Game News Roundup: April 2023

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!

ABK Updates

April 3rd: The US Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard King over its plan for an unfair, salary limiting tax for players in its esports leagues, and a settlement was reached in the lawsuit on the same day. The settlement entails a mandated commitment to never impose any limits on salaries for esports competitors.

April 8th: Jez Corden reported on Blizzard’s previously announced new survival game, describing development that’s “so close to being complete,” visual stylization consistent with other Blizzard games like Overwatch and WOW, and claiming that the final title is Odyssey.

April 11th: Microsoft announced another 10 year cloud gaming licensing contract for Xbox games and theoretically ABK games, for UK mobile/internet service provider EE. The apparent anticompetitive value for this deal is rather flimsy as of right own, as Xbox Game Pass and xCloud are already partnered with EE and the UK company has no streaming platform of its own. On April 28th, after the CMA ruling had already occurred, Microsoft committed to the bit with yet another 10 year cloud gaming contract, this time for N-ware, which is based in Spain.

April 12th: It increasingly feels like it’s not even worth giving this much attention anymore, but the “gamers’ lawsuit” against the ABK buyout successfully survived for at least another day by being properly amended and refiled ahead of deadline.

April 17th: South Africa’s Competition Commission joined its fellow international regulators in approving the ABK buyout without further concessions, as did Ukraine‘s before the end of April, but these were never going to be April’s most important regulatory ruling, not by a long shot.

April 23rd: Derek Strickland reported across two articles that back at the end of March, the Federal Trade Commission subpoenaed Nintendo for more information on the potential Call of Duty deal with Microsoft, more specifically for testimonial from Nintendo of America’s Steve Singer who negotiated the COD contract, and Nintendo has since responded by filing to dismiss said subpoena, charging that the FTC missed its deadline for filing. FTC Administrative Judge D. Michael Chappell later struck down that motion to dismiss and ordered Steve Singer to testify.

April 24th: Sina Technology in China reported that NetEase is now suing Blizzard for 300 million Yuan/roughly $44 million USD, seeking to cover the refunds put on netEase’s shoulders after their licensing deal ended, the costs of unsold merchandise and sunk development on canceled games, and the provisions favoring Blizzard in the original licensing.

April 26th: The UK’s Competition & Markets Authority officially ruled to block the proposed ABK buyout, delivering a long awaited decision that isn’t what it was widely anticipated to be at this point. The CMA soon published its 418 page document reporting its investigation in full, while Microsoft immediately declared plans to formally appeal the decision. The CMA report’s contents embody not just the problems in Microsoft’s actions but some of those at the heart of the entire broader games industry as well. I will discuss the appeals process below.

Per a UK legal article I found here, the process Microsoft will be undergoing is as follows: the Competition Appeal Tribunal provides oversight to the CMA’s decisions under a judicial review basis, assessing the procedure of the investigation and ruling rather than the arguments themselves, which has usually ended in the CMA’s favor, but even when the CMA is ruled against, it’s usually to refer the case right back to the same decisionmakers at the CMA itself to mend holes in their case rather than strike down the decision entirely.

There’s only so much ABK and Microsoft’s stubbornness and money can do against these conditions, no matter what one thinks of the quality of the CMA investigation. It’s an especially stark circumstance when considering one of the only other remaining solutions here is these corporations outright withdrawing from or enacting drastically different business practices in at least one major market. At what point does sunk cost pale in comparison to just how much you’ve failed to achieve your main goals?

Everything Else

April 1st: EVO Japan saw Tekken 8’s first fully new announcements in sometime, with the game’s first Western closed alpha tests dated and veteran fighters Asuka and Leroy both newly revealed for the game as playable fighters. Asuka’s mother Jun, appearing for the first time since Tekken 2, was previously announced for the game in the Game Awards trailer, but their dedicated trailers divulged how the characters’ gameplay will differentiate when they’re both in the same game for the first time. Later in April, Asuka’s rival Lili was newly revealed to be returning as well.

