November 03, 2022

Happy Thursday.

Sorry, I wasn’t able to buy you the $250 Minecraft Burberry scarf in time. All sold out!

Today’s edition: 1,328 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: A peek into game industry salaries

Grand Theft Auto IV. Screenshot: Rockstar Games

A new pay transparency law in New York City is offering an unprecedented, if narrow, look at what people in the video game industry make and how different companies pay.

Driving the news: As of Tuesday, any company in New York City with at least four workers is required to post “good faith” salary ranges in its listings for jobs in the city.

  • Affected companies include NBA 2K publisher Take-Two Interactive, GTA-maker Rockstar Games and a slew of other notable gaming outfits that have some presence in the city.
  • The only catch is that the game industry has a small footprint in the region.

Why it matters: Pay rates in the gaming industry are rarely made public, despite efforts by some developers and indie studios to make compensation more transparent.

Details: A sampling of NYC gaming jobs reveals pay ranges for roles tied to making games, marketing them or managing teams.

  • Rockstar Games’ NYC listings — the most extensive that Axios found — include a product lead for the Rockstar Games Launcher ($163k-$184k), a voice-over director ($123k-$144k), a physics programmer ($121k-$142k), a cheat software analyst ($103k-$120k) and an associate dialogue designer for its games’ open worlds ($50k-$57k).
  • Take-Two’s NYC listings include a senior systems engineer working with its Ghost Story Games studio ($121k-$142k), a director of people ops ($170k-$198k) and a director of marketing for its Private Division label ($170k-$198k).
  • Epic Games’ NYC listings — the highest-paying that Axios found — include an operations manager for content policy and escalations ($159k-$206k) and a senior product manager on Unreal Engine ($187k-$242k).
  • Twitch’s NYC listings include a developer advocate ($145k-$195k) and a software engineer for proactive safety ($158k-$214k).
  • Activision lists a “measurement lead” role for its sales team ($77k-$114k).
  • Ubisoft lists a part-time job running game demos at events ($15/hr plus overtime).

Between the lines: The game companies listing salaries in NYC jobs largely don’t for their open roles in places where laws don’t require them to.

  • The listings tend to note that role’s salary will vary based on regional cost of living. Twitch publishes alternate, lower ranges for NYC jobs that might be filled in other regions.

What’s next: Similar pay transparency laws will go into effect in California and Washington state at the start of the new year.

  • That’ll relegate NYC’s listings to just a sneak preview.
  • Those states include thousands of game industry jobs and large offices for the likes of Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Activision, EA, Riot, Bungie and more.

Go deeper: Pay transparency shakeup could mean salary pushback

2. Sony's big VR gamble

PSVR2. Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Sony is not exactly going mass market with its next virtual reality headset, based on its reveal this week that the high-end device will cost $550 — more than the PS5 required to run it — when it launches on Feb. 22.

Why it matters: Despite mountains of hype and investment behind it for the past decade, VR tech has struggled to go mainstream, in part because of the cost of entry to use it.

A smaller audience: Sony will be selling PSVR2 into a relatively young PS5 market that just reached 29 million shipped.

  • Two years ago, the company said it had sold 5 million of the original PSVR headsets for PlayStation 4, back when there were more than 100 million of those consoles in the market.

It's not just that PSVR2's price is high and there aren't many PS5s out there.

  • Sony has yet to leverage many of its elite studios and top franchises for its VR efforts.
  • Sony has announced just one PSVR2 game so far that's tied to a top PlayStation series, the launch game Horizon Call of the Mountain.
  • Plus, many of the announced third-party PSVR2 games so far have or will be coming to Meta's cheaper headset. "The sight of so many already-available titles like Zenith and Pistol Whip could make PSVR2 a harder sell for those who've already bought into VR," Mathew Olson, the author of the VR/AR newsletter Virtual Vector, told Axios Gaming. "And those are the customers who would otherwise be more inclined to become early adopters and sing its praises if there was more that felt truly new in that lineup."

3. Need to know

😲 Sony’s PlayStation Plus subscriber service has lost 2 million users, down to 45 million, since the program relaunched in June. Sony cited a decline in PS4 users.

🤔 The Embracer Group is shutting down Square Enix Montreal, a mobile-focused studio it recently bought and rebranded Onoma, Bloomberg reports.

📺 The HBO adaptation of Sony’s The Last Of Us will premiere on Jan. 15

4. The week ahead

A Little to the Left. Screenshot: Max Inferno

Friday, Nov. 4

Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 5 and 6

  • League Of Legends’ Worlds finals will be held on Saturday evening. Lil Nas X will perform at the opening ceremony as Riot tries to build a Super Bowl feel.
  • Daylight saving time ends early on Nov. 6. Reset your clocks!

Monday, Nov. 7

  • Activision and Take-Two report quarterly earnings.

Tuesday, Nov. 8

Wednesday, Nov. 9

Thursday, Nov. 10

Friday, Nov. 11

5. We played ... God of War Ragnarök

God of War Ragnarök. Screenshot: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Axios editor Peter Allen Clark and I have both been playing Sony's next PlayStation blockbuster, Nov. 9's God of War Ragnarök, in which weary god-killer Kratos is once again rampaging through Norse mythology with his son Atreus, this time with a mission to avert Ragnarök.

  • Peter and I had a chat about it.

Stephen: I'm 16 hours in and having a good time with the game. I care about the character and the combat, both of which are deeper (in very different ways!) than the last one. What about you, Peter?

Peter: I’m 14 hours in and really enjoying it as well. I think the sequel is offering some really interesting wrinkles with combat that I already loved from the last game, and it looks very pretty. Sounds like I’m not as compelled by the character development as you are, at least so far, but I’m definitely having a great time.

Stephen: What's your favorite non-spoiler change from the previous game? For me, it's how you can really focus on specific combat moves, level them up and apply status modifiers to really customize how you proceed through battle.

Peter: My favorite change is how the combat has been further defined, definitely. I recently found a combo of perks that made the combat feel a lot like the superb Doom from 2016: melee your way to health boosts.

Stephen: Are you more of an axe person or a swinging Blades of Chaos person? I keep wanting to use the blades to smite my foes but think the axe might be better.

Peter: I’ve enjoyed switching between the axe and the blades depending on the fighting situations. I love the axe, but if enemies start surrounding me, I lean into those fiery hell knives.

Stephen: I've been advising people who played the previous God of War to brush up on it before trying this new one. What about for people who didn't like the last one? Think this one is a skip?

Peter: If you didn’t like the last God of War, it’s hard for me to see you liking Ragnarök. So far, it hews pretty close to the last one and I could see criticism that it’s too similar. I loved 2018's God of War and it’s great to be back in Midgard, but if the last one left you feeling cold, I don’t think this one will hit differently.

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🐦 Find me on Twitter: @stephentotilo.

Thank you to Peter Allen Clark for editing and Kathie Bozanich for copy editing this newsletter.

Can't stop going on sidequests.