Axios Gaming

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It's Friday, the last day of the Game Developers Conference and it's Peter back once more with great gaming stories from Megan and Stephen.

We'll have more to bring you from this jam-packed week in the days to come, but let us know if you have any lingering questions from the first in-person GDC in two years!

Today's newsletter is 1,239 words — a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: The woman who changed games

A red carpet photo of Anita Sarkeesian smiling at the camera.
Anita Sarkeesian attends the Women's Media Center 2016 Women's Media Awards at Capitale on September 29, 2016 in New York City. Photo: Mike Pont/WireImage via Getty Images

A decade after its creation, “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” creator Anita Sarkeesian believes the series has had an essential, undeniable impact on the games industry, Megan writes.

Driving the news: Reflecting on her work and its impact during a Game Developers Conference talk, Sarkeesian says that making those videos today might be “not impossible, but harder,” as there are fewer examples and “the pattern is less egregious.”

  • “The past 10 years have been a grim reminder of how ubiquitous and pernicious racism, sexism, and transphobia can be in this industry, but they are also encouraging proof that real progress is possible.”

Catch up quick: In 2012, Sarkeesian kickstarted a video series critiquing different tropes in video games, such as damsels in distress, or women as rewards. Sarkeesian and her work became an instant target of abuse and harassment for criticizing video games’ misogyny and otherwise poor treatment of women.

  • During Gamergate, Sarkeesian was one of several women specifically targeted with death threats, rape threats, and bomb threats at events she was speaking. That abuse has continued for the past decade.

Sarkeesian said in her talk that “Tropes” helped create conversations: ”it illuminated patterns of problems that had been staring people in the face for decades that many of them had never even noticed before.”

  • Developers have approached Sarkeesian over the years to express their regret and ignorance over including harmful stereotypes, she said. The importance is accountability.
  • “I am not here to be your feminist priest and grant you absolution,” Sarkeesian said. ”But I am here to tell you that you can be better and you can do better, and that's how change happens.”

“Tropes” and Sarkeesian herself have come “to symbolize so much for so many people in so many different ways,” she said.

  • “The nightmare that some gamers felt — I was ushering in a world in which devs lost their 'uncompromised artistic freedom' and sometimes actually had to tell stories about women as real human beings — I guess that came true. We won.”

What’s next: Although progress has been made, Sarkeesian said, the industry itself is nowhere near equitable.

  • “It was never just enough to talk about in-game representation,” she said, pointing to ongoing revelations of abuse and worker mistreatment in games.
  • “This industry is drowning in trauma, abuse, and harassment … As an industry, we are not OK and we haven't been OK.”

And that abuse doesn’t stop with major CEOs at companies like Activision Blizzard.

  • “Clearly, this industry is not yet prepared to truly reckon with these powerful men and the harm that they cause,” she said.
  • “It's happening in small studios, too, because this isn't fundamentally a problem of money, it's a problem of power.”

2. Wordle secrets

Photo illustration: Axios

The earliest version of Wordle had a much harder word list back in 2013, the game’s creator Josh Wardle shared during an exuberant talk at GDC, Stephen writes.

Origin story: Wardle traces his game’s inspiration to a childhood color-matching game called Mastermind and a 2013 fixation with Words with Friends that led to an early version of Wordle.

Two differences in the 2013 version vs. the current one:

  1. You could play new puzzles continuously.
  2. The game randomly picked any of 13,000 five-letter words such as Byded, Nemns, Rozit, and Emyds.

He said his partner was going through a tough time in 2014 and wanted a mindless game, so he made an app that displayed any of those 13,000 words and asked the user to classify them as familiar or not.

  • She did, and that produced the modern Wordle’s word list.

Fun fact: Those famous colored block grids people post to Twitter to share their Wordle results weren’t always part of the game.

  • A player in New Zealand, where the game went viral early, started posting their results using an emoji keyboard.
  • Wardle said he saw it, liked it, and worked it into the game.

The game’s spread: Wardle zipped through slides showing famous people tweeting their Wordle results and movingly shared more personal stories.

  • “Here’s Paul McCartney probably cheating at Wordle,” he said, showing the ex-Beatle getting a word on his first try.
  • He shared a message sent to him by a gay player in Nebraska who said Wordle gave them something to safely talk about with their conservative Christian family.

“To read this is really heartwarming,” Wardle said. “But it is also incredibly tragic. What really struck me is that people are more connected than ever. Yet people yearn for connection.”

  • “Wordle became this lightweight way to check in with your friends and family and tell them that you loved them, without using big heavy words like ‘I love you.’”

Why he sold: Wordle’s popularity exceeded Wardle’s interest in managing it.

  • He said he had “complicated” feelings about other people cloning the game and selling it. “Selling to the New York Times was a way for me to walk away from that.”
  • “I didn't want to be paying a lawyer to issue cease and desists on a game I'm not making money from. It felt like it was all going to get really, really complicated in a way that just … I was pretty stressed out truthfully.”

3. Need to know

💵 Netflix announced yesterday that it bought its third game studio since last summer, with the acquisition of Boss Fight Entertainment.

🧱 Thunderful Games announced a new physics-based Lego adventure/puzzle game, titled LEGO Bricktales, which will release this year.

🌆 Rockstar Games debuted a new GTA+ membership service for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, which will give subscribers in-game currency, Los Santos properties, vehicle upgrades, and more, for $5.99 a month.

☁️ Following its launch of cloud-based [email protected] and the Azure Virtual Game Development Machine earlier this week, Microsoft announced a cloud gaming division within Xbox Game Studios Publishing, with Portal lead designer Kim Swift at the helm.

4. The week ahead

Moss: Book II. Screenshot: Polyarc

March is winding down, and the game release and event calendar is finally going to chill out, Stephen writes.

Saturday and Sunday, March 26 & 27

  • A quiet weekend, as your Axios Gaming team flies home from GDC.
  • If you’re into esports, we always recommend a skim of Juked’s handy calendar.

Monday, March 28

  • Lost Judgment expansion the Kaito Files (PlayStation, Xbox) is released. A little obscure, but we’re fans of any rare Monday video game releases.

Tuesday, March 29

  • Steal thievery game Abermore (PC) and mind-bending block-pushing game Patrick’s Parabox (PC) are released. The latter has a free demo available now.
  • Comically deep global strategy game Crusader Kings III, already out for PC, gets a version for Xbox Series X|S and PS5 consoles.

Wednesday, March 30

Thursday, March 31

  • One of the year’s hotter VR releases, Moss: Book II (PS VR), and a new game called Weird West (Xbox, PlayStation, PC) from some of the lead creators of Dishonored and Prey are released.

Friday, April 1

  • For the first time since January – and that was just a blip – no major releases on a Friday.
  • But it is April Fools' Day, so anything that seems amazing just might be fake.

5. Yarnham racers

Tweet: @b0tster

In a bewildering, if inspired, genre crossover, developer @b0tster confirmed on Bloodborne's seventh birthday that Bloodborne Kart is a game that just might happen.

No word yet on what FromSoftware thinks about putting kart racing into its celebrated, Lovecraftian game.

GDC Day 5: Look out for my memoir, “Why living off of convention center food is a terrible idea.”