A week later on social media, Katsuhiro Harada announced that crossplay support will debut in Tekken 8 after he first fought for it on 7, and that rollback netcode will return for the game.

April 3rd: Devolver Digital acquired developer Doinksoft, who released Gato Roboto and Demon Throttle and are presently working on Gunbrella for Switch.

Konami’s recent resurgence into game production saw another major milestone as it founded a new development studio in Osaka.

Aaron Couch reported at THR on a new deal between Legendary Entertainment (producers of Detective Pikachu) and Capcom for projects based on the Street Fighter franchise in both TV and film. Right before the end of April, Borys Kit also from Hollywood Reporter ran a story on the directors in final negotiations at Legendary for a new Street Fighter film, Danny and Michael Philippou of indie horror Sundance breakout Talk to Me.

April 4th: The news that Xbox first party exclusive Quantum Break was suddenly leaving Steam and Game Pass caused quite a stir, leading to developer Remedy officially stating that it’s a temporary delisting due to expired licenses which the developer was already in the process of renewing as soon as possible. By April 29th, the game was restored to availability.

April 5th: Hugh Langley at Business Insider reported from two sources at Google that Phil Harrison left the company entirely at the time of Stadia’s closure in January. He’s presumably embarking on a Bill Bixby Hulk esque road trip of finding more massive tech companies to sabotage and waste money at with his abysmal project management, after his roles in the PS3, Xbox One, and Google Stadia launches. A hero, truly.

Pokémon Company subsidiary dev/major stakeholder Creatures Inc. saw a major shakeup as both President Tsunekazu Ishihara and Vice President Hirokazu Tanaka quietly departed their respective roles. Ishihara presently remains as the the CEO and President of TPC and a main face of the franchise in marketing. At Creatures, the executives are succeeded by Yuji Kitano and Tomotaka Komura respectively.

Amazon Gaming fired more than 100 employees and reassigned others out of the long floundering division.

Square Enix finalized an April 19th release date for the Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters on Switch and PS4 while confirming new additions exclusive to the console release that had been previously reported, namely an additional font option, abilities to switch between the original and remastered soundtracks, turn off random encounters, and boost XP gains, plus a fix to the opening of FF6. The new ‘pixel font’ option has received its own criticisms.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie premiered to massive success, earning a billion dollars worldwide before the end of April in a definitive answer on just how seriously Nintendo and Universal will take their burgeoning partnership and multimedia franchise from here.

April 6th: Microsoft and the US Treasury Department reached a $3 million settlement over the tech giant’s business dealings having violated US economic sanctions more than 1300 times since 2012. Microsoft self reported these services and software exports to Russia, Cuba, Iran, and Syria as the “screening failures and infractions of a few employees.”

Electronic Arts gave a small initial public reveal of its new soccer/football game EA Sports FC with a promise of a full showcase in July. EA announced that the previously reported Premier League, plus the Champions League and La Liga, are all officially licensed for the project. A prominent, consistent anonymous FIFA games leaker claimed on the same day that EA Sports FC will bring women players and mixed teams to the main mode, Ultimate Team, for the first time.

April 8th: After moving from 343 Industries to Xbox Publishing earlier this year, Bungie and Halo veteran developer Joseph Staten announced that he’s departing Microsoft altogether (again) after 9 consecutive years and 18 years total from his two tenures. Shortly after, he revealed that his new position is as the creative director of an original AAA game in development at Netflix.

April 9th: A video was anonymously posted online, purportedly leaked from a 2021 Sega internal presentation and showing brief footage from the long rumored Persona 3 Remake and Jet Set Radio reboot. The video looks difficult to fake and was soon partly or fully backed by various reporters.

April 10th: Nintendo was reported to have applied to subpoena Discord Inc., seeking from Discord the personal data of the initial leaker of the Tears of the Kingdom artbook. I’d like to explicitly discuss the contents of the leak for just a second here, to make a point. It doesn’t even have the new Ganondorf design from game’s final trailer, and Nintendo is still almost definitely going to ruin someone’s life over it.

