Axios Gaming

Picture of a gaming controller.

August 01, 2022

Happy Monday. And happy August as well.

I've got a chart for you today. New goal for this newsletter: more and more charts.

Today's edition: 1,360 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Bungie's legal offensive

Video game screenshot of a blue, glowing sci-fi warrior swinging a staff against a large black-and-white enemy

Destiny 2. Screenshot: Bungie

Destiny-creator Bungie's unusual spate of lawsuits against cheaters and harassers is part of a legal strategy to improve the community around its games, the studio's top lawyer tells Axios.

Why it matters: Bungie is taking actions against behaviors often viewed as the unavoidable wounds incurred by making or playing games.

What they're saying: "We have seen historically that bad actors will often be tolerated because the people with the skills and power to remove them do not focus their efforts there," Bungie general counsel Don McGowan tells Axios.

  • "To put it simply, we disagree. In our view, removing harassment and abuse from our community is not only the right thing to do, it is also good business."

Catch-up quick: The company has been suing a lot in the past year.

  • Summer 2021: Bungie files five lawsuits — three on the same day, one joined by Ubisoft — against the makers and sellers of programs that let people cheat in Destiny's multiplayer matches.
  • Spring 2022: Bungie sues a player who allegedly impersonated the company to trigger nearly 100 bogus YouTube copyright takedowns against popular fan-run accounts.
  • Summer 2022: Bungie sues a player they say repeatedly threatened one of their employees, mused publicly about burning the studio down and sold game items in violation of the studio's copyright.

Between the lines: Bungie isn't the first studio to sue perceived bad actors, though it might be the most aggressive.

  • Many game companies may avoid filing suits because they don't think they can identify anonymous online perpetrators or don't think they can recover the costs of pursuing "cheaters, harassers and abusers," McGowan says.
  • But Bungie, founded 31 years ago, has been laying groundwork for this strategy since 2020, a year after it split from publisher Activision and the year it hired McGowan, the former longtime top lawyer for the famously litigious Pokémon Company International.

Under McGowan, Bungie initially targeted cheaters in "a strategic push."

  • "This is an issue that impacts many studios across the industry, and it is critical to deal with it to maintain a healthy and happy community that wants to play your game," he says.
  • Harassers of Bungie's developers — a problem so chronic the studio recently said it was dialing back communications with fans — are in the crosshairs now, too.
  • Bungie workers "do not deserve any of the mistreatment that is sometimes directed their way," McGowan says. "They are doing a job and as their lawyer, my team and I have a set of skills that make it possible for us to defend them as well as the integrity of our players' experience."

Warning shots: Bungie has adopted an aggressive tone meant to ward off others.

  • In its suit against the alleged impersonator who infuriated Destiny fans, the suit states: "Serious consequences await anyone else foolish enough to volunteer as a Defendant by targeting Bungie's community for attack."

Results: A $13.5 million settlement against a cheating group sued last summer, and a $2 million one from a suit brought alongside Riot in early 2021.

  • A contentious row with a cheat-maker that disputes Bungie's argument that cheat-makers necessarily violate copyright.
  • Multiple requests for default judgments against defendants who are off the grid.
  • And briefs by Bungie that read like whodunnits as they explain how they've digitally identified some of their targets.

What's next: When McGowan counted Bungie's recent lawsuits for Axios, he added a parenthetical: "So far."

2. Sony's lowered PlayStation expectations

PlayStation Network monthly active users
Data: Sony Interactive Entertainment; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Sony's slightly lowered forecast for PlayStation gaming revenue late last week, comes amid a downward drift in the number of people it says are regularly playing its games.

Why it matters: Numbers tied to gaming usually go up, especially involving an industry leader like PlayStation.

  • But Sony's count of monthly active PlayStation users has been bobbing more down than up since the company first started reporting the stat in the spring of 2020. At that time, game-playing was soaring during pandemic lockdowns.
  • How it defines that stat: "unique accounts that played games or used services on the PlayStation Network during the last month of the quarter."
  • Note: Sony's fiscal year starts in April, so its Q1 is April-June, basically the spring.

