Axios Gaming

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Welcome to Axios Gaming. It's Megan, back from vacation, and it's Monday, a reminder to you and me as I begrudgingly remember that calendars and deadlines exist.

Today's edition is 1,339 words — a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: More walkouts at Activision Blizzard

Image courtesy of ABK Workers Alliance

Activision Blizzard workers walked out today in another collective action demonstration, rallying against work conditions and policies set by the company.

Driving the news: Chief administrative officer Brian Bulatao informed employees on Thursday that rules requiring U.S. workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 would end immediately.

  • Bulatao pointed to improving conditions and businesses across the U.S. lifting vaccine requirements as the impetus for the change.

The following day, ABK Workers Alliance representatives told Axios they would stage a protest: "Due to the new [return to office] policy around no longer mandating vaccination requirements in regards to the ongoing pandemic, a group of ABK employees will be conducting a walkout."

  • "There are many employees who struggle with illness or are immunocompromised or surrounded by immunocompromised people," senior software engineer Ada-Claire Cripps told Axios today.
  • "With the ongoing discussions about return to office paired with lifting the vaccine testing policies, it was clear that we weren't going to be safe from COVID transmission."

Activision Blizzard partially reversed its policies "almost immediately" in response to employee concerns, she said.

  • According to two employees, studios were initially not able to create their own vaccination or testing policies.
  • In a follow-up email from Bulatao sent Friday, the company said that individual studios will be able to decide the "processes and policies" that work best for employees in their respective locations.
  • According to organizers, four studios have so far opted to keep the vaccine and testing mandates in place.

Walkout participants are demanding:

  • Making work from home an open and equitable option for all employees.
  • Reverse the lifting of the vaccine mandate for all other studios who haven't yet walked it back.

Cripps estimates that there are over 80 people participating in the mostly virtual walkout.

  • "We want to be heard," she said. "And historically, all methods of communicating with upper leadership have been silently ignored, and the only way that we have to actually make our voices listened to is by applying public pressure."

Asked about the company's policies and the walkout today, a spokesperson reiterated statements shared on Friday: "While Activision Blizzard’s U.S. vaccine mandate has been lifted, for the majority of our employees, we are still operating under a voluntary return to office opportunity."

  • The company will "continue to monitor conditions and make adjustments to the policy as needed."
  • Microsoft, which announced plans to acquire Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion in January, gave notice to employees in February that the company would begin returning to in-office work.

What's next: Employees will continue to champion for better policies.

  • "Those who are dealing with any form of illness or disability are the ones who bear the brunt of this decision to force everyone back into the office," Cripps said.
  • "It's evident that remote work is effective," said Cripps, pointing to the last two years of employees working from home. "Most people do not need to be physically present to do their job."

2. A major game developer leaves Russia

World of Tanks. Image courtesy of Wargaming

World of Tanks developer Wargaming is leaving Russia and Belarus, a move it expects will result in “substantial losses.”

Why it matters: Wargaming, founded in Belarus more than two decades ago, is a massive company with nearly 20 offices worldwide.

The details: The company said changes were effective March 31 and it plans to not “own or operate any businesses” in either country.

  • That includes transferring its live games business to Russian developer Lesta Studio, which is “no longer affiliated with Wargaming.”
  • Wargaming is still in the process of closing its Minsk studio.
  • “The company will not profit from this process either today or going forward,” Wargaming said. “Much to the contrary, we expect to suffer substantial losses as a direct result of this decision.”

That includes layoffs, though it’s unclear how many people will be affected. “We will be providing as much severance and support as possible to our employees affected by the change,” Wargaming said.

The big picture: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has continued for more than a month now, despite worldwide disavowment and sanctions on Russia.

  • Developers within the country are fighting to survive and remain safe with their loved ones.
  • Within the gaming industry specifically, major companies such as Microsoft, Nintendo, Electronic Arts, CD Projekt Red and many more have halted services and sales in Russia.
  • Wargaming itself fired creative director Sergey Burkatovskiy in February, after his public support for Russian invasion — a sentiment that “categorically does not reflect the position of the company,” a spokesperson told PC Gamer.

What’s next: “Despite the magnitude of this decision, we as a company are confident in the future of our business and are committed to delivering quality games to our players,” Wargaming said.

3. You ask, we answer

Oxenfree II. Image courtesy of Night School Studios

It's Q&A Day! Send us your questions by replying to this email.

Q: What do you think the impact will be of multinational entertainment companies (e.g. Amazon, Disney, Netflix) increasingly investing in video games and buying studios?

A: The biggest impact I’m already hearing about is an influx of cash in game spaces. That’s about acquisitions as a whole, not just when it comes to entertainment. That means more jobs and possibilities for better pay — for some developers. (Let’s not pretend the game industry isn't drowning in problems when it comes to equitable jobs.)

  • We can also expect to see more video game properties get screen adaptations. Hollywood is investing heavily in video games right now, from high-profile takes on Uncharted, Halo, The Last of Us, Sonic and more.
  • "Arcane," an animated series set in the League of Legends universe, has proved to be a huge success for Netflix, scooping up awards and high viewership; a second season is currently in progress.
  • Netflix's acquisition of developers like Oxenfree creator Night School Studio and its investment into gaming opens up possibilities for new ways to experience that entertainment.

4. Need to know

📅 Epic's State of Unreal livestream, featuring a keynote from Tim Sweeney and more, takes place tomorrow at 11am ET.

🤖 Citizen Sleeper, a game about "roleplaying in the ruins of interplanetary capitalism," launches for PC, Mac, Xbox Game Pass and Nintendo Switch on May 5.

🦎 A demo for Gex Jr., an unreleased PlayStation spinoff in the gecko-led franchise, seems to have appeared online.

5. Worthy of your attention

  • The Metaverse Has Bosses Too. Meet the ‘Managers’ of Axie Infinity (Edward Ongweso Jr, Motherboard)
“Everything in life is a Ponzi,” said one Venezuelan manager who goes by Iguano and directs five scholars, reflecting the widespread idea that Axie Infinity's buy-in requirement and diminishing returns as its token sinks in value make it similar to a Ponzi or pyramid scheme. “The first bunch of people who invested in the game have better profit than the people who invest at the end. The economy of Axie needs new people to join to provide gains to the people who were there before.”

6. 🐵 Monkey see, monkey new

Screenshot: Axios

If you wish the world had more grog jokes, pirate ghosts or insult-based swashbuckling duels, then you’ll be happy to hear that a new entry in the Monkey Island game series is coming in 2022, Peter writes.

Driving the news: In a short teaser trailer released today, Devolver Digital announced the new game, titled Return to Monkey Island, will release this year.

Flashback: 1990's Secret of Monkey Island was a beloved point-and-click adventure game developed within Lucasfilm Games by pioneers Ron Gilbert, David Grossman and Tim Schafer.

  • It’s easy to see the Monkey Island series as a forerunner to a lot of modern design in and outside of games: Double Fine’s aesthetic, Borderland’s irreverent humor, the lineage of adventure games, etc., etc.

Today’s trailer showed little of what the upcoming game will actually look like.

  • Gilbert’s last big release was 2019’s throwback Thimbleweed Park, which took pains to incorporate much of Monkey Island’s sense of humor and even visual appearance. Its design was an homage to those earlier games that used the Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion (SCUMM) engine.

Peter's thought bubble: Thimbleweed Park showed that Gilbert is still full of fun, compelling ideas, and Devolver has a solid track record.

  • I will always welcome another trip back to Monkey Island.

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

🐒 No monkeys were harmed in the making of that pun. Just Megan.