Hello! Welcome to the latest Geeky Brummie Gaming Roundup!
This week, the Activision case continues to rock the industry, while the Olympics had video game music.
As reported last week, the state of California has filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard over mistreatment of workers, up to and including sexual harassment, discrimination, and the suicide of an employee.
Following the news, Activision bosses responded to the allegations in a number of ways, most of them astoundingly bad. First of all, the initial public statements decided to attack California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, calling them “unaccountable bureaucrats” telling false stories. Which sounds like the statement of an innocent party.
This was soon followed by two internal memos, leaked by Activision employees through Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier. J Allen Brack, head of Blizzard, said that he was “angry” at the reports, and claimed he spent his career fighting against “bro culture” due to a love of Gloria Steinem. Yes, it was weird. The second email, from executive Fran Townsend, continued the attacks on the DFEH and claimed the reports were somehow both true and also out of context. Which sounds like the statement of an innocent party, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Should be noted at this point that Brack’s career of fighting bro culture seemingly didn’t extend to this 2010 BlizzCon panel, which is curious. Also notable that Townsend previously served as Homeland Security advisor to George W Bush during the Iraq War period. I guess she’d know all about government acting irresponsibly on false information, so I can see why she’d be critical of the DFEH.
In response to these memos, over 2,000 employees of Activision Blizzard signed an open letter to management, criticising these responses, particular Townsend’s, and calling on a real response through action, not words. They felt “our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership”. They also issued a list of demands to the management.
A statement soon followed from CEO Bobby Kotick, delivered publicly through their investor site. He claims that swift action will be taken and will re-evaluate management and hiring practices using an external law firm. He did not address employee concerns directly.
Oh, and he also only made this statement following a drop in their stock value to the tune of roughly $8bn and was previously silent about the sexual abuse and discrimination happening within the company for the best part of a week. And also, the law firm hired by Kotick to aid in this proudly lists “union avoidance” among their specialities and have connections to the current director of World of Warcraft, who is a former employee. This all sounds fine and helpful to staff.
Unsurprisingly, this statement was not acceptable to staff, and they staged a walkout on Wednesday until their demands are met. This strike is ongoing.
This walkout has also spurred Ubisoft workers to issue a similar statement, offering solidarity to Activision Blizzard staff, while also directly criticising their own leadership for continuing to fail at addressing a similar situation in their company.
We at Geeky Brummie offer our own solidarity for the workers currently taking a stand. We wish them well.
Video Games at the Olympics
You may have noticed that this week saw the start of the Tokyo Olympics. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t care much for the Olympics, but this year, the addition of skateboarding and the opening ceremony have caught my attention. The opening ceremony because it featured a medley of music from a variety of Japanese video games, including Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Sonic the Hedgehog, Soul Calibur, Kingdom Hearts and Nier.
Notably absent, however, was Nintendo, who had no music in the medley. This is especially surprising when the Rio Olympics in 2016 ended with then prime minister Shinzo Abe emerged from a green pipe. This week, however, leaked documents reveal that the ceremony was going to feature a segment dedicated to video games, with Nintendo at the helm, including Shigeru Miyamoto working closely with the show’s choreographer. However, it appears to have been scrapped at the last minute, with the likely theory being that Nintendo pulled out due to issues with the Olympic Committee’s revolving door lineup of managers and contributors. It’s also likely that Nintendo could have been critical of the decision to allow the games to go ahead despite Covid-19 concerns in Japan, much like Toyota and other sponsors.
Whatever their reasons, it’s a shame that we never got to see Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games at the real-life Olympics where that would have made the most sense.
PlayStation and Xbox Both Selling Well Despite Stock Issues
Both Sony and Microsoft have proudly announced that their latest consoles are both the fastest-selling models in their respective libraries, and this is despite ongoing stock problems.
PlayStation have confirmed that 10m PS5s have been sold, which is a month faster than its predecessor. This comes alongside sales figures for Spider-Man: Miles Morales (6m copies sold), MLB: The Show (2m), Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (1m) and Returnal (560k).
CEO Jim Ryan has, however, acknowledged the stock problems and is promising to push harder to meet demand.
Xbox have proudly announced the Series X and S are collectively the best-selling console in their history. They haven’t confirmed an exact number, however, but estimates suggest 6.5 million units have been shipped since launch.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also announced that Game Pass continues to be a success, with subscribers playing 40% more games and, interestingly, spending 50% more than non-subscribers. No exact figures have been provided on subscription rates or what this increased spend looks like though.
