Picture of a gaming controller.
Aug 20, 2021

Axios Gaming

Hi. It's Stephen with a Friday newsletter for you all. Can I get something from you? We're running low on Q's for our weekly Q&A's, so send me some.

  • Can be about gaming, about this newsletter, about... I don't know, anyone have questions about the time I (temporarily!) lost my wedding ring because the fruit I ate for lunch was so juicy it slipped off my finger?
  • Today's edition is 1,317 words, a 5-minute read.
1 big thing: The machine rumbles on

"Call of Duty Vanguard." Image: Activision Blizzard

Activision Blizzard is full steam ahead in hyping the next "Call of Duty," even as negative publicity about an anti-discrimination lawsuit persists.

Why it matters: California’s lawsuit against Activision Blizzard led to worldwide headlines and a walkout several weeks ago, but time tends to be the enemy of persistent scrutiny.

What's happening: Activision is in full-on prep mode for the big fall season.

  • Yesterday was sort of a “Call of Duty” holiday, with the official trailer reveal of November’s “Call of Duty Vanguard” and the kickoff of the Call of Duty League’s 2021 seasonal finals.
  • Today is also the start of a public beta for Blizzard’s big fall release, “Diablo II: Resurrected.”

Meanwhile, Activision has quieted down about its troubles.

  • A check of court records shows the company has yet to officially respond to the lawsuit from California’s Department of Fair Employment & Housing, which was filed a month ago today.
  • It had initially responded to the lawsuit harshly, calling it “distorted,” then saw its CEO strike a softer tone before replacing the leadership at Blizzard in advance of a quarterly call with investors.

But… workers who have formed a group called “A Better ABK” (ABK = the company branches Activision, Blizzard and King) say the company has failed to address specific demands made at the walkout.

  • Those demands include an end to mandatory arbitration clauses in employee contracts, improved talent recruiting that emphasizes diversity, and publication of compensation data.
  • “Their silence is taken as refusal at this point,” current Blizzard test analyst Jessica Gonzalez tells Axios.

On Tuesday, Gonzalez publicly shared a message she said an in-house recruiter sent her on LinkedIn, apparently in reference to articles and messages she'd been posting online about problems at the company.

  • It read, in part: “Some of the articles that you are sharing freak candidates out…. Can you please share what we are doing as a company to eliminate such toxic behavior?”
  • She didn’t respond. “I was kind of in shock,” she says.
  • Regarding this incident, a company rep told Axios: “We support employees’ right to express their opinions and concerns in a safe and respectful manner, without fear of retaliation.”

What’s next: The games are coming, of course — not that there was any doubt — and the impact of new leadership at Blizzard is still in the wait-and-see phase for workers there.

  • A meeting between the judge and the parties, should it continue to move to a trial, is set for Dec. 9.
2. A blind gamer’s experience

"Metal Gear Solid." Screes

Following our story yesterday about “The Vale,” a new audio-only game for sighted and blind gamers alike, we had an interview with Lukáš Hosnedl, a blind gamer who consulted on the project.

  • Hosnedl is one of thousands of blind and low-vision gamers who enjoy playing video games, and was open to sharing his experience about what gaming has been like for him.

“I used to grow up playing old PlayStation 1 classics with my older, sighted brother,” the Prague-based Hosnedl tells Axios.

  • He could only hear the games as the two dabbled with everything from “Tomb Raider” to “Tekken.”
  • The ample audio cues and simple lanes of movement made fighting games such as “Mortal Kombat” some of his favorites. “These were the ones I became quite good at, able to beat him most of the time.”
  • Eventually he memorized parts of action-adventure games like “Metal Gear Solid” so he could play them on his own.

Mostly, though, Hosnedl has played audio-only games. “They may not always have the best sounding audio because of financial constraints,” he said, but he praises many for being fun and innovative.

