Hello! Welcome to the latest Geeky Brummie Gaming Roundup!
This week is brought to you by the letters FTC, NFT and HBO.
FTC Wants More Details from Microsoft
Look, I’m gonna be honest here. I’ve given up talking about the regulatory interest around Microsoft’s attempted acquisition of Activision Blizzard. So much of the case has devolved into petty PR statements from both Microsoft and Sony that ultimately demean both of them. The whole thing has been a playground fight that no one wants to be involved in. Two corporations yelling at each other that they’re more virtuous than the other when ultimately, they’re both in the business of making as much money as possible.
This week, however, we finally have something worth talking about. The Federal Trade Commission, currently reviewing the acquisition in the US, have made a few eyebrow-raising requests.
Microsoft have spent the last couple of weeks making grand statements about how they can ensure that any games they own will be released for the next ten years on Nintendo Switch and Nvidia GeForce Now, along with a bunch of streaming services no one knew existed until these deals emerged. The whole thing has been a transparently desperate attempt for the company to look like they’re playing nice with the regulators and addressing their concerns.
It’s so transparently desperate, in fact, that the FTC doesn’t appear to be buying it. Especially as they have received no proof these deals are legitimate. Despite the endless barrage of press statements, the FTC have specifically requested details that have yet to be provided to them. Presumably this includes contracts and other legal documents that show these deals were officially signed. The FTC even acknowledged that it was strange these documents were not supplied “despite clearly intending to use these agreements in their defense” [sic].
What’s especially interesting here is that it’s not all the FTC have asked for. They would also like to see documents around exclusivity for Bethesda games. The FTC have already expressed concern that Microsoft allegedly made statements to the EU that Bethesda games were not going to be exclusive to Microsoft’s platforms. An agreement that, if true, clashes with the post-acquisition reality, where the recently released Hi-Fi Rush, along with the upcoming Redfall and Starfield releases, are 100% exclusive to Microsoft’s platforms.
The fact that the FTC wants these documents as well as the documents requested by Microsoft about Sony’s third-party exclusivity deals suddenly elevates this beyond just petty squabbling over the consolidation of the games industry. By requesting both of these things, it does suggest the FTC may be examining the concept of third-party exclusivity as a concept within gaming, something that has the potential to have huge ramifications if things don’t go the way of platform holders.
As someone who has been opposed to this deal from day one, I welcome the FTC examining things this closely. No one in their right mind truly believes that Microsoft are buying Activision to bring games to more people; Activision are perfectly capable of doing that already as a third-party publisher. But the examination of exclusivity deals as a whole is interesting, and I’m now very interested in seeing how this plays out. Hopefully it casts enough doubt on Microsoft’s claims that the deal is closed down, but we shall see.
For the record, I do think it’s right that Sony’s exclusivity deals are part of this discussion. I’m opposed to platform holders buying big third-party publishers for the simple fact that it almost always locks games away from people. Microsoft certainly have been playing nice for the time being with legacy titles from the studios they’ve bought, but who’s to stay that will last if management changes or if Sony pull a PS3-level goof again and Microsoft becomes the market leader.
Sony’s third-party deals are no better, of course. The fact that Powerwash Simulator is the first time Xbox players have gotten anything FF7 Remake related is absurd, for instance. I don’t believe they’re directly comparable – these deals generally have an expiry date while an outright purchase of the company does not – but neither are good for us, the players. And no, the solution to Microsoft buying Activision isn’t Sony buying Square Enix (as rumoured) – these are both the same aggressively bad decision that none of us should be supporting.
I will argue internal studios are an exception, since I don’t expect God of War to release on Xbox or Halo to release on PlayStation, and a strong first-party line-up helps distinguish platforms from each other. I would prefer that both companies nurtured those first-party studios to produce great games instead of cordoning off other companies’ games to their “side” – it’s clearly working for Nintendo, after all.
It would be nice to see both platform holders get better at this, as lately neither of them are on their A-game. As good as Horizon and God of War are, Sony are missing the wide-ranging first-party library they had in past generations, and Xbox are just flailing around with little to show in general (aside from the aforementioned Bethesda titles).
So yes, the FTC are finally cutting through Microsoft’s PR gibberish and asking real questions. We should all welcome this, especially if it leads to a reduction in exclusivity deals in future. Despite what Microsoft says, that is the only way to bring more games to more players, not them buying up the industry.
