Axios Gaming

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Happy Tuesday. It's a Stephen day.

Game developers are drawing attention this week to the problems with game credits by tweeting about the first time their name was listed.

Today's edition: 1,277 words, 5 minutes.

1 big thing: Nintendo, delayed

A gold block with white question marks on it
Super Mario movie promotional artwork. Image: Nintendo

Nintendo has delayed its first major expansion into film in decades, with its animated Super Mario movie postponed from December 2022 to April 2023.

Why it matters: It’s the latest delay hitting the company’s biggest projects, some of which are set to reinvent the gaming giant.

  • The company’s expansion into theme parks, announced in 2015, was slowed by the pandemic, resulting in its Japan park opening late in 2021 and its U.S. ones still a ways off.
  • Nintendo’s most anticipated game, the sequel to 2017 hit The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, recently slipped from late 2022 to 2023.

What they’re saying: “My deepest apologies but I promise it will be well worth the wait,” Mario series creator Shigeru Miyamoto said in a tweet posted by Nintendo of America.

The delay creates distance from current and former Nintendo rivals Sony and Sega, whose "Uncharted" and "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" films this year were huge hits.

The big picture: Nintendo wants the movie and theme parks to show its potential as an entertainment powerhouse beyond games, a move it’s taken its time in attempting.

  • Nintendo has been famously — some investors might say stubbornly — focused on video games since the 1980s and generally ignored conventional wisdom about how it could or should branch out.
  • It has licensed its gaming icons like Mario for clothing, stuffed animals, even a breakfast cereal, but it had long declined to take the biggest swings (it probably didn’t help that its one Hollywood attempt, 1993’s "Super Mario Bros." movie, bombed).
  • But the company began expressing an openness to major non-gaming endeavors in the mid-2010s, as its successor to the hit Wii gaming console, the Wii U, flailed.

Between the lines: Nintendo has conditioned its massive fanbase, if not its stockholders, to be somewhat OK with delays.

  • News of the latest Nintendo delay tends to produce tweets and other online reactions citing the possibly apocryphal Miyamoto quote: “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”
  • Delays usually pay off, resulting in high-quality