December 06, 2021
Ready for a big gaming week? I'm Stephen Totilo, ready to take you through the next five days (Megan's on assignment).
Today's edition is 1,240 words ... 4.5 minutes.
1 big thing: Ubisoft on the record
Ubisoft management is acknowledging that its initial response to an ongoing and wide-reaching workplace misconduct scandal was flawed, even as it argues that its corrective actions were largely swift and correct.
Why it matters: Those comments, in an exclusive interview with Axios, come amid recent pushback from workers that the publisher of Assassin’s Creed and Just Dance hasn’t sufficiently addressed a cascade of #MeToo allegations since mid-2020.
What they're saying: “At the beginning of the crisis, we spent a lot of time making sure that we had the right process in place, that we were able to very quickly and efficiently run an investigation and get to some outcomes,” Ubisoft chief people officer Anika Grant said during a video conversation from the company’s headquarters in Paris.
- “What I think we missed, though, is the employee experience through that. I don't think we always communicated enough back to the people who had raised an issue in the first place about what we found as part of the investigations — the decisions that we made and the actions that we took. And so I think, unfortunately, people lost trust in that process.”
- Grant is now committing to better follow-through for workers who report misconduct. “That's something right now we are 100% focused on fixing.”
Ubisoft worker complaints over the past year have dropped, Grant says. To her, this shows positive change is underway.
- “Not only has the volume of cases that are being raised up or alerts happening declined enormously, but what we're also seeing is that the severity of the kinds of things that are being reported has decreased,” she said.
- The company is “thinking carefully” about what it can share about the complaints in next year’s annual report. (No gaming company releases reports of misconduct on a routine basis, though Microsoft shareholders voted last week to compel the company to issue an annual report about its handling of sexual harassment.)
- There have nevertheless been several public accounts that assert workplace abuse continues to happen. “I'm not going to comment on individual cases,” Grant said.
Grant stands by Ubisoft co-founder and CEO Yves Guillemot, who has never been directly accused of misconduct but who’s been at the company throughout.
- She says Ubisoft can heal with him in charge: "Absolutely."
- “I recognize it's a long journey,” she said. “I know we are not yet where we want to be. But I do think that we are seeing incremental improvements every day.”
2. Call of Duty walkout
Organizers say more than 60 workers at the Call of Duty: Warzone studio Raven Software, owned by Activision Blizzard, walked out today, demanding the reinstatement of a dozen workers from the testing department.
Why it matters: Walkouts, long a maneuver of organized labor, are becoming a tactic in the non-unionized U.S. video game sector.
- Workers from another wing of the company, Blizzard, walked out in July to protest years of alleged abuse at the studio.
The details: On Friday, management began informing a dozen contractors in Raven's quality assurance department their contracts would not be renewed past January.
- An Activision Blizzard worker group say the testing team had been told that positive changes were coming to the department and noted some of the dozen had just relocated to Wisconsin, where Raven is based.
- The protesting workers are demanding that all testers are offered full-time jobs.
- "The end goal of this walk out is to ensure the continued growth of Raven as a studio and to foster a positive community for everyone who works there," the worker group A Better ABK said in a statement.
What they're saying: Activision says the cuts are part of a plan to convert 500 other temporary workers to full-time employees.
- "Unfortunately, as part of this change, we also have notified 20 temporary workers across studios that their contracts would not be extended," an Activision rep told Axios.
- They have not commented on the protesting workers' demands.
3. You ask, we answer
Time to answer your questions. And please keep sending more in!
Q. What do you think the impact will be of multinational entertainment companies (e.g. Amazon, Disney, Netflix) increasingly investing in video games and buying studios? My personal concern is that developers will be pushed to make games that fit into brands, rather than creating great standalone experiences, but I may be overly pessimistic.
A. Big entertainment companies have struggled to make inroads in gaming, as has big tech, so I wouldn't be too worried that Amazon or Netflix are going to reshape what you play any time soon.
- Amazon and Netflix have impressive distribution infrastructure, but Amazon's ability to ship cardboard boxes is largely meaningless in the digital gaming world.
- Both companies are still trying to make hit games.
- Disney, however ... are you ready for a major Star Wars or Marvel game every few months? With the company's approach of licensing its brands out to top studios around the world, that's coming.
If you want to sweat the impact of new corporate players in gaming, focus on where venture capital money is going.
- It used to pour into virtual reality projects, which is why so many companies started VR divisions and so many indies started making VR games.
- That money's now going to blockchain and NFT gaming. That's what a lot of studios will be tinkering with, whether it turns out to be a short-term trend or a long-term change to the industry and art form.
4. Need to know
⚠️ A PlayStation Network executive has been fired after being caught in a pedophilia sting, CNET reports.
🤔 Geoff Keighley, host of The Game Awards, said on Friday night that Activision Blizzard wouldn’t be part of this week’s big show beyond their nominations. That follows a torrent of criticism of Keighley for vague comments to the Washington Post about whether the awards would acknowledge the problem of workplace abuse.
🌲 A Ubisoft executive is calling on industry peers to only support blockchain and NFT technology that is environmentally sustainable and to shun models that are destructive to the environment.
🏝 Epic Games flipped Fortnite’s island map this weekend and announced plans to add Spider-Man and characters from Xbox’s Gears of War series, in the biggest refresh to the game in two years.
5. Worthy of your attention
Up all night with a Twitch millionaire: The loneliness and rage of the Internet’s new rock stars [Drew Harwell, The Washington Post]:
[Streamer Tyler Steinkamp] helps fund his stepdad’s roadside fireworks stand and pays his mom $70,000 a year to bring him dinner every evening: calzones or Salisbury steak or chicken and rice. She quit her old job but still feels torn: “Is your kid supposed to take care of you and pay your income?” When people ask, she tells them she’s a personal chef, but doesn’t mention it’s for her son.
6. Name this game
Axios Gaming readers have answered my recent call for examples of games you can barely remember.
- All week, I’ll be presenting some of your submissions.
Here’s the first:
“This was for Sega Genesis. It was a platformer that involved an orange-mammal type creature (fox-like, I think), who wore a suit of armor. That's all I really remember. I want to say it had some steampunk elements (like his suit of armor could jet around) but it's hard to say. “
What was it, readers?
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I didn’t have a Genesis, so I have no idea.