Japanese Companies Still Somehow Interested in NFTs
Despite the audience very firmly saying, no, we absolutely do not want NFT games, Japanese companies are bafflingly still charging forward anyway.
Square Enix, unsurprisingly one of them. They are shielded by their many terrible decisions by the phenomenal ongoing success of Final Fantasy XIV, after all. This has led to decisions such as releasing seven (!) RPGs in the space of twelve weeks in the final months of 2022, and wondering why the sequel to The World Ends With You didn’t sell after they did exactly no marketing for it. So of course they still think NFTs are an idea worth pursuing.
This week they released a trailer for Symbiogenesis, a title that initially led people to believe it was a Parasite Eve project before, oh no, it was NFTs. Now we know more about it and, naturally, it sounds terrible. We know that there will be 10,000 characters, which seems like a recipe for a bunch of ape-esque anime designs that merely change a hat or something.
As for what the game actually is, bless your heart for thinking they’re going to care enough about that to tell us. We got to see a generic floating island though, isn’t that special? Now hook your wallet up, future billionaires!
While we expect Square Enix to make phenomenally bad decisions and therefore this isn’t a surprise, another company is a greater disappointment.
The Pokémon Company have a job listing looking for someone with experience with Web3 and blockchains. Since this is just a job listing, we don’t exactly why they need someone with this experience, but it’s never a good sign. Could you too own a jpg of Pikachu for the low, low price of 70 Bitcoin? (I hear that’s a big number, but it’s a fake currency anyway so who cares?)
Stop trying to make NFTs happen, games industry. We already gave Ubisoft a kicking over this.
The Last of Us Season Finale Breaks Its Own Records
The Last of Us is pretty unambiguously a success for HBO. Episode 9, the final episode of the adaptation’s first season, pulled in an audience of 8.2 million people on Sunday night, a high for the series. This is especially impressive considering it was directly competing with the Oscars ceremony where Everything Everywhere All At Once correctly won everything, everywhere, all at once.
It’s quite a feat for a video game show, which usually gets dismissed. Of course, The Last of Us was already a playable HBO show in its execution, so this is perhaps unsurprising to those of us played it. But this is a show that’s proven to have reach, with viewer numbers increasing to an average of 30 million an episode on HBO Max or equivalent services outside the US. It’s also the most popular HBO Max show in Europe and Latin America. That’s a bit of a jump from players of the actual game, which is listed as 20 million sales as of October 2019, and includes sales of the PS3 and PS4 releases, some of which could be the same person buying both versions.
I have finally started watching it, due to not wanting to get Now TV for an extended period of time, and so far it’s impressive work. It’s both accurate and altered, but always where it needs to be, and Bella Ramsey is especially impressive as Ellie. Excellent stuff, deserves the success it’s having.
Potion Tycoon (PC) is a management game about creating potions through alchemy and building your magical business empire. Rough Justice ’84 (PC) is a strategy game inspired by board games and 80s cop dramas.
Delete After Reading (PC) is a text-based adventure game about a haunted video game and a goofy set of main characters. Life of Delta (PC, Switch) is a point and click adventure set in a world long after humans, where you play as a service robot looking for his friend.
The Forest Cathedral (PC, Xbox Series X/S) is a quirky puzzle platformer inspired by the life of Rachel Carson, the conservationist who wrote Silent Spring about the dangers of pesticides. River Tails: Stronger Together (PC) is a co-op puzzle platformer about a cat and a fish journeying through treacherous lands.
WWE 2K23 (PC, PlayStation, Xbox) is also available this week, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Game of the Week
Game of the Week this week is Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon (Switch). This is a spin-off set in the Bayonetta universe, and not at all what you might expect from Bayonetta.
A puzzle-based adventure game set in a fairytale world, the game stars a young Cereza (aka Bayonetta before she became Bayonetta) as she ventures into the woods seeking the power within. She is accompanied by a stuffed cat named Cheshire, who’s been possessed by a demon. And you must control both of them in a quirky world full of dangers. Unlike the main games, Cereza doesn’t do much of the fighting herself, but she can cast binding spells that help Cheshire fight.
It’s an interesting experiment to remove all the sex appeal and Platinum trademark combat from the Bayonetta series, but it’s an intriguing game nonetheless.