June 17, 2022

Happy Friday. One of our cats briefly went missing during the writing of this newsletter. But he's been found. Phew.

Heads up: There will be no newsletter on Monday, as Axios is off in observance of Juneteenth.

  • Today's edition: 1,067 words, 4 minutes.

1 big thing: Google's dropped games

The Quarry. Screenshot: Supermassive/Take-Two Interactive

Google was involved in the creation of two notable video games that are in the spotlight this month, before the downsizing of its Stadia gaming operation sent those projects elsewhere, two sources familiar with their development tell Axios.

Why it matters: The games’ Google connections help fill out a picture of what Stadia could have offered, if Google hadn’t abandoned its ambitions in 2021 to create a gaming platform to rival PlayStation and Xbox.

Details: Neither of the games — the well-reviewed horror adventure The Quarry and the comedic sci-fi game High on Life — has been officially associated with Stadia.

  • The Quarry, developed by Supermassive and published by Take-Two Interactive, was released on June 10 for PC, PlayStation and Xbox.
  • High On Life, from Squanch Games and a team led by "Rick and Morty" co-creator Justin Roiland, was revealed during a Microsoft gaming showcase last week and is slated for an Xbox and PC release later this year.
  • But Axios sources say both games were projects that previously were being made for Google and presented as signature Stadia releases, meant to draw players to the streaming service.

What they’re saying: Reps for both games declined to directly answer Axios’ questions about the games’ Stadia roots.

  • Supermassive Games “was looking for a publishing partner as the project came to completion,” a rep for Take-Two said of The Quarry, noting the publisher was proud to help release the game.
  • Google had announced a partnership with Supermassive in 2020, but neither party had shared details on what they were making. When The Quarry was announced by Supermassive and Take-Two this past March, Stadia fans were left guessing if it was the product of that Google partnership.
  • A spokesperson for Squanch offered less context and simply stated which platform High on Life is slated for.
  • A Google rep did not reply to a request for comment.

Catch up quick: Google announced Stadia in March 2019, attempting to shake up the games industry with a device-free cloud-based platform and a lineup of games from a mix of outside studios and internal teams staffed by veteran game designers.

  • But an awkward rollout, confusing price structure and lack of exclusive games at launch has hampered the project.
  • In February 2021, Google began closing its internal studios. Its underlying cloud tech has since been licensed by AT&T to offer 5G subscribers access to a top Batman game and by Capcom to allow people to play a demo of the latest Resident Evil game in a web browser.

The big picture: In the super-secret video game industry, projects can be in development for years at major companies, with no stakeholders so much as acknowledging them.

  • When a publisher or platform provider begins cutting projects, those games can be lost — or sometimes reemerge in unexpected ways.

2. The week ahead

Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. Screenshot: Nintendo

There's a little bit of everything in the week ahead. Conferences, games — even a "Super Bowl of NFTs" in New York City, if you're so inclined.

Saturday and Sunday, June 18 & 19

  • Sunday is Father’s Day and Juneteenth.
  • For esports fans, we recommend a skim of Juked's handy calendar for the weekend’s events.
  • Assassin’s Creed Origins is free to play all weekend.

Monday, June 20

Tuesday, June 21

Wednesday, June 22

  • VidCon, the annual conference for video creators on YouTube, TikTok and other platforms, begins.

Thursday, June 23

  • PC hit Naraka: Bladepoint is released for Xbox Series X and S.
  • Sonic Origins (PC, Switch, PlayStation, Xbox) and Shadowrun Trilogy (Switch, PlayStation, Xbox; already on PC) are released.
  • FIFA 22 is added to EA Play and Game Pass Ultimate subscription services.

Friday, June 24

3. Need to know

🎮 Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth, the second game in Square Enix’s unusual Final Fantasy VII remake project (which appears to be changing the iconic game’s story) will be released “next winter,” its publisher announced during an FFVII 25th anniversary showcase.

⚔️ Capcom celebrated the 10th anniversary of the cult favorite Dragon’s Dogma yesterday by announcing Dragon’s Dogma II.

💰 Blizzard’s free-to-start mobile game Diablo Immortal generated $24 million in its first two weeks of release, according to an Appmagic report (via Pocket Gamer).

🏳️‍🌈 Ubisoft is the latest game publisher to make a statement about LGBTQ+ rights, with execs posting that “women’s rights are human rights, trans rights are human rights, and equal rights for all are essential.”

  • The company states it is examining what resources it can use to support women and LGBTQ+ employees who may be hurt by rights restrictions in various U.S. states.

🏆 Outerloop Games’ upcoming relationship adventure Thirsty Suitors won the gaming award at this year’s Tribeca Festival.

🤔 A workers group representing some Activision Blizzard employees is calling the company's recent report about misconduct at the company "tone-deaf."

📝 Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan said her department is exploring whether non-compete clauses and non-disclosure agreements harm workers, in a June 9 letter responding to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s request that the FTC examine the labor impact of a potential Microsoft acquisition of Activision.

  • On June 8, Microsoft announced intentions to do away with non-competes and many NDAs and has also recently voiced openness to employee unionization.

4. 1997 redux

Agent 64. Screenshot: Replicant D6

Upcoming PC game Agent 64: Spies Never Die will be a trip for anyone who's played 1997 Nintendo 64 game GoldenEye, one of the most popular games of its era.

  • The new game looks and plays like its been pulled through a time warp.
  • The graphics are blocky and the enemy animations are stiff.
  • In other words, it looks and plays like the N64 classic, ditching decades of technological so-called progress.

The big picture: The medium’s continued technical refinement means that many great games from even just a few decades ago look as old-timey as the first silent movies.

  • Developers have embraced that effect over the years by producing modern games that resemble the technically constrained aesthetics of 1980s and early-'90s Atari and Nintendo systems.
  • N64 throwbacks are more rare, but after sampling Agent 64, I’d say a worthy experiment.

You can try the game if you’ve got a PC. There’s a demo out now on Steam.

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🐦 Find me on Twitter: @stephentotilo.

At least the other cat has stopped peeing on the furniture... for now.