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Nov 23, 2021

Axios Gaming

Welcome back to Axios Gaming with Megan and friends.

Today's edition is 1,143 words ... 4½ minutes.

1 big thing: Pokémon's staying power

Image courtesy of Nintendo

"Pokémon Brilliant Diamond" and "Shining Pearl" are the latest in a long series of successful launches, remakes or otherwise, for Game Freak and Nintendo.

Driving the news: According to a report from GamesIndustry, just days after the games’ Nov. 19 release, the duo holds the No. 2 spot in the U.K. for this year's biggest physical release.

  • That puts it above games such as "Battlefield 2042," "Call of Duty: Vanguard," or fellow Switch title "Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury," which launched in February.

Why it matters: Pokémon continues to be a powerhouse in its 25th year, with no signs of slowing down.

  • "Pokémon Brilliant Diamond" and "Shining Pearl" are remakes of the 2006 games, originally released on the Nintendo DS, now reimagined with a new art style and quality of life upgrades for the Switch.
  • Reviews of the games so far have been mostly positive, with critics praising aspects like their faithfulness to the originals.
  • Over the course of its life, the Pokémon franchise has managed to balance its traditional, mainline series — which are mostly straightforward journeys of catching pokémon and defeating gym leaders — to global phenomena like Niantic’s AR game "Pokémon Go."

Yes, but: The launch hasn’t been without some hiccups in the form of glitches.

  • Some of these glitches are fairly harmless, like using surf abilities on land or one that allows players to clone pokémon.
  • Others are potentially game-breaking, with some players claiming to be permanently stuck in parts of the game.

What’s next: "Pokémon Legends: Arceus" — which will mix up the game’s traditional formula in favor of open-world adventures — launches in January.

2. PlayStation hit with gender discrimination lawsuit

Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In a lawsuit against Sony PlayStation, a former IT security analyst is alleging gender discrimination and wrongful termination after speaking up “about discrimination against females” at the gaming giant, Stephen reports.

The big picture: The security analyst, Emma Majo, is seeking court approval to expand her effort into a class action on behalf of women who’ve worked for PlayStation in the past few years.

  • The suit alleges violations of the Equal Pay Act, saying: “Sony discriminates against female employees, including those who are female and those who identify as female, in compensation and promotion and subjects them to a work culture predominated by men.”
  • Majo says she was ignored by a manager who only responded to men, was passed over for promotions, and was terminated this year after submitting a gender bias complaint to the company.
  • She says other women at PlayStation struggled to get promoted at the same rate as men.

Why it matters: Video game companies are under increased scrutiny for their treatment of women in an industry long dominated by men.

  • The Sony suit comes amid high-profile state and federal lawsuits against “Call of Duty” maker Activision over alleged sexual misconduct and gender-based pay disparities.
  • Game companies ranging from Ubisoft and Riot Games to indies such as Fullbright have faced a reckoning over women’s experiences working for them.
3. More Activison Blizzard woes

Doug Bowser | Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Nintendo

Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser has joined the chorus of industry figures criticizing Activision Blizzard and its leadership over recent reports of company harassment and abuse.

Driving the news: Fanbyte first reported on the memo in which Bowser called the accusations "distressing and disturbing. They run counter to my values as well as Nintendo's beliefs, values and policies."

  • The memo was reportedly sent on Nov. 19 to all levels of Nintendo of America staff.
  • Bowser adds that Nintendo is "in contact with Activision" and is considering further actions.
  • A Nintendo spokesperson confirmed the accuracy of the memo to Axios.

An Entertainment Software Association spokesperson told Axios that harassment, abuse or mistreatment in the workplace "is unacceptable and must never be tolerated."

  • "As an industry association, the ESA convenes its member companies to create dialogue and shape actions to ensure that these beliefs are realized."
  • "Any allegation needs to be acknowledged, thoroughly investigated, and addressed with meaningful consequences."

The big picture: Bowser joins Xbox's Phil Spencer and PlayStation's Jim Ryan in reassuring employees internally that they find Activision Blizzard's behavior unacceptable.

  • However, it's still unclear what action these companies will take or what conversations are being conducted among the industry giants.

Elsewhere: Activision Blizzard's board of directors announced it is forming a "Workplace Responsibility Committee," led by two members of that board.

  • That committee will "oversee the Company’s progress in successfully implementing its new policies, procedures, and commitments to improve workplace culture and eliminate all forms of harassment and discrimination."
  • The company also will add "a new, diverse director to the Board."

Between the lines: Activision Blizzard is still in damage control mode after the Wall Street Journal's damning report that CEO Bobby Kotick was both aware of harassment and abuse allegations, and has a history of his own.

  • WSJ reports that Kotick would consider stepping down if the company's ongoing issues cannot be fixed "with speed."
4. Need to know

💰 "Pokémon Go" creator Niantic has raised $300 million from Coatue, at a $9 billion valuation.

🎸 Epic has acquired "Guitar Hero" developer Harmonix; the developer will work to create "musical journeys and gameplay for 'Fortnite.'"

☃️ December's Xbox Games with Gold are "The Escapists 2," "Tropico 5 — Penultimate Edition," "Orcs Must Die!" and "Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet."

📍 Xbox has launched a virtual museum in honor of its 20th anniversary, where you can explore the history of Microsoft's consoles, from the genesis of the console and its evolution to whiffs like the "red ring of death."

5. Worthy of your attention

How the original "Diamond" and "Pearl" games brought the hype back to Pokémon (Ana Diaz, Polygon)

Pokémon is largely a franchise that’s powered by nostalgia, and 'Pokémon Brilliant Diamond' and 'Shining Pearl' cater to the generations of players who grew up with these titles. What makes these remakes special goes beyond what they’re doing; they’re special because they represent a sort of generational reset within the franchise, as each title brings new first-time players into the fold. It also didn’t hurt that the original 'Diamond' and 'Pearl' also got a boost because of how wildly successful the Nintendo DS was — to date, it’s the best-selling handheld console ever with more than 154 million units sold.
6. Pandemic chess masters

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Today in a rare crossover of sports and games: "Animal Crossing" wasn't the only big hit of the pandemic, according to Axios Sports writer Jeff Tracy — online chess also drew in millions of players.

Jeff reports: When the world shut down in March 2020, countless activities exploded in popularity, but few experienced a bigger boom than chess.

  • Chess.com, the leading online platform, had about 30 million members when the pandemic began. By February 2021, it had 57 million. Today? Nearly 76 million.
  • Sales increased too, bolstered by Netflix's mega-hit, "The Queen's Gambit." In the five weeks after its October 2020 release, sales of chess sets (87%) and books on chess (603%) skyrocketed in the U.S.

Chess! Who knew.

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

Don't let anyone tell you you're not a top athlete if you're good at Chess.