  • Favorites include “Shades of Doom,” “GMA Tank Commander” and “Tube Sim,” among scores more at audiogames.net.

The 2020 blockbuster PS4 game “The Last of Us 2” was a breakthrough for him. That game has accessibility options that enable players to navigate the entire adventure, including its combat sequences, with audio cues.

  • He considers the game a “historical milestone,” as it is “the first ever AAA [big budget] video game that's been made completely accessible to blind players from start to finish, without any sighted assistance whatsoever.”

What’s next: Hosnedl says he’s consulting on more games, but can’t talk about them yet.

3. A “Frogger” game show
Screenshot: Peacock

Streaming service Peacock has revealed a trailer for its live-action “Frogger” game show.

  • You know “Frogger,” right? Frog trying to cross the road without getting squashed.
  • It debuts Sept. 9.
4. You ask, we answer.

It's Friday, so time for more reader Q&A.

Q. I have a question for you. Do either Microsoft or Sony have any interest in making their consoles available to fans directly rather than through third party retailers or their own storefronts? ... I would happily buy a Series X this minute if it wasn't such a pain to do so.

A. Stephen: They are doing it now, to a very limited degree.

  • Sony occasionally offers PS5’s through its PlayStation Direct service (follow beleaguered deal-finder Wario64 on Twitter for timely notices about when those go live.)
  • Microsoft has a pilot program for direct Xbox Series purchases that required users to register in June. Microsoft didn’t have any updates about the program when I asked.
  • Supply of both consoles is short, so while there’s understandable frustration from the public about how to get consoles, neither Sony nor Microsoft are swimming in enough units to really blow out direct purchase options even if they wanted to (and even if it wouldn’t infuriate their retail partners).

Do you have a question? Send it by replying to this newsletter.

5. Need to know

🎮A reboot of the open-world crime comedy series “Saints Row” (think “GTA” but more ridiculous) is set to be revealed on Wednesday of next week.

⚔️Yet another special edition of “Skyrim” is on the way. The oft-reissued role-playing classic will get an “Anniversary Edition” on Nov. 11, a decade after the game’s original release. It will include hundreds of fan-made mods. Current owners of the game’s “Special Edition” will get a new fishing mode for free.

👥“Halo Infinite” won’t have campaign co-op or its Forge-level editor at launch, its developers said today, though the game is still set for release this holiday. The developers say both features simply aren't ready and will be released for the game next year.

6. Worthy of your attention

Sony spent five years building a new PlayStation VR studio, then abruptly shut it down — Jack Yarwood, Polygon

“On paper, it sounds amazing,” one former employee says. “You had the backing of Sony. You were going to create a new IP, and we haven’t entered production yet so you are there from the start. But after six months to a year, people would realize this isn’t going anywhere and would then face a decision of what to do next.”
7. The mischievous new “WarioWare”

Screenshot: Nintendo

Nintendo’s next big Switch release, September’s “WarioWare: Get it Together” has built-in support for one of the most delightful aspects of gaming: giving the person you’re playing with a hard time.

  • The game's main novelty is that players of its 200-some absurd 5-second micro-games can play them with multiple characters and other players. (There's a demo of this on Switch.)
  • But when Nintendo showed me the game over video conference this week, I was smitten with a longer side-game called "Puck 'er up," which challenges 2-4 players to push a puck into a goal, then lets the one who does try to complete a micro-game that’s displayed in a small virtual screen.
  • The other players are able to push, shake and squeeze that screen, making it all the harder for the player inside to finish the split-second goal.

Nintendo is particularly skilled at making multiplayer modes that encourage this kind of mischief.

  • It might well be in the company's creative DNA.
  • Many years ago, when I first met the company’s star game creator Shigeru Miyamoto, we played a four-player Mario game in which we had to collect stars. He ignored the goal and mirthfully spent his time using his character to punch everyone else’s.

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

The Axios Gaming newsletter will add co-op back in next week. Missed you, Megan!