Axios Gaming

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October 06, 2022

Happy Thursday.

It's Mario movie trailer day, going live at 4:05pm ET. Watch here.

Note: No newsletter this coming Monday as it's Indigenous Peoples Day. I'll send one on Tuesday instead.

Today's edition: 1,430 words, a 5.5-minute read.

1 big thing: PlayStation Studios chief on expanding its lineup

Photo illustration of Hermen Hulst next to a grid composed of the Playstation studios logo and Kratos, the main character of the God of War game.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photos: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Sony PlayStation is broadening the types of games it makes but will not neglect its core strength of single-player narrative adventures, PlayStation Studios chief Hermen Hulst tells Axios.

Why it matters: Winning gaming hardware generations by selling the most consoles is no longer enough for PlayStation.

  • While it entered a new console cycle with the 2020 launch of the PlayStation 5, Sony has also begun expanding into PC and mobile development.

What they’re saying: “We have a history and a reputation for building these incredible narrative-driven single-player games, such as The Last of Us and Horizon and the upcoming God of War Ragnarök,” Hulst says, chatting via video conference from his office in Amsterdam.

On tap from Sony:

  • 12 “live ops” games, a category of open-ended, mostly multiplayer games with years of post-release content with which Sony has had scant success. Hulst teases projects will come from internal studios and partners, using new intellectual property and existing PlayStation franchises.
  • More of Sony’s traditional blockbusters, with a focus on epic narratives for solo players. Hulst: “Some of our biggest titles in the single-player, narrative-driven space are also our most profitable titles.”
  • More games to PC, as time-delayed releases of PlayStation offerings are creating a “virtuous cycle” that allows Sony to keep funding bigger teams for its blockbusters, Hulst says.
  • Mobile games, none announced, with plans to build up Sony’s “internal capability.” Hulst refers to the recently purchased Savage Game Studios as Sony’s “first” acquisition for its mobile group.
  • VR, with Sony’s internal studios pledged to support the early 2023 launch of PSVR2.

Another category from Sony that’s excited some fans and rankled others is the group’s increase of in-house remakes of PlayStation hits.

  • Sony’s most recent PS5 release, The Last of Us Part 1, is a remake of 2013’s PS3 hit The Last of Us, which was already remastered for PS4 in 2014.
  • While technically impressive, the effort to remake such a recent game confused some fans, who are now fretting over unconfirmed rumors this week of Sony planning a remaster or remake of 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn.
  • Hulst told Axios last week that the 2013 The Last Of Us was “a little ahead of its time in terms of its creative vision, against the limitations of the technology at the time.” But he said the call to remake it for 2014 was “to have a definitive version.” The 2023 release of an HBO show adapting that game was “not the sole reason, or maybe not even the main reason” for the remake, he said, adding. “Obviously, if you can let that coincide, that’s the Holy Grail, right?”
  • Of note: In 2021, Sony purchased Austin, Texas-based Bluepoint, which has developed well-received remakes of older PlayStation standouts Shadow of the Colossus and Demon’s Souls.

Go deeper: PlayStation to broaden lineup but won’t abandon roots, studio chief says

2. Sony: More diverse teams = better games

Sony wants to make its game development teams more diverse, including bringing more women into creative roles, Hulst tells Axios.

Why it matters: Game development is still a heavily male field, something Hulst said can be limiting as he’s seen firsthand.

  • The PlayStation Studios chief previously ran Sony’s Guerilla Games, which was initially known for developing the Killzone first-person shooter series.
  • “Back in the early 2000s, when you start with a shooter-developer that was predominantly male, I've seen personally over the years how much richer a culture can become, the more women and people from different backgrounds you are able to bring into the studio.”
  • I also believe that your games get better.”

Women in charge: Hulst pointed to the number of women who run Sony game studios, including his successor at Guerilla, Angie Smets, as a sign of progress.

  • It's nowhere near 50/50," Hulst said. “But we do see incredibly capable women come up increasingly, which is very encouraging.
  • But women in senior creative roles on specific games remain uncommon at Sony and other big companies.

Between the lines: A proposed class-action lawsuit against PlayStation alleging gender discrimination against women working at the company was dismissed earlier this year and then refiled with narrower claims.

  • Sony has opposed the lawsuit but noted in March that it takes issues of misconduct “seriously.”

