screenshots leak online, showcasing a primitive rendition of the planned more cartoony artstyle, as these are captures of a summer 2020 build and not the game’s current state.
January 31st: As previously leaked, Ubisoft revealed the third entry in its racing series, The Crew: Motorfest, launching cross-gen later in 2023. It’s set in O’ahu, Hawaii, and began closed public beta testing for PC on February 1st.
EA and Respawn announced that the launch of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor had been delayed by six weeks to April 28th 2023 for the sake of further polish.
After Tom Henderson first reported it a day earlier, Epic Games and Iron Galaxy confirmed that they will shut down their FTP melee battle royale Rumbleverse on February 28th, just six months after its launch. EA independently killed two multiplayer mobile games at the same time.
Xbox announced that the Xbox 360 digital storefront would lose more than 40 major games as of February 7th. Microsoft confirmed to Gematsu that all of these games are only being delisted on Xbox 360. The vast majority will remain available via backwards compatibility on the Xbox One and Xbox Series S|X, in addition to playing existing copies and purchases.
I cross-referenced the list myself and found only exactly two games that will be significantly affected by the delisting: Ubisoft’s RTS R.U.SE., which requires a physical copy for BC support, and Eets: Chowdown by Don’t Starve’s Klei. Eets will disappear entirely in this particular form as a digital exclusive with no BC support on the Xbox line, though it remains on Steam as Eets: Munchies.
Later, a brief panic ensued when what Microsoft calls an error on the same Xbox support pages suggested that the Xbox 360 store was closing entirely in May 2023.
In a cover story for Game Informer, many new details were revealed for Resident Evil 4 Remake. Escorting Ashley has been significantly redesigned, with the addition of new puzzles that she helps with, and removal of both her health bar and keeping her waiting in a corner or dumpster, so she’s now always vulnerable but she also dies less easily, going into a revivable downed state first before dying. The original famous QTE sequences were largely removed in favor of more dynamic gameplay options. There’s new sidequests, a new crossbow weapon, and new enemies, while ammo crafting returns from the other recent remakes. The game supports six different control modes including one modeled on the original Gamecube layout. 12 minutes of new gameplay footage were soon released by Game Informer.
Dicey Dungeons was announced to release on February 6th for PS4 and PS5.
February 1st: Back in July 2022, I reported on a new project in the very early ‘incubation’ stage at Respawn, the first new single player story driven shooter within the Titanfall and Apex Legends franchise since Titanfall 2 more than six years ago. EA had previously publicly teased the game in July 2021 upon its start. ‘Incubations’ are projects in a state where they’re considered not formally greenlit yet and can end production at any time with minimal financial loss taken due to the small scale and time involved. As such, the following can’t be too surprising, though it is still deeply disappointing. Jason Schreier reported for Bloomberg that EA had canceled this new project, Titanfall Legends, as part of larger cost reduction, citing three internal sources. Roughly 50 developers were on the game and will be exploring reassignment to other projects with risk of being fired. Jeff Grubb later commented to clarify the ways in which the project had been framed in relation to Apex Legends: it was a campaign mode within Apex, mixing Titanfall and Alex elements and existing as part of an ongoing plan to expand the battle royale into a larger shooter platform, with a team deathmatch mode coming very soon, that was confirmed by the Season 16 announcement on my day of publication.
In quite the pleasant little surprise, Nintendo of America officially announced that Switch Game Vouchers were returning to North America more than three years after they were discontinued in July 2019, despite remaining supported in all other regions in the interim. These vouchers allow for two $60 first party/exclusive Switch games to be digitally preordered or purchased at a discount of $10 off for each game, and the library of games that support these vouchers include most major releases, including the upcoming Kirby and Bayonetta games. A NSO membership is now required to access these vouchers. This news was leaked by the video being accidentally published early for a brief time. This immediately precedes the publisher’s next fiscal update on its Holiday 2022 quarter, and likely an upcoming new Nintendo Direct.
Sony announced that the PS5 launch benefit of the 19-game PS Plus Collection will be retired on May 9th 2023 in favor of supporting the new tiers of PS Plus. This came on the same day as announcing that its most recent first party game, God of War: Ragnarok, has now sold 11 million copies total in its first three months/as of the end of January.
February 2nd: Turtle Rock Studios announced that they are officially ending support for the live service Left 4 Dead spiritual successor Back 4 Blood and fully moving onto their next game.
Jeff Grubb offered some broad, predictable, but likely accurate details on Marvel’s Wolverine as development continues at Insomniac alongside Spider-Man 2. He said that an M for Mature rating is on the table for the game, that it will have a semi open world design similar but distinct from Spider-Man‘s, that it avoids similarities with the past Fox films and immediate X-Men involvement, and that it could release as soon as Fall 2024, although 2025 is more likely.
Ghost Ship Games announced that as part of celebrating their game Deep Rock Galactic‘s fifth anniversary, they are adding a new free mode which preserves the state of the game from its original 2018 early access release.
February 3rd: Tom Henderson reported new alleged details out of Dragon Age: Dreadwolf, almost immediately followed by direct leaks of gameplay footage and images on Reddit from Bioware’s long in the works RPG. Henderson’s report suggested that Bioware’s claim from late last year that the game is “playable from start to finish” is more of a technicality, with placeholder text and absentee voice lines experienced by the sources he’s spoken to, who I suspect are mostly playtesters like the Reddit leaker. It’s easier than ever to imagine the game slipping into 2024 and nearing a full decade since Inquisition‘s launch. Henderson also reported gameplay elements: a central hub like DAI’s Skyhold, but compared to Destiny‘s and suspected to have tied into the cut multiplayer, and describing the combat as more streamlined and less hybrid than ever, more hack n slash, with very little control over party members. The Reddit leaks back up those gameplay details, featuring the Grey Warden HQ/fortress hub, Weisshaupt, completely real-time combat with no direct control over party members, as well as very well-polished animations. The player character in the leak is an elf knight, suggesting variable class and species once again.
Multiple more live services were announced to be ending on the same day, with Velan’s dodgeball game Knockout City ending support in June and Smilegate’s Xbox port of its pan-Asian hit shooter CrossfireX completely shutting down May 18th, barely a year after its launch, and including not just multiplayer but also Remedy’s single player campaigns.
Venture Beat’s Dean Takahashi reported that Dauntless developer Phoenix Labs effectively exited their acquisition by Singaporean publisher Garena, going private again and returning to independence thanks to an investor-backed buyout from their founders and management.
For additional polish, and probably marketing purposes relative to the airing of the HBO series, Naughty Dog delayed the release of The Last of Us Part 1 on PC from March 3rd to March 28th.
February 5th: During the Tekken World Tour 2022 Finals, Bandai Namco debuted two new videos from Tekken 8 and officially announced a closed alpha test, which will be held at EVO Japan in March. The videos were an extended, in-depth gameplay breakdown, and an announcement trailer confirming veteran character Nina Williams for the game, who now uses two pistols in her moveset.
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