Hi welcome to the Geeky Brummie Gaming Roundup.
This week touches on a serious topic surrounding Activision this week. Content warning for sexual abuse and suicide.
Activision Are Being Sued
Activision Blizzard have this week been sued by The Department of Fair Employment and Housing in the state of California over mistreatment of their workforce, especially their female employees.
Some of this was outright illegal gender discrimination, with female staff being paid significantly lower than their male counterparts and were often passed over for promotion because of an assumption they would just get pregnant and leave. Many female employees report male counterparts avoiding work and playing Call of Duty on work hours (and not to test it) and were not punished for this. Women on maternity leave were given negative evaluations, while criticism was often directed at women with childcare needs. These issues were amplified for women of colour.
But worse than this, a reported frat house culture exists within the company. One major part of the culture alleged by the lawsuit is the presence of “cube crawls” where men would get drunk and move from cubicle to cubicle, harassing women along the way, with behaviour including unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate comments and groping. Tragically, this behaviour is also alleged to have led to the death of one woman, who took her own life on a company trip after experiencing mass sexual harassment.
Much of this was reported to HR, but not only was nothing done, but HR also failed to keep these complaints confidential, leading to retaliation from the accused.
These are all serious allegations, and this lawsuit emerges following an investigation by the state of California (Activision’s HQ is in Santa Monica), who are bringing the case forward as violation of employment laws within the state. Further highlighting the legitimacy of these claims, the senior director of World of Warcraft left the company suddenly in June last year, and he is an explicitly named individual in the lawsuit alleged to be engaging in this behaviour.
As should probably be obvious, here at Geeky Brummie we find this behaviour unacceptable, and we join calls for the industry to change. Because even in Activision are unsuccessful in defending themselves here, they are unlikely to experience serious consequences. CEO Bobby Kotick has been awarding himself obscene pay rises year on year, and even shareholder complaints didn’t stop him, so it’s unlikely this will change much either.
However, if you still have a World of Warcraft subscription, play Warzone or Overwatch regularly or just generally buy Activision’s games, I recommend a boycott. Other than this, support game devs in forming unions to try and tackle this kind of behaviour. And if you’re a man and you see behaviour like this, find a way to speak out about it. We cannot allow this to continue within the industry.
Ubisoft are Having a Bad Time
Speaking of companies with major sexual abuse issues, Ubisoft are having more difficulties this week.
Raphael Lacoste, art director on the Assassin’s Creed franchise, is stepping away from the company to join Jade Raymond’s Haven Studios. He was art director for the series from the beginning, having worked on the 2007 original.
It comes at a time when it’s reported that Ubisoft is rapidly losing staff. Pushed by issues with money, lack of work from home flexibility and, of course, an internal belief that CEO Yves Guillemot has not done enough to address allegations of severe sexual abuse are pushing talent to a number of major new studios springing up in Montreal. And it seems that Lacoste is one of those staff members, following his AC colleague Darby McDevitt, who left back in March.
This also comes amid reports from their Singapore studio surrounding the development of pirate game Skull & Bones. These issues include sexual harassment, payment discrepancies and a general feeling of being a “colonial power” setting up shop in the South-East Asian city state. There’s an attitude that Singapore is the studio where developers from other studios get to travel to an exotic location for a year or two and then leave, instead of being the springboard for local gaming talent it was allegedly intended to be. A more in-depth look into these issues can be found here.
These management issues at Ubisoft Singapore are so rife it’s led to a tortured development for Skull & Bones, which has reset direction multiple times, and has been lanquishing in development hell since it started development in 2013 as a spin-off of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.
But hey, they do have a new Tom Clancy game coming out! It’s a weird “punk” hero shooter branded with the name of a man who wrote boot-licking military porn, so it’s not clear who this is aimed at. It’s the latest in their attempts to make a free-to-play game they can milk player money from, and the response has been largely negative, whether that’s confusion, derision or indifference. Maybe it might be successful, but right now that’s looking unlikely.
This announcement was then hilariously timed with the announcement that another free-to-play title in the Tom Clancy franchise, the mobile game Elite Squad, will be shutting down its servers after only a year on the market. I’m sure XDefiant will do just fine, right? Right?
Amazon’s New World Bricking GPUs
Anyway, in the same week where Jeff Bezos shoots his payload into the upper atmosphere, Amazon continue to botch their fledgling gaming division.
Their new MMO, New World, is causing some issues. Aside from them launching an MMO ten years too late, the latest beta test has been bricking graphics cards, specifically RTX 3090 cards. A bunch of stressed players have been discussing the issue on Reddit, and Amazon have since acknowledged the issue.
It’s suggested the cause behind this issue is that the menu screen of New World is rendering at 9000+ frames per second, resulting in excessive GPU usage that leads to burn out. Official advice is saying to turn on the frame rate cap, but you have to do this in the menu that’s likely to destroy your GPU in the first place, so that’s fun.
One day Amazon will get something right in their expansion into games, I guess. But it is not this day.
In new releases this week, Fallen Knight (PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One) places you in the shoes of a futuristic descendant of one of the Knights of the Round Table in a hack and slash side scroller blending a Mega Man style setting with Arthurian legend.
Orcs Must Die 3 (PC, PlayStation, Xbox) releases on a real system this week, after a year languishing in Stadia exclusivity. The third game in the orc murdering tower defence game promises everything the fans of the first two enjoyed “cranked up to eleven”.
Mini Motorways is a game that originally launched on Apple Arcade back in 2019, but now arrives on PC this week. It’s a strategy puzzle game all about building an effective network of roads and motorways for tiny cars. Looks to be an addictive little game.
Last Stop (PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox) is a narrative driven game set in London with an ensemble cast in three distinct interconnecting stories. There’s been quite a bit of buzz around this one, and it’s an Annapurna published game, which means you can likely expect some fine storytelling.
Death’s Door (PC, Xbox) is this week’s big indie darling, a dungeon crawler where you play as a tiny crow who’s also a punch-clock grim reaper. After their assigned soul is stolen, they must venture into a world beyond death to retrieve it, fighting against deadly adversaries. If you wanted an isometric Soulslike with a dark sense of humour, this looks exactly like the game you’re looking for, and the reviews are glowing so far.
Game of the Week
And completing this three-way punch of highly anticipated indie games, Cris Tales (PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox) is the one that gets Game of the Week from me. I played the demo a little while ago and I’ve been eager to play the full game ever since. And it’s on Game Pass, which is even better!
Promising to be a love letter to classic JRPGs, you play as Crisbell, a young mage who can manipulate time, creating unique battle situations. For example, you can use a water spell on an armoured enemy, accelerate time forward and now their armour is rusted and useless.
Based on what I played in the demo, those inventive mechanics are partnered with some great writing and an eye-catching cartoony art style. Also every party member appears to be called some variant on the name Cris, so that’s interesting. Definitely one to watch.
And that’s it for this week! For more gaming news, Mat will be here on Monday with some esports news, while Ryan has his tech roundup which occasionally touches on gaming topics on Tuesday, but for more general news and releases, I’ll be back next Friday as always!