Axios Gaming

Picture of a gaming controller.

Happy Thursday. Stephen here.

Lots of rain here where I'm writing today's newsletter. A bad day for Boktai (thank you to the three of you who get the reference).

Situational awareness: News from across the pond: Returnal earns Best Game honors at this year’s BAFTA Games Awards.

Today's edition: 1,299 words, 5 minutes.

1 big thing: Best laid plans ...

Screenshot of a calendar of modes and events, under the header Year 1 Road Map
A lot of this 2019 plan didn't happen. Screenshot: Ubisoft.

Ubisoft announced this week that it is ceasing development of any new content for military action-adventure Ghost Recon Breakpoint, an expected 2019 blockbuster that flopped even as the company took extraordinary steps to salvage it.

Why it matters: Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a cautionary tale about what a game publisher thinks will happen with a game and what reality offers instead.

The most striking document that exemplifies the Breakpoint debacle is its 2019-2020 “Year 1 Road Map.”

  • Of three promoted episodes of new story-based missions, the final one was scrapped and replaced.
  • After the first of two promised multiplayer raids was released, the second was canceled.

Breakpoint was a debacle from the start, launching to low sales and player scorn.

  • Fans of the Ghost Recon series felt Breakpoint deviated too much from its stealth roots, objected to the tracking of a character’s thirst and fatigue, and resented the focus on collecting in-game loot.
  • Less than a month after launch, Ubisoft was reeling, posting a somber “moving forward” notice to players and promising improvements.
  • After a year of radical overhauling, the developers had dialed back the fatigue system, offered an alternate mode to minimize the loot grind, and added an offline mode in reaction to disdain over the game’s online requirement.
  • In other words: Ubisoft dropped the game’s most distinctive (and most loathed) features.

The big picture: It’s unclear if the post-release changes ever turned Breakpoint into an actual success for Ubisoft, but it did demonstrate the publisher’s flexibility.

The bottom line: Breakpoint didn’t get the redemptive post-release arc of a No Man’s Sky or Final Fantasy XIV, but it is a reminder that games may travel unexpected paths after they’re out …

  • … even when their creators release an ambitious road map.

2. Reflections of a former PlayStation boss

Photo of Jack Tretton in a suit standing on stage below a projection of a large portable gaming device
Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Some of PlayStation’s more innovative projects a decade ago were “orphaned a little bit,” by the overall Sony corporation, former U.S. PlayStation chief Jack Tretton tells Axios.

  • “There were certainly technologies that I thought were good but just didn't have the level of support they needed.”
  • Pressed for specifics from his run, which ended in 2014, he cited Sony’s powerful but low-selling Vita portable, 3D gaming and even its virtual reality headset, which launched after he left.

Between the lines: Tretton wasn’t chatting to trash Sony, which he praised as an innovative company, but was sharing lessons learned from his long tenure, as he promotes his new acquisition company.

  • He craves independence these days and values buy-in from everyone who works with him.
  • “When you work for a big company, you have to love everything they're doing, whether you personally love it or not,” Tretton said.
  • That included stomaching the reality that a thriving PlayStation division might not get all the internal support it wanted when other parts of the company were struggling and needed help.
  • But from Tretton’s perspective, PlayStation projects would sometimes suffer. “So you come up with new technology to introduce to the industry and the consumers. But do you have the marketing budget to really drive the message? Do you have the developer support dollars to incent them to develop games to support this initiative? And sometimes you would birth technology and hope that it caught on.”

Tretton is largely ebullient over his time at Sony and says he misses one of its perks: speaking to huge crowds at PlayStation showcases at events like E3.

  • His happiest E3 moment: Promoting the pricing and development support around the PlayStation 4, following stumbles in the PS3 era at a time when Microsoft was fumbling the rollout of its Xbox One: “I have a lot of friends at Microsoft now and had a lot of friends then, and I wasn't necessarily looking to do it at their expense. I was just feeling really good about it.”
  • His most painful: Having to apologize for a 23-day PlayStation Network outage: “While that was necessarily a tough message to deliver, I thought it had to be said.”

3. Epic Games is making a Lego metaverse

Image showing the logos for Lego and Epic Games
Image: Epic Games

The makers of Fortnite are building a kid-friendly Lego-themed virtual world, Epic Games and Lego announced today.

Why it matters: The project, pitched as a “place for kids to play in the metaverse,” could be a well-funded competitor to Minecraft, Roblox and other virtual worlds.

Details: Epic and Lego didn’t say much about the virtual world they’re building — and avoided calling it a game — but repeatedly emphasized in their announcement that it’ll be safe for children.

  • “Just as we’ve protected children’s rights to safe, physical play for generations, we are committed to doing the same for digital play,” Lego CEO Niels Christiansen said in the release.
  • That emphasis invites a contrast to the popular virtual world Roblox, which also touts its content moderation but regularly draws scrutiny over whether its users are creating content that’s inappropriate for kids.

What's next: No release date, not many details.

4. Need to know

🎮 Activision will convert all of its temporary and contingent QA testers at its Activision publishing and Blizzard wings to full-time roles, affecting nearly 1,100 positions, the company said today. Those roles’ minimum rate will increase to $20/hour.

  • But Activision says QA workers attempting to unionize at its Raven studio would currently be excluded from the pay increases due to "legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act."

🤔 Janette Wipper, the top lawyer for the Department of Fair Housing and Employment, the California agency suing Activision over discrimination issues, has withdrawn from the case — and from another prominent agency lawsuit against Tesla.

  • A DFEH spokesperson told Axios: “DFEH does not comment on personnel matters. DFEH will continue to vigorously enforce California’s civil rights and fair housing laws.”

☹️ Some developers at League of Legends studio Riot Games are frustrated about a lack of vaccine requirements, and some are quitting over the company's return-to-office push, Vice Waypoint reports.

🦇 Longtime WB Games chief David Haddad will retain his role following Warner’s merger with Discovery, according to the Hollywood Reporter, after a culling of many top execs from the Warner-AT&T era. WB Games’ upcoming slate includes mega-releases tied to Harry Potter, Batman and the Suicide Squad.

⏳ Rockstar Games is financing the development of PC and new-gen console remakes of classic third-person shooter games Max Payne and Max Payne 2. Original development studio Remedy Games will create them with a budget “in line with a typical Remedy AAA-game production,” the studio says.

5. Worthy of your attention

Metaverse Majors Struggle as User Base Falls Short of Market Expectations [Sam Reynolds, CoinDesk, via VGC]

In the past 30 days, the number of Axie Infinity's average daily users has dropped 30% from the previous period to about 107,240, The Sandbox's has fallen 29% to 1,180 and Decentraland has lost 15% to 978 users a day on average, according to DappRadar data.
When compared to mainstream games on Steam — a digital gaming store — these numbers barely even register against titles like Counter Strike, Dota 2, and PUBG.

6. Myst, but it's a golf course

Screenshot of a building on an island below a cloudy sky
This is a shot of the 2021 remake of regular Myst, NOT the golf course. Screenshot: Cyan Worlds

Classic 1993 puzzle game Myst will soon serve as the basis for a new virtual reality miniature golf course.

Driving the news: Walkabout Mini Golf development team Mighty Coconut says it is partnering with Myst studio Cyan to make a 36-hole course that will be released as a VR game in late 2022.

  • They're promising "iconic settings, objects and the spirit of puzzles from the Myst saga," according to a press release.

Thought bubble: If studios are going to give classic games the mini-golf treatment, I'd be down for a Super Mario 64 or GoldenEye course.

  • And a non-VR option too, please.

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

Who isn't making a metaverse?