What they're saying: Sony believes it sees post-lockdown market declaration, while still predicting strong lifetime sales for its PlayStation 5.

  • It has blamed a recent drop in time spent on PlayStations on more opportunities "for users to go outside due to a reduction in COVID-19 infections in key markets."
  • Delays and competition are also factors, with spring 2022 offering an unusually slight amount of big releases from Sony or anyone else.

What's next: Earnings reports from Activision, EA, Nintendo, Take Two and more over the next week should shine more light on the state of the broader industry.

3. You ask, we answer

Animated illustration of video game controller buttons stylized with punctuation, one is a question mark and is being pressed repeatedly.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

This week's reader question is about video game shows and movies which, Halo aside, I don't watch.

  • So I got an answer from Julia Alexander, a former games reporter, smart media watcher and current director of strategy at Parrot Analytics.

Q: Why do you think it's so difficult for video game — TV or movie — adaptations to be successful?

A from Julia: There are two types of audiences that gaming adaptations are for: diehard fans of the games who want a more faithful adaptation and those outside of the games who are interested in the genre but don't have a deep connection to the IP.

  • The goal for gaming adaptations is to strike a balance between both in order to accomplish its goals: entertain, engage and broaden the fan base.

Understanding what works in what medium, and what can transfer well to another medium, is key to ensuring an adaptation pleases both fans and newcomers.

  • The joy a person gets out of a book or TV show is often for the same reason: linear, passive storytelling.
  • This doesn't automatically apply to games. Halo can be enjoyed without knowing the story as friends go on multiplayer journeys together and appear in team battle royale situations.
  • Game designers craft around a player's different wants in a game; showrunners and authors navigate a story.

To create a successful adaptation, the show or film has to incorporate elements of the game to make it feel truthful and less of an homage, but has to stand out on its own to succeed as an extended arm of the franchise for fans and a standalone series for newcomers.

  • For example, Netflix's Castlevania and Arcane lift elements and familiarities from the game, interweaving stories, characters and settings, but ensure the focus is on building something new within the foundation, not just trying to recreate what already exists and works on a completely different platform.

4. Need to know

🎮 Publisher Annapurna, riding high after the successful release of cat adventure Stray, announced several new games and provided updates on others in a showcase last week.

  • One highlight, the relationships/cooking/skateboarding game Thirsty Suitors which we previously covered here, now has a free demo on PC, for a limited time.

👎 A Ubisoft worker group says that a quarter of the people who signed a letter a year ago calling for more internal reforms, have left the company.

🇮🇳 The Indian government has blocked Battlegrounds Mobile India, a successor to popular battle royale PUBG which was banned by that country's government a year ago, TechCrunch reports.

🇮🇩 People in Indonesia lost access to Steam, Epic Games, PayPal and other services following the implementation of new regulations this weekend, The Verge reports.

🤔 Sony had the most negative take among game and tech companies queried by Brazilian regulators about Microsoft's plan to buy Activision, according to translations of company filings on the Resetera forum.

5. Iconic art

Screenshot of icons showing games from the Xenoblade series. Each has grass in the foreground and a giant creature in the blue sky behind them. Two line up evenly. The third does not.

Screenshot: Axios

The recent release of Chronicles 3 from Monolithsoft and Nintendo almost resulted in a perfect trilogy of Switch home screen app icons for the series' games.

  • The icon designs for Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, 2 and 3 are similar.
  • The grassy plains in them almost form one continuous landscape.
  • But not quite.

Thus, the still-reigning champ for game series' icons goes to Level 5's Professor Layton series.

  • Icons for four successive franchise releases show the titular puzzle-solving professor gradually getting excited and pointing, as if discovering a solution to another of the series' riddles.
Screenshot of icons from games in the Professor Layton series. Combined, they show a sequence of the Prof smiling and then pointing
Screenshot: Reddit

🎁 Like the newsletter? Refer Axios Gaming to your friends to spread the word and get free stuff in the process. Follow the link here to begin.

🐦 Find me on Twitter: @stephentotilo.

Search for Bungie court documents and you'll find that in 2008 they attempted to trademark the sentence: "Don't make us kick your ass." In Latin.