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Gaming Roundup – Xbox Bought Activision

Hello! Welcome to the latest Geeky Brummie Gaming Roundup!

This week, a bombshell acquisition, Troy Baker’s been naughty, and Italy has been…naughtier.

Microsoft Are Buying Activision

Well.

So last week we reported on the insanely huge Take-Two buyout of Zynga, but then Microsoft couldn’t accept that they no longer had the biggest gaming acquisition on record, so they bought Activision Blizzard. For $69bn. Nice.

What’s less nice is what this might mean for the industry. If this purchase gets through regulators, this would leave Xbox as the owners of colossal money makers World of Warcraft, Call of Duty and Candy Crush. Call of Duty is a notable part of this especially, as the series’ massive success includes PlayStation, and if future titles become exclusive to Microsoft platforms that could put Sony in a difficult position.

Which is the main reason analysts believe that Microsoft could face some challenges getting the deal approved with authorities. This includes David Cole of DFC Intelligence, who believes that restricting one of the biggest multi-platform franchises to one side may be seen as a way to lock Sony out of the competition entirely and see them rubbing up against antitrust laws.

There’s also the question of what happens regarding the ongoing lawsuits surrounding Activision, as CEO Bobby Kotick is still facing accusations of covering up sexual abuse and harassment within the company, and their studio, Raven Software, is still currently on strike regarding the sudden termination of a vast number of staff.

It does seem likely that Kotick will be removed once the deal is finalised, with the studios merging into the Xbox Game Studios portfolio, placing Xbox head Phil Spencer in charge. However, this isn’t all good news, as this would leave Kotick with a cushy $350m exit package, meaning he would get to do nothing about abuse under his watch and still get filthy rich.

It’s quite possible that Spencer would do quite a bit to reverse the cultures of the studios, however. Xbox studio employees generally seem to be pretty happy with their work, as reviews of 343 or Playground seem generally positive on sites like Glassdoor. Which could mean good things for employees at last.

The effects of this remain to be seen, but it’s certainly a massive shock to the industry as it currently stands.

Troy Baker Shills NFTs

Right as last week’s roundup was going out, video game voice actor Troy Baker decided to be phenomenally stupid and start shilling for NFTs.

Baker tweeted this out where he announced a partnership with a company called Voiceverse, who are selling “voice NFTs”. You know how Vocaloid is a really neat voice synthesis program that allows anyone anywhere to make a song with Hatsune Miku? Well imagine that, but for voice acting, and each voice can only be used by one person who spent a lot of fake internet money.

It was not well received.

Baker experienced a lot of blowback, not just because NFTs are a scam and anyone investing in them is actively part of a race to the bottom in how we appreciate art online. No, it’s also detrimental to Baker’s own career, particularly those getting their start in the business. If anyone can reproduce the voice of a famous actor, then why would anyone hire a cheap beginner actor?

After a significant amount of fallout, Baker made his regular appearance on Sony writer Alanah Pearce’s podcast Play, Watch, Listen, where they and fellow co-hosts Mike Bithell and Austin Wintory discussed this. Especially as both Pearce and Bithell have been vocal about their dislike for NFTs in the past.

Baker’s response is that he didn’t realise the company sold NFTs (which is fascinating because the company literally has NFT in their name) and didn’t realise how negatively people feel about the technology (despite being on a weekly podcast with two vocal critics). He didn’t make it clear that he would be backing away from the association or changing direction, despite somewhat agreeing that he did the wrong thing. It’s still not a good look for him, especially as now he’s seemingly revealed himself to be someone who’ll slap his name on anything as long as the person approaching him is charming enough.

What wasn’t addressed in the podcast (due to timing) was the allegation that followed the tweet’s explosion. Namely that Voiceverse don’t even have a working voice synthesis program and all their “demo” examples are someone else’s technology. An organisation named 15.ai responded to a (now deleted) tweet stating that Voiceverse didn’t create the tech, 15.ai did.

