Oct 11, 2021

Axios Gaming

Welcome to a new week, everyone.

One of my new neighbors — a kid, mind you — told me on Saturday that he saw me playing a racing game and a zombie game on Friday night. Translation: he was peeking from his window into my living room after midnight. I'd probably do the same if I was 10 and a games reporter moved in next door.

Today's edition is 1,259 words, a 4.5-minute read.

1 big thing: That Switch may break

Photo: Nintendo

The durability of the Nintendo Switch's controllers remains an open question, four and a half years into the popular console’s existence.

  • Nintendo itself acknowledged that uncertainty in a recent promotional interview in which its hardware designers discussed, but did not fully detail, efforts to improve the device.

Why it matters: Widespread malfunctions with the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers have led to multiple class-action lawsuits in the past two years, a free mail-in repair option from Nintendo, and a 2020 apology by the company’s CEO.

  • The core issue is the vexing tendency of the system’s control sticks — usually the left one after months or years of use — to begin sending signals even when it isn’t touched.
  • Nintendo, long known for making sturdy consoles that did not have such problems, had barely spoken about what it has done to address the Switch’s issue.

The details: On Thursday, Nintendo officials revealed that they have revised the test used to determine the reliability of their control sticks and have worked to “improve durability” of the components to pass the new test.

  • This was a different message from Nintendo. Just a few weeks ago, at a demo of the new OLED Switch model in New York, a Nintendo official told Axios the controllers were unchanged.
  • In the new interview, the company says they meant that the functionality hasn’t changed.
  • Nintendo hardware official Toru Yamashita said “the analog-stick parts have continuously been improved since launch, and we are still working on improvements.”

It’s unclear what the newest changes entail: People who have opened up the Joy-Cons for the OLED model say the guts of the controller don’t seem different.

  • Those observers have seen — and photographed — earlier revisions.
  • One speculated the materials involved could have improved, but couldn't test that.

Between the lines: This is a sensitive topic for Nintendo, one in which it is repeatedly on the defensive.

  • The company has taken pains to avoid identifying a manufacturing problem, describing wear and tear as inevitable, like tires on a car.
  • Yamashita even noted that the Switch’s original controllers had cleared the same test used on Nintendo’s prior console, the durable Wii U.
  • A trio of Joy-Con drift class-action lawsuits filed in 2019 and 2020 have all been sent to arbitration, with courts expecting updates by year’s end. As IGN reported in February, a clause in the Switch’s end user license agreement bars users from filing a class-action suit, though that too is being contested.

What they're saying: "We expect all our hardware to perform as designed," a Nintendo rep told Axios.

  • "If anything falls short of this goal, we always encourage consumers to contact Nintendo customer support."
2. Busy week

"Book of Travels." Screenshot: Might and Delight

Some of you have asked for a weekly schedule of gaming events and notable releases, so let’s give it a shot.

Today

  • Early access release for the gorgeous “Book of Travels,” (PC) which looks like an interactive painting.

Tuesday

  • Official launch for “Back 4 Blood,” (console, PC) from developers Turtle Rock and publisher Warner Bros. A co-op players-vs.-zombies game from the makers of the subgenre’s defining “Left 4 Dead.”

Wednesday

  • Not much!

Thursday

  • Roblox Developers Conference — an annual invite-only gathering for “Roblox” game makers, held physically and virtually this year.

Friday

  • NHL 22” released (console), though people who pay extra can start playing on Tuesday.
  • NPD group will announce September sales figures for the U.S. game industry.
  • New “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” content to be revealed in a special online showcase.
  • New Swery game (nothing more needs to be said, for those in the know).

Saturday

  • Minecraft Live — an online showcase for all things “Minecraft.”
  • DC Fandome — a batch of online showcases for DC Comics-related material, including updates on the company’s blockbusters-to-be: “Gotham Knights” and “Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.”

Note: If you have feedback on this calendar or a game or event you think we should include in next week's, let us know by replying to this newsletter.

3. Activision's investigators now feuding

Two of the governmental organizations suing Activision are now fighting each other in court.

Driving the news: On Thursday, the state of California said it objected to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's planned harassment lawsuit settlement with Activision Blizzard.

  • A day later, the EEOC filed its opposition to California's move. The pushback isn't surprising, given the EEOC wanted to settle with Activision.
  • But the details are a twist: The EEOC says California's lawyers opposing the settlement are former EEOC lawyers who were "intimately involved" in the EEOC's investigation. It says those lawyers' shouldn't be allowed to oppose the settlement.

What's next: It's unclear what will come of the agencies' feud, but it adds complexity to the forthcoming decision a judge needs to make about whether to approve the settlement.

4. Need to know

🍎 Apple is appealing the decision it largely won against Epic, potentially delaying the ability for apps to link out to alternate payment processors. Once again, Apple's lawyers submitted Epic boss Tim Sweeney's tweets (such as this one) to bolster their arguments.

📱 PlayStation hired Nicola Sebastiani, the head of content for Apple Arcade, to run its nascent mobile gaming business — and did so months ago without fanfare, Push Square reports.

👠 Hypercasual mobile hit "High Heels" has been downloaded 100 million times in less than a year since launch, according to App Annie. The breakout Zynga game was the most downloaded game of its type in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia for the first half of 2021.

5. Worthy of your attention

No, Jim Ryan - Gaming in the Middle East existed long before PlayStation [Mufaddal Fakhruddin, IGN]

When discussing the impact the PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 had worldwide, [Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO] Jim Ryan said, “One of the things that I am proud about there is that we kind-of pushed the envelope. We opened up markets that had never had any gaming culture ever. Middle East...people had never played games before PlayStation in the Middle East.”
I mean...huh?
... The region has been cultivating a small and passionate gaming culture since the ‘80s, with the release of Atari consoles, Super Nintendo Entertainment System / Famicom, Sega Mega Drive (or Sega Genesis, if Ryan is more familiar with that name) being extremely popular, and which truly pushed the envelope in homes adopting gaming consoles. I remember when my brothers and I collected school lunch money for an entire year so we could buy a Sega console, and play Sonic and Street Fighter at our homes rather than queuing up at the arcades.
6. Great gaming term you should know: "sequence breaking"

"Metroid Dread." Screenshot: Nintendo

One of my favorite video game terms is "sequence breaking," which is when players figure out how to circumvent obstacles in a game earlier than they are supposed to.

Why it matters: Think of a game that includes locked doors. The developers may expect you to spend an hour finding a key, but a crafty player might discover there's a way to jump over a wall near the door or exploit a glitch to squeeze through the door early — defying developer intent.

  • "Sequence breaking" is part of the push-and-pull between players and game makers, regarding what "should" or "should not" be allowed in a game.

Some game makers support sequence breaking, while others patch those unexpected shortcuts out of subsequent versions of their games.

  • That's what made a weekend tweet (spoilers for an early boss battle) about a sequence break in the new "Metroid Dread" so delightful.
  • It won't make sense to nonplayers. But, to those with the game, it's a sign that the developers knew players would sequence break and included a little surprise to reward them if they did.

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

I asked the publisher Take Two why Christopher Columbus wasn't included in the most recent version of "Civilization," after he'd been in a few before. A rep told me they would "politely decline in providing comment."