Konami announced that Super Bomberman R 2 will launch for all platforms on September 13th, while showcasing the game in a new trailer.

Inscryption completed its platform release cycle by suddenly releasing for Xbox One and Series S|X.

April 11th: As first reported at Polygon, developer Gamefam reached a settlement with employee Joshua DeBoer and the nLRB. The company agreed to pay DeBoer $5000 in unpaid bonuses, while promising to remind and not impede all staff of their workers’ rights, after an executive intimidated DeBoer and put him on leave as punishment for discussing salary concerns with coworkers.

First party PlayStation studio Media Molecule announced that they are winding down support for their 2020 gamebuilder Dreams, migrating it to a new storage-limited server in May before officially ending live support on September 1st, in order to fully focus on their brand new next project. Dreams is not being delisted from sale and the incoming 5GB storage limit only applies to players’ creations made on the new server, not the last three years’ worth. Media Molecule’s creative director and cofounder Mark Healey announced his departure from the developer a week later, following from fellow cofounder Kareem Ettouney’s previous departure earlier this year.

American McGee announced that he is ending his efforts to get a third Alice game in production and retiring from game development as a whole, after the conclusion of his negotiations with EA over the proposed project. EA declined to either greenlight the project internally or externally share the license in any fashion, leaving McGee’s pitch for the project dead for good and him without any other avenue to reenter the industry.

Alongside the launch of Tron: Identity, Bithell Games confirmed that they are developing further games within the same IP/series.

After online artist Relan Daevath argued that their fanart work was used within Elder Scrolls Online without their notification or credit, ZeniMax has publicly confirmed that they are in talks to resolve the matter.

THQ Nordic unexpectedly announced a backport of Destroy all Humans 2 Reprobed, bringing just the core single player game to PS4 and Xbox One on June 27th.

Two different multiplayer games announced that they were imminently ending support for just their Switch versions, Rogue Company on June 20th and Paladins as of April 19th.

April 12th: Nvidia officially relaunched the budget entry of its current graphics card line under a new name and a $300 cheaper pricetag after retracting the original product six months ago, the GeForce RTX 4070.

Developer Frozenbyte and THQ Nordic released the reveal trailer for Trine 5: A Clockwork Conspiracy, the series’ latest entry coming Summer 2023 to all platforms.

Students from Sumo Digital’s dedicated game development Academy, with publishing support from Secret Mode, announced that they are bringing their 90s platformer remaster Zool Redimensioned to PS4 and PS5 on May 16th, with new features added since the original PC release.

Xbox timed exclusive action RPG Ravenlok had its launch date announced as May 4th.

Sega delayed Endless Dungeon‘s main launch from May to October 19th, to “better implement community feedback.”

Square Enix and FuturLab announced a physical release of Powerwash Simulator for all consoles coming June 13th.

Ubitus announced Aliens: Fireteam Elite – Cloud Version for Switch, which released April 26th.

April 13th: Jason Schreier and Jeff Grubb’s reporting on another delay for Rocksteady’s project were officially confirmed when WB Games finally announced that Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League is now scheduled to launch on February 2nd 2024. That marks almost four years since the game was first announced, the third release year that’s been publicly announced for the game, a new minimum window of almost 9 years since Rocksteady launched Arkham Knight, and at least three years since we’ve all known how awful Rocksteady is as a workplace. I am so fucking sick of this game’s continued presence in my life and career.

A dedicated State of Play showcase for Final Fantasy 16 was released, presenting more gameplay info from combat to exploration. The game’s preorder sales skyrocketed in the hours after the event.

Nintendo livestreamed the final trailer for Tears of the Kingdom ahead of its imminent launch, showing off much more of the game in both story and gameplay than ever before, including the resurrected Ganondorf himself.