But regardless, it’s clear that both of these systems are doing well. Now if only more people could get their hands on one…
Oh boy it’s a big week for new games.
Let’s start with some games about building in some way or another.
Starbase (PC) describes itself as an MMO, but its focus on building and maintaining a space station makes it kind of a hybrid from what I can tell, and is building a bit of attention behind it. Tribes of Midgard (PC, PlayStation) is a tower defence crossed with a survival RPG set in a Nordic world full of rampaging giants. And for something entirely different to these, there’s Idol Manager (PC), where you act as a manager in a Japanese talent agency, which seemingly does not shy away from the seedier aspects of the business, so that makes it kind of intriguing.
For narrative driven indie games, let’s start with Night Book (PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox), the latest FMV adventure from Wales Interactive, all about a mysterious cursed book and the interpreter who’s tricked into reading it. Omno (PC, Xbox) is a cute little exploration adventure in the same vein as Journey or Rime, developed by a single person. And then No Longer Home (PC) is a semi-autobiographical game about two people forced apart in circumstances under their control, and how they learn to cope with this.
In retro throwbacks, Blaster Master Zero III (PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox) is the latest in the Blaster Master franchise. Yes, the old NES game Blaster Master, the one with the jumping tank. This is the new one, from Inti Creates, the latest in the rebooted series that started in 2017. It’s more Blaster Master, what else do you want?
For those looking for some Soulslike action, Eldest Souls (PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox) is a top-down pixel art take on the genre, placing you in the shoes of a warrior saving the world from desolation brought by the Old Gods. You can pretty much assume what you’re getting here: maze-like worlds, mysterious NPCs and, of course, hard-as-nails boss fights.
The Ascent (PC, Xbox) is a top-down twin-stick shooter set in a grim cyberpunk world which appears to have a dark sense of humour if the launch trailer is anything to go by. It’s also got co-op options if you fancy taking on the world with some friends.
Chernobylite (PC) is exactly the game to play if you’re desperately waiting for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2. A horror shooter RPG set in the irradiated lands of Pripyat, where monster roam and hostile survivors and raiders take charge.
Samurai Warriors 5 (PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One) is the latest in Koei Tecmo’s ridiculous Japanese-themed hack n slash spin-off of the Dynasty Warriors series. Now sporting a stylish cel-shaded style inspired by traditional Japanese art, it’s still got all the big flashy battles you can expect from the series. It’s got a demo too if you’re unsure and want to try it out first.
Anyone who’s followed the mod scene in the past may already be aware of The Forgotten City (PC, PlayStation, Xbox), since it began life as a hugely ambitious Skyrim mod that was so polished it won an Australian Writers’ Guild Award in 2016. Now a full standalone game, the setting has moved from Skyrim to a cursed ancient Roman city where no sin can be committed or else all will die. It’s a bold, ambitious title featuring branching storylines and AAA presentation despite it all being developed by a core team of three people. This is one to keep an eye on, I reckon.
The long-awaited sequel to Square Enix’s 2007 DS RPG, here’s Neo: The World Ends With You (PS4, Switch), where a group of students are forced to compete in the “Reapers’ Game” for survival. This mostly breaks down into stylish battles set in modern-day Shibuya, featuring a catchy soundtrack. Much like the original, in fact.
Indie Game of the Week
Indie Game of the Week this week is Unbound: Worlds Apart (PC, Switch), a cute little platformer starring a mage with the ability to shift dimensions. Using a variety of powers you have to explore a world in danger, preventing reality from collapsing in on itself.
I played a demo of this a few weeks back, and was impressed by it’s endearing art style and unique dimension-shifting mechanics. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
Game of the Week
Overall Game of the Week this week is The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (PC, PS4, Switch), where the ridiculous courtroom drama series heads back to the Victorian era, and finally gets a Western release. In this game you play as young lawyer Ryunosuke Naruhodo, who ventures to Great Britain and teams up with great detective Herlock Sholmes (no really, that’s not a typo) to bring justice to London.
I’ve never played an Ace Attorney game, but the more I see of them, the more I would like to, and this latest game is no exception. It looks like it’s maintaining the series’ reputation for testing the player’s deduction skills while also being the right level of silly. Definitely want to check this out.
And that’s it for this week! Keep an eye out for more potential gaming news in Mat’s Monday esports roundup and in Ryan’s tech roundup, but for more general gaming news, I’ll see you next week.