June 17, 2021
Welcome back to Axios Gaming with Megan and Stephen. The news isn't stopping, everyone.
Today's newsletter is 1,157 words, a 4-minute read.
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Situational awareness: The ability to order official custom Xbox controllers is coming back.
1 big thing: The short life of an online game
"Grand Theft Auto Online" will join a growing list of obsolete games on older platforms this December when Rockstar Game shuts down the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game.
Why it matters: Video game preservation is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to video games, physical or otherwise.
- While some video games are forever lost due to physical degradation, as with cartridges or discs, others disappear when data files are corrupted or lost.
Online games require support from the developers who make them, meaning they’re bound to stop running when companies take on new projects.
- "It's inevitable that all online games will eventually shut down," games preservationist and Digital Eclipse editorial director Chris Kohler told Axios.
Rockstar's decision to shut down online services for these two consoles is part of its preparation for enhanced versions of "Grand Theft Auto V" and "Grand Theft Auto Online" on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.
- It's a testament to the popularity of "GTA Online" that the game, which launched in 2013 for PS3 and Xbox 360, has remained functional for so long.
- Continued updates have kept sales of "GTA V" have remained up for years, with 2019 marking a high point for the game.
- Re-releases and backwards compatibility can help preserve those experiences on current platforms. In the case of "GTA Online," the game spans three console generations.
- The shutdown will not affect the game's story mode or save progress, and the PC, PS4 and Xbox One versions will still run.
Between the lines: The end of PS3 and Xbox 360 games is here.
- Rockstar is also ending online services for "Max Payne 3" and "L.A. Noire" later this year.
- Earlier this month, Electronic Arts pulled five "Need for Speed" games with online functionality.
What's next: An enhanced version of "Grand Theft Auto V" and "GTA Online" will launch for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S Nov. 11.
2. Head of Ubisoft Massive steps down
David Polfeldt, a 16-year veteran of Ubisoft Massive, will relinquish his role as the mega-studio's managing director effective July 1.
Why it matters: Polfeldt departs at a time of upheaval of Ubisoft's studio leadership and of rising excitement around Massive's projects.
- Massive, located in Malmo, Sweden, is one of the largest studios at Ubisoft and is currently working on upcoming games tied to the "Star Wars" and "Avatar" franchises as well as maintaining the popular post-disaster D.C.-based adventure "The Division 2."
Between the lines: Polfeldt will begin a six-month sabbatical on July 1 and will return to Ubisoft in a "strategic role," according to a company email sent by Ubisoft studios chief Virginie Haas.
- Polfeldt's replacement will start in October, but hasn't been announced due to a legal agreement with his current employer, according to Haas' email.
What they're saying: "[T]he studio is in fantastic shape, and I am exceptionally grateful for what we have accomplished together," Polfeldt said in a message posted to Massive's company blog.
The big picture: Ubisoft has been in a state of major change for the past year.
- Widespread allegations of workplace misconduct have led to the dismissal or departure of several powerful men across the company, including Ubisoft's chief creative officer. (Polfeldt was not implicated in any of that.)
- Others have left at the end of big projects or out of frustration regarding company culture.
- Last month, Axios reported that the co-leaders of Ubisoft's Owlient studio, one of whom is the son of Ubisoft CEO, were stepping down.
3. EA says CEO's $30M bonus was an exception
"Madden" maker Electronic Arts granted CEO Andrew Wilson $30 million in stock last year, but now tells shareholders it gets the message about offering large bonuses.
Why it matters: EA stockholders' unusual non-binding "no" vote on the company compensation last summer demanded some sort of reaction, but it's not quite stopped EA's leaders from raking it in.
Between the lines: In a proxy filing last Friday, EA explained that Wilson's unusually high $30 million 2021 stock grant was authorized, if not disclosed, before the vote.
- The board said the "larger than normal grant" to Wilson was a one-time effort to "continue to retain and motivate Mr. Wilson," the company wrote.
- For 2021, Wilson was granted a lower annual equity grant of $18 million, and EA is refraining from offering its execs extra 2021 awards.
The big picture: Executive pay seldom goes anywhere but up no matter how it is formulated.
- Wilson is slated to receive $39 million in cash and stock awards this year, up from $21 million in 2020. (Recalculated for actual realized gains, the 2021 income would be $87 million, Axios' Bob Herman notes.)
- EA's board cites the company’s growth under current management, including a quintupling of its stock price since Wilson became CEO in 2013.
What they're saying: EA's board is "doing what they believe is best for the company with a long-term perspective in mind," a company rep told Axios.
The fine print: Wilson received $660 in video game codes in the past year and a $684 gift basket to commemorate his 20 years at EA.
4. Pokémon team-up arrives next month
"Pokémon UNITE," a "League of Legends"-style strategy game, is coming to Nintendo Switch in July, with a mobile release expected in September.
Why it matters: "Pokémon UNITE" is the series' first-ever team-based strategy game.
- The Pokémon series covers a wide range of genres, from RPG-style adventures to party games or dungeon crawlers.
- In "UNITE," players go head to head in 5v5 matches, all while catching wild Pokémon and leveling up their team.
Tencent Games' TiMi Studio is developing the game alongside The Pokémon Company.
- It's a "free-to-start" title, which means players should expect optional in-game purchases.
- The game will also include cross-play, which will allow people to play with each other regardless of platform.
5. "Five Nights at Freddy's" developer retires after backlash
Days after fans discovered that "Five Nights at Freddy’s" creator Scott Cawthon donated to republican figures like former President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the developer announced he will be retiring from games.
Between the lines: Cawthon's post doesn't address the backlash directly, but it's clearly the inciting incident. His mention of support from the LGBTQ community is a roundabout way of addressing criticism from fans.
- The response from disappointed or angry fans was swift, with Cawthon eventually defending his decision. "I exercised my right, and my duty, as an American citizen, to vote for and support the candidates who I felt could best run the country," he said previously in a Reddit post.
- In his post, Cawthon says that he'll "still be around, just not in the capacity" he used to be.
What's next: Cawthon says that the series isn't ending, but rather "someone else will eventually be running the show; someone of my choosing, and someone that I trust."
6. Worthy of your attention
7. Goodnight, sweet prince
Today in "GTA Online" role-playing: YouTuber Rustic Mascara makes a valiant attempt to recreate Hamlet in a public lobby. In the video, spotted by Kotaku, Rustic Mascara performs monologues from the Shakespearean play while unimpressed players serve as the world's worst audience.
Watch out for those rockets.
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