Axios Gaming

Picture of a gaming controller.
May 24, 2022

I hope your Tuesday is going well.

🐍 I need to alert you to a new hazard: sit on the toilet too long playing games on your cellphone and you just might get bitten in the rear end by a snake. That’s what a man in Malaysia says happened to him. Teeth got stuck in there, too.

Today’s edition: 1,050 words, 4 minutes.

1 big thing: Try, try again

Battlefield 2042's characters are set for an overhaul.
Even Battlefield 2042's characters are set for an overhaul. Screenshot: Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts’ Battlefield 2042 is in humility mode these days, six months after a messy launch. The developers of the multiplayer military combat game are promising improvements to a weary and winnowed fan base.

Why it matters: It’s now the norm to see mid-voyage repairs on games that are too big for their publishers to abandon.

Details: A 15-minute video released today by Battlefield's developers is an artifact of the times.

  • The developers promise changes, as old marketing bullet points like 128-player multiplayer modes are now a thing they’re “unshackling” from in pursuit of player fun (sometimes, 64 players will do).
  • They’re revamping the game’s battlefield maps, adding cover points and tightening them to give them, in one developer’s words, "much more of a Battlefield feeling than we had at launch.”
  • They’re de-prioritizing modes, promising they’re still overhauling other features.
  • As the video winds down, senior producer Ryan McArthur looks into the camera and says, “The team has made a ton of updates to this game. But we know it’s not enough and we know we need to keep doing more.” He adds: “We just want you to know we are here.”

Between the lines: Battlefield’s not alone on this trip.

  • SquareEnix’s Babylon’s Fall has been so unpopular, and yet its publisher is so committed to making the game succeed, that it’s extending its current post-release season of content by three months to give its developers time to regroup.
  • Microsoft keeps delaying post-release updates to Halo Infinite, a game it had already delayed a year to get right, to buy time, while its players grumble over the lack of improvements.

EA won’t walk away from Battlefield 2042, because they can’t.

  • Players expect updates and EA CEO Andrew Wilson is out there telling investors Battlefield is a key franchise whose leaders are “rethinking the development process from the ground up.”
  • Improvement is always alluringly possible. People on both ends of the controller have seen successful post-release salvage jobs on SquareEnix’s Final Fantasy XIV (a debacle transformed into a blockbuster), Battlefield studio DICE’s own Star Wars Battlefront II and others.
  • And, of course, just like any other mega-release these days, EA has promised at least a year of post-release editions to the game. It’s too awkward to cancel all of that. Just gotta fix the game first.

The bottom line: Making games is tough, and tougher still during a pandemic.

  • So too are the pressures to make a game succeed months after launch, no matter how bad things are going.

2. A union win, a longer fight

Illustration of fists getting longer like an upward trending bar chart.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The 19-3 vote by quality assurance workers to form a union at Activision-owned Call of Duty studio Raven Software yesterday is a prelude for future struggles.

Why it matters: The Raven effort will be an indication for the non-unionized rest of the U.S. games industry to see what collective action can achieve.

What the workers want to change has not been entirely spelled out, since that’s what the contract bargaining phase is for. But in January, Raven’s QA team laid out some priorities in a letter to management about why they wanted a union:

  • Pressure on developers to work in “crunch conditions,” with long hours, long weeks and “little ability to push back."
  • Lack of income parity with other QA teams (this was before Activision gave raises to 1,000 QA workers but not the unionizing Raven team).
  • Forced relocations without paid assistance to move.
  • “Cultural and ethical conflicts” at Activision.

What’s next: The ball is in Activision’s court, as it has until May 31 to contest the election or begin bargaining with the workers union, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

  • Activision has said repeatedly — and told Axios yesterday — that it feels the full 300+ workers at Raven should be voting on the union (which many have said would make it more likely to fail).
  • Asked if it would object or move on to collective bargaining, a company rep said: “We’re committed to doing what's best for the studio and our employees.”

Of note: Former Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé said to the Washington Post about the general push for unions in gaming: "In many industries, unionization is a good thing. As a leader, you need to look hard. And if this is what your employees want, you need to address that and embrace it and move forward."

Go deeper: Activision workers vote to form industry's first big union in U.S.

3. Need to know

🇺🇦 S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 devs, Ukraine-based GSC Game World, who've had more important things on their mind since Russia invaded their country, tell me that development has resumed on their game. They'll share more when they can.

🎮 The next big Call of Duty, subtitled Modern Warfare II, will be released on Oct. 28, Activision announced today. That’s slightly earlier than most games in the annual series, which have mostly shipped in early November.

⚔️ Hit PC battle royale Naraka: Bladepoint is coming to mobile, on the heels of another standout in the category, Apex Legends, having just done the same.

📱 Netflix is adding another four games to its mobile app by the end of the month.

4. What’s old is still worth playing

Screenshot of Tweet listing the 10 most-played games in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2022. Minecraft tops the list
Screenshot: Twitter

Some of the most-played video games in the United States came out a long time ago, according to a chart shared by NPD analyst Mat Piscatella.

Why it matters: It’s easy to get caught up in the discussion and coverage of new games, but even the biggest ones don’t draw the players of the …can we call them classics?

The most-played game in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2022 was Minecraft, which came out in 2009.

  • It was followed by Grand Theft Auto V and The Sims 4, which were both released in an America that was pre-Donald-Trump-escalator-ride.

This year’s biggest new release, Elden Ring, may have sold millions, but it was played less in the first quarter of 2022 than 19 other games, including World of Warcraft (launched in 2004) and Skyrim (launched in 2011)

  • To be fair, Elden Ring came out in late February, so it only had a month to try to take over people’s lives.

Between the lines: The games that charted are mostly played in social ways, either through multiplayer or as a spectacle to stream and watch.

  • That’s not to say story-driven games are dead. They just don’t have these kinds of legs.

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🐦 Find me on Twitter: @stephentotilo.

2009 wasn't really that long ago, was it?