3. More Witcher, more Cyberpunk

Video game screnshot showing a close-up of the back of a white-haired woman with a sword. In the distance is a wrecked castle partially covered with snow

The Witcher III. Screenshot: CD Projekt RED

Executives from CD Projekt RED announced a slew of upcoming games this week, some in the concept stage and others in full production, in a bid to recapture the company's pre-Cyberpunk 2077 rep (and stock price).

  • No release dates for any of these.

Details:

  • A new Witcher trilogy will launch at least a few years from now with a game codenamed Polaris. Two sequels are planned across a six-year span. (The studio says 150+ people are already working on it; the studio has over 1,000 employees.)
  • Two other Witcher games are in the works: Codename Canis Major, which is a new, externally developed Witcher game, and Project Sirius from Boston-based studio The Molasses Flood, which CDPR recently acquired. Sirius will include single- and multiplayer modes and target a broader audience than previous Witcher games, according to a CDPR statement.
  • Something new is also in the works. CDPR is conceptualizing a third franchise, Codename Hadar.

What they're saying: CDPR president Adam Kicinski told investors that the schedule for the new Witcher trilogy plan alone may seem ambitious, “but we really mean it and we have a plan on how to achieve it."

  • CDPR co-founder Marcin Iwiński also announced that he is stepping down from his role as co-CEO.

4. Need to know

🎮 Brazilian regulators have approved Microsoft’s bid to buy Activision Blizzard despite vigorous complaints from rival Sony PlayStation about potential anti-competitive results, VGC reports.

☹️ Blizzard’s free-to-play Overwatch 2 has had a rough launch this week, with the game maker blaming lengthy queues to access the game on multiple distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. It apologized for other technical problems at launch.

😲 Gylt, one of the few remaining games exclusive to Google Stadia, will get released on other platforms, its developers said.

🤔 Nintendo is tightening its content policies and rejecting games with nudity in them, according to a publisher of lewd games, VGC reports.

  • No comment from Nintendo on this, but as articles on the topic have noted, it may come as a surprise that Nintendo had previously allowed such games on Switch, which was uncharacteristic for the platform holder.

⬆️ Lulu Cheng Meservey is leaving Substack and stepping down from Activision Blizzard's board to take on the role as the game company's executive vice president, corporate affairs and chief communications officer, Axios reports.

5. The week ahead

Video game screenshot of a gyrocopter being made out of virtual Lego pieces

Lego Bricktales. Screenshot: ClockStone/Thunderful

Friday, Oct. 7

  • No Man’s Sky (Switch; already out for other consoles and PC) is released.

Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 8 and 9

  • For esports fans, we recommend a skim of Juked's calendar for the weekend’s events.

Monday, Oct. 10

  • Last day of the Steam Next Fest, featuring hundreds of free demos for upcoming PC games.

Tuesday, Oct. 11

  • No More Heroes III (PlayStation Xbox, PC, already out for Switch) is released.
  • Meta Connect is held, showing the former Facebook company’s latest VR/AR efforts. For John Carmack fans, his talk will be livestreamed at 5:30pm ET.

Wednesday, Oct. 12

Thursday, Oct. 13

Friday, Oct. 14

  • PGA Tour 2K23 (PC, PlayStation, Xbox), NHL 23 (PlayStation, Xbox) and Scorn (PC, Xbox) are released.
  • U.S. gaming sales for September are announced by the NPD Group.

6. I played ... Dredge

Video game screenshot of a fishing vessel in a harbor near a lighthouse

Dredge. Screenshot: Black Salt Games/Team17

My favorite free demo from Steam's ongoing NextFest, so far, is Dredge (one hour played, PC), a game that's initially just about piloting a fishing boat.

  • You chug out of a harbor seeking fish. Pull up cod, flounder or maybe, if it's late, squid, then haul back to town, sell them, chat with townspeople, sleep. Start the cycle again, and slowly explore an archipelago lined with shipwrecks.
  • But something's amiss. The people in town talk warily of strange happenings. Odd lights glow over the water at night. A twitchy, red eyeball appears at the top of the screen. And something seems very wrong with the fish you just caught. There's something creepier going on.
  • I'm not sure how macabre Dredge is going to get, but this game, which I'd never heard of a week ago, is now one of my most-anticipated 2023 releases.

Try it yourself, if you have a PC. The demo is available for at least a few days more.

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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.

Gone fishing.