Summerfall Studios’ crowdfunded indie game Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical saw a new trailer announcing an August 3rd 2023 scheduled launch date on PC via Steam. The game’s writing was led by David Gaider, which marks his first project since his departure from Bioware after almost two decades, where he most notably was the Dragon Age series’ head writer. The game has been significantly revamped since its initial reveal.

EA and Ascendant Studios announced that their new IP and magic-based FPS Immortals of Aveum will launch for PC, PS5 and Xbox Series S|X on July 20th 2023. That date leaked almost a week early.

The current-gen console release date for Sega’s Company of Heroes 3 was announced as May 30th 2023.

The Ubisoft+ subscription service officially released for all current Xbox consoles.

Appril 14th: In the latest incident of industry consolidation, the Wall Street Journal reported that Sega was nearing a deal to acquire Angry Birds’ owner Rovio Entertainment for approximately $1 billion, and mere days later the publisher issued a press release confirming the negotiations and the exact value of the deal at $776 million. It’s seen as a mutual investment for Sega to expand its mobile gaming efforts and Rovio to expand its console game development. The deal is set to finalize by September.

Cliff Bleszinski unexpectedly stated on social media that new news on his defunct shooter LawBreakers is coming after his lawyer contacted him about it. Five days later, Bleszinski clarified that publisher Nexon has been identified as the legal owner of Lawbreakers and that he is seeking negotiations to revive the game, without intending to actually lead development of this theoretical reboot.

April 17th: The battle between Nexon and Ironmace escalated further as the former filed to outright sue the latter for copyright infringement. This follows from Ironmace’s own new desperate actions like attempting to crowdfund for legal fees and staff salaries, and personally putting the disputed game Dark and Darker on torrent sites to escape Nexon’s delistings.

The Halo team saw another major departure as franchise creative director Frank O’Connor was confirmed to have left Microsoft. Another developer from Bungie’s original tenure on the series, O’Connor is now in the same franchise director position at a new, currently unknown studio.

As the latest entry in CyberConnect2’s Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm game series approaches, the Japanese developer has announced they are closing their Montreal office at the end of July.

April 18th: Joel Hochberg, a former leader at Rare, its Coin-It division, and arcade game producer Centuri, passed away at age 87.

Nintendo abruptly released the final trailer for Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s final DLC and full expansion, Future Connected, announcing an April 25th launch, while also announcing two brand new amiibo figurines for XC3’s Noah and Mioh.

Capcom and Niantic revealed Monster Hunter Now, their AR mobile take on the series launching in September 2023.

nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack newly received four more Sega Genesis games, Street Fighter 2: Special Champion Edition, early Game Freak game Pulseman, Flicky, and Kid Chameleon.

Eric ConcernedApe Barone confirmed that the 1.6 update for Stardew Valley is in development to release this year, taking a short hiatus from Haunted Chocolatier to focus on finishing the update. 1.6 will feature some new main game content and a code adjustment improving the game’s moddability.

April 19th: Epic acquired Brazilian game developer Acquiris to be its first Latin American studio, Epic Games Brasil, and join coordinated development for Fortnite.

Indie World: The latest indie game presentation by Nintendo opened with the triumphant return of Mineko’s Night Market, which debuted at another Indie World several years ago before going dark through several years of quiet delays. Meowza Games and publisher Humble re-revealed the narrative adventure and life sim with a big new trailer, and announced that the game will launch for PC and Switch on September 26th 2023 before arriving on Xbox and PlayStation a month later on October 26th. next, Pathea’s My Time at Sandrock, sequel to their hit My Time at Portia, was announced to be launching in 1.0 across consoles in Summer 2023 after a year in early access on PC. PlateUp! by Yogscast Games, a game kinda like Overcooked but procedurally generated, was announced to be releasing for Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation in October 2023 after launching on PC last August. Developer Monster Couch revealed Quilts & Cats of Calico, their video game adaptation of the board game Calico, (Through Xbox Gold I happen to own the video game that got to that title first) which will launch for Switch and PC in Fall 2023.

