Axios Gaming

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Hello and welcome to a chatty Friday edition of Axios Gaming with Megan. Tell me something good.

Today's newsletter is 1,140 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Your own private "Sable"

Image courtesy of Shedworks

Open-world adventure game "Sable" may have a basic mission for players to follow, but its creators designed its gorgeous, quiet world to still hold unique surprises depending on how you play.

The details: "Sable" is the story of a young woman leaving her small village as part of a rite of passage to find a mask that best suits her.

  • It's the first game from Shedworks, the studio founded by duo Gregorios Kythreotis and Daniel Fineberg, who actually got their start working out of a shed.
  • It's available for Windows, Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One.
  • The game has no combat, instead playing out through exploration and puzzles. Its world is big, beautiful and puts curiosity at the forefront of its adventure as players can travel to whatever they see.
  • "You're trying to build moments in, but you can never rely on the player experiencing every moment in a game like this," Kythreotis told Axios. "This is completely free-form ... you just hope that the layering of it will create opportunities for those [special moments] to occur."

In designing "Sable," Kythreotis — who has a background in architecture — said that he would build the basic blocks of the game's world while hiding them from Fineberg, to get an authentic reaction.

  • "But then once I've done that once, I can't do it again," he said. "And so then I have to find a new person, to get that first fresh impression."
  • Fineberg, for his part, says he got "quite familiar" with Kythreotis' tricks — tells in the form of hanging vines, or a bird that might draw the player's attention.

What's next: Shedworks founders say that while they're working on bugs and other updates for "Sable," ultimately they'll need a break before they dive into a new title.

  • "We will probably make another video game sometime in the next five years," joked Fineberg.

2. Telegraphed reveal for "Grand Theft Auto"

Image courtesy of Rockstar Games

Rockstar has finally confirmed "Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy," which bundles "Grand Theft Auto III," "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" and "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" into one upgraded package.

Why it matters: Rumors about the game have existed for months, though Rockstar had yet to publicly acknowledge its existence.

  • The trilogy will launch later this year for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, followed by an iOS and Android release in the first half of 2022.
  • "Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy" is a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the PlayStation 2 title "Grand Theft Auto III." It'll include quality of life enhancements, as well as graphical upgrades.

One warning: Rockstar will remove any existing versions of those three games from digital storefronts beginning next week.

3. You ask, we answer

Image courtesy of Atlus

It's Friday, so time for more reader Q&A.

Q: I know anecdotally toward the beginning of the pandemic we saw a pretty big increase in gaming hours across the board — especially for sort of core online games as a service that allows people to game with their friends. Is that still true a year and a half later? Are we still seeing gaming hours sustained?

A: So the data suggests there's been a small decline since 2020, but the numbers are still higher overall than they were in 2019.

  • As we noted yesterday, NPD Group released a report this week in which it found that video game participation has dropped 3 points from last year to 76%: "Although we have seen a slight reduction in the percentage of Americans that play video games, we are still well ahead of the 73% we saw in 2019," said Mat Piscatella.
  • That being said, people are still spending $$$ on video games. Their findings state that spending has increased 35% over the past six months.
  • The biggest growth area? Gamers ages 45-64.

Q: Megan, did you play "Persona 5" or "Persona 5 Royal" first? If the former, did it bug you that P5R seemed to establish Kasumi as a "canon" girlfriend for Joker?

A: Oh, you know I love Persona questions. So I played "Persona 5," and then "Royal" later when it came out — which is funny because Makoto feels like the canon romance in the original.

  • Think about the fake boyfriend storyline, or how she grabs onto Joker during some cutscenes.
  • Kasumi in "Royal" is a strange character, both in terms of her looking like a female version of Joker in her thief attire and her very curious storyline. She never quite feels like an equal romance to me but rather someone deeply troubled you need to save.

4. Need to know

👹 Longtime "Diablo" developer Joe Shely has taken over as director on "Diablo 4," following the departure of Luis Barriga in the midst of the company's ongoing harassment scandal.

🕴 "Yakuza" creator Toshihiro Nagoshi and producer Daisuke Sato are leaving Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. Former series producer Masayoshi Yokoyama will take over as director and executive producer as part of a larger restructuring.

🚨 Twitch's security problems continue, as hackers papered the site with images of Jeff Bezos.

5. Worthy of your attention

The big interview: EA, FIFA and loot boxes (Wesley Yin-Poole, Eurogamer)

  • Eurogamer sat down with EA's chief experience officer Chris Bruzzo to discuss FIFA and loot boxes. The entire interview is well worth a read, especially for tidbits like this:
Eurogamer: "I've heard EA say this before as well. You can cash out. I can do a quick Google search now and sell my FUT Coins. FUT Coins is one of the items you can get in your loot boxes. I can sell them for real-world money. And it's easy."
Chris Bruzzo: "Clearly, we know all about that, because we've had to put tonnes and tonnes of resources to combat it. It's an incredible responsibility to ensure the security of our game, so that we make it very difficult to commit fraud. But that's what that is. And just to be clear, again, we study this. I have the benefit of seeing data. The sellers on the black market, the ones that are actually making money, those are criminals."

6. One lucky DM

Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images

One highlight of "Sable" is its music, a mix of ambient tracks and vocals from artist Michelle Zauner, also known as Japanese Breakfast.

  • According to Daniel Fineberg, getting Zauner involved in the project was easier than expected: "I just sent her a DM on Twitter."
  • Fineberg spent a lot of time in 2017 listening to the artist's latest album, "Soft Sounds From Another Planet," which led him to reach out.

Her involvement wasn't totally out of left field; Zauner has dipped into video games before, with projects like a browser-based RPG that accompanied "Soft Sounds from Another Planet" and a Simlish cover of one of her songs.

  • Fineberg and Kythreotis met up with Zauner at a pub in London to talk and immediately hit it off.
  • "I don't know if you could do that anymore," says Kythreotis of DMing.

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🐦 Find us on Twitter: @megan_nicolett / @stephentotilo.

My DMs are open and yet no one has asked me to make music for their video game.

Editor's note: Yesterday's Gaming newsletter corrected story No. 4 to show Paddle is a payment services provider (not a yoga app-maker).