It’s not unusual to encounter theft within the NFT space, as artists have frequently reported their art stolen and sold as these ridiculous tokens, so this was just the latest in a long line of theft committed by the fraudsters running this whole racket. And just to prove the point further, shortly after this whole mess, numerous content creators saw their likenesses being sold as NFTs without permission. The aforementioned Alanah Pearce reported a fake porn magazine cover with her face being sold, while gaming YouTubers Jim Stephanie Sterling and Jim “Caddicarus” Caddick reported their channels listed as unauthorised NFTs. Both Pearce and Caddick have implied that lawsuits may be pending.

But NFTs are great for artists, apparently. Just like how cryptocurrency is extra secure and how the “Metaverse” is an exciting place to be. Boy I can’t wait for this stuff to infect video games and make everything “play-to-earn”. Which, by the way, is the most horrific term I’ve encountered in gaming since “games as a service”.

For more on the ridiculousness of the cryptobro world, Ryan covered how little they understand copyright law earlier this week in his tech roundup, so do go check that out while you’re here.

Final Fantasy VII Appears in Italian Senate…But Not How You’d Expect

It’s not unusual for video games to get discussed in formal government meetings. Whether it’s regulation of the ratings system, tedious point scoring about games encouraging violent behaviour or more recent calls to legislate against predatory microtransactions, video games are of great interest to governments the world over.

What’s less common is fan-made pornography of video game characters to be broadcast during official government proceedings.

However that is exactly what happened in Italy this week. Italian senators met for a Zoom meeting to discuss data transparency, which was streamed online. It was all fairly standard, right up until the point where Nobel Prize winner Giorgio Parisi was set to be introduced. Instead of Parisi, the senate got a very NSFW clip of Final Fantasy VII character Tifa Lockhart in a compromising position.

Which is, of course, hilarious, especially with the awkward 30 seconds where the team attempted to shut the video off, managing to successfully cut the visuals but retaining the audio for several more awkward seconds.

It’s not clear where the video came from, whether it was a hacker or if it was a somewhat…distracted government employee in the meeting at the time. Given how many participants were in the meeting and how many different screens were being shared, it seems like a monumental task to figure out where it came from.

Both the animator of the clip and the voice actress for Tifa have admitted they have found the whole thing hilarious.

Admittedly, this is a story only tangentially related to video games because of who was in the offending video, but it was too funny a moment not to mention.

New Releases

New Releases

Quiet release week this week. But still an interesting one! And also one where I feel I should point out that every single one of these games is on Xbox Game Pass, which is excellent.

For starters, do you want to take pictures of dogs? Pupperazzi (PC, Xbox One) has you covered! No really, that’s the entire concept. It’s Pokémon Snap with puppies. And if that sounds amazing to you, I don’t really need to say anymore, do I?

Windjammers 2 (PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One) is the sequel to the 1994 Neo Geo game Windjammers, which is basically just air hockey but more radical. It’s a fancy frisbee sports game played from a top-down perspective, full of loud, brash characters and special moves. And it’s from Dotemu, who’ve already proven their ability to bring old 90s properties kicking and screaming into the 2020s with the brilliant Streets of Rage 4, so that’s an endorsement on its own.

Game of the Week

Game of the Week this week is Nobody Saves the World (PC, Xbox), the latest game from Guacamelee developers Drinkbox Studios. And while that game was a wacky take on the Metroidvania genre, Nobody Saves the World is the same for classic top-down RPGs.

You play as the titular Nobody, a faceless being who can shapeshift with the help of a magic wand they swiped while NPCs were arguing. And that shapeshifting leads to a number of bizarre forms similar to Final Fantasy’s Job system, ranging from the standard Ranger, Rogue and Guard to the less standard Mermaid, Bodybuilder and Horse.

It looks like a fun, goofy take on a genre that can often take itself too seriously. And with Drinkbox’s past record, there’s a high chance this will be excellent too.

And that’s it for this week! See you again in a week where hopefully I don’t have to talk about NFTs again.

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