Brace Yourself Games’ previously revealed Rift of the NecroDancer reappeared with new gameplay information and confirmation of a 2023 launch. Then there was a DLC segment featuring A Little to the Left, Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon, and Cult of the Lamb: Cult of the Lamb’s free Relics of Old Faith update released just days later on April 24th, while the other two were both set for this Spring. A second Youtuber-founded game publisher, noted asshole Dunkey’s Bigmode, showcased Animal Well, an atmospheric metroidvania set to launch in Early 2024 for PC, Switch, and PS5 after seven years of development. Bad Seed announced that their time traveling mystery adventure game Crime O’Clock will launch for PC and Switch on June 30th 2023. Rain Games unexpectedly revealed and shadowdropped both a new remaster of their decade-old debut game Teslagrad and Teslagrad 2 on all platforms.

As I reported last year, Shadows Over Loathing from Asymmetric Games, owned by abuser Zack Johnson, came to Switch shortly after its initial unveiling and launch for PC last year, digitally shadowdropping at this Indie World show with a physical release announced for Fall 2023. The presentation’s two big closing games were Blasphemous 2 and Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals, which had new gameplay reveal trailers setting them to launch on PC and Switch in Summer 2023. Oxenfree 2 will also come to PS4/5 and Netflix when it releases July 12th. Lastly, the ending montage featured: Paper Trail coming August 5th, Little Kitty Big City coming 2024, Chants of Sennaar coming September 5th, Brotato coming later this year, Escape Academy: The Complete Edition coming this Fall, FNAF: Security Breach shadowdropped, and Bomb Rush Cyberfunk coming August 18th.

From left to right: A.K.I, Rashid, Ed, and Akuma from SF6.

April 20th: Capcom’s new Street Fighter 6 Showcase premiered and most notably announced the game’s first four DLC characters and an open demo which shadowdropped for PS4/5 and released on Xbox and PC a week later. The demo briefly previews World Tour mode much like the first half of the Showcase did. The four Year One DLC characters are Rashid and Ed from SF5, brand new fighter AKI, and classic villain Akuma, which were all first revealed last year by the leaked character art, although Akuma’s visual design wasn’t final at the time that document was produced. Rashid and AKI will release in H2 2023 while Ed and Akuma are scheduled between Winter and Spring 2024.

As part of ongoing mass layoffs at Facebook, the Meta VR division saw a sharp impact reported by current and now former employees from two separate internal game studios, acclaimed Lone Echo series producer Ready at Dawn and Onward’s Downpour Interactive. Ready at Dawn was said to have lost a third of its staff, including the studio head.

PlayStation Studios announced its latest developer acquisition, Washington-based Firewalk which was already contracted for an unrevealed exclusive multiplayer game for PS5. Hermen Hulst and Jim Ryan made it clear in their official statements that this was foremost a further investment in their live service plans.

Atari newly acquired the rights to over 100 retro gaming series, including Bubsy and Demolition Racer, in its ongoing latest attempt to reenter the games industry.

Tetris Effect developer Enhance had a new trailer which announced the final release date of Humanity as May 16th.

Embracer and THQ Nordic announced the return of its annual digital showcase for this August, with the upcoming Alone in the Dark Remake, Trine 5, and Outcast 2 all confirmed for new information at the event alongside full new game reveals.

April 22nd: Six years after Level-5 acquired Mighty No. 9 developer Comcept, the publisher has revealed that Keiji Inafune is a main producer on the recently announced Fantasy Life i, in by far the biggest project and biggest contribution to game development from Inafune since the failure of Mighty No. 9.

April 23rd: Interdimensional Games announced that it’s developing Consortium Remastered for a 2023 launch, a rebuild of the acclaimed obscure immersive sim for Steam and Meta Quest, with current free beta access for all original owners of Consortium.

April 24th: 144 workers at Sega of America’s headquarter office in California filed for a union election with the NLRB. The prospective union, Allied Employees Guild Improving Sega or AEGIS, is interdepartmental across QA, localization, marketing, product development and live service support, and they claim a supermajority of yes votes as the US’ largest interdepartment union, due to most successful efforts so far coming from QA teams by themselves. Ash Parrish at The Verge spoke with members of AEGIS about their experiences working and organizing at Sega. Two days later, Nicole Carpenter at Polygon reported on Sega’s initial company-wide response email about the union.

The 2021 ruling largely in favor of Apple against Epic Games was newly upheld in appeals court. Bloomberg was first to report the ruling by the US ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

April 25th: Limited Run Games began making new project announcements in lead-up to its usual main summer event, with the reveals of both a first-time physical release of Alien: Isolation’s Switch port and an anniversary collection reprint of retro Jurassic Park games.

April 26th: Adventure game developer Dramatic Labs announced the launch date of their debut title, Star Trek: Resurgence, coming May 23rd 2023 to PS5, Xbox Series S|X, and PC. Dramatic Labs was founded by various ex-Telltale staff, including Kevin Bruner who was famously ousted during the studio’s original tenure.

NetEase founded Anchor Point, a new internal development studio led by Paul Ehreth, a developer out of 343i and Remedy. Anchor Point has offices in Barcelona and Spain.

Gamescom confirmed that Nintendo is returning to its next annual event, Gamescom 2023, after years of mid-pandemic absence, committing to an exhibition event which takes place after all of its currently confirmed releases of the year. This news arrived on the same day as the first hands-on previews with Tears of the Kingdom at press outlets and after it began facing street date leaks.

April 27th: The latest devastating blow to the state of games media was the news straight from Patrick Klepek that Vice is killing Waypoint, firing the entire team as of June 2nd. Waypoint is known for a fact to be itself profitable, and has largely been through its history, but because of the deadly, irrational demand for endless growth, mismanagement elsewhere at Vice, and systemic devaluation of journalistic media, it’s been thrown onto the chopping block mere months after fellow industry-best publication Launcher. I’ve spent my own time as a reporter asking these reporters to do and be better at times of falter, but that doesn’t change what a loss to our field this all is.

Bandai Namco and FromSoft released the new gameplay reveal trailer for Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon, which also announced an August 25th 2023 launch date for all current platforms and opened official preorders.

April 28th: Sony Interactive and PlayStation’s newest fiscal review reported that the PS5 sold a whopping 6.3 million consoles at the end of their fiscal year between January and March, bringing total sold to 38 million showing just what the PS5’s post-shortage future looks like. This puts PS5 at almost caught up with PS4 for parallel performance and at a significantly bigger lead over Xbox, whose benefits from reaching post-shortage first have already vanished with a 30% drop in hardware sales so far this year. Sony is projecting to sell 25 million PS5s for this new fiscal year, which would break PlayStation’s personal record from the 90s and the PS1.

The first trailer for Sony and Peacock’s Twisted Metal TV released, announcing a July 27th premiere date. The trailer for the even more ridiculous looking Gran Turismo movie released a few days later.

May 1st: After going independent from its parent company earlier this year, Dauntless developer Phoenix Labs fired roughly 30 people or 9% of their workforce.

First party Nintendo developer Monolith Soft, fresh off launching the final DLC for XC3, announced that they’re raising all current and starting salaries by at least 22%, effectively immediately. Separately, Nintendo saw major composer Ryo Nagamatsu departing to go freelance after 17 years. His contributions to games over the years included many tracks for Super Mario Galaxy 2, Splatoon 2 and 3, Mario Kart 8, and being the sole composer of Link’s Awakening Remake, Wii Sports Resort, and more.

NetherRealm Studios released a 30th anniversary celebration video for their signature Mortal Kombat series, which ended on a very brief, implicit first official teaser of Mortal Kombat 12, showing the explosion of the hourglass central to MK11’s plot.

May 2nd: Firaxis gave their final announcement regarding last-gen ports of Marvel’s Midnight Suns, saying that the game will digitally release for PS4 and Xbox One on May 11th alongside its final DLC, while the Switch port has been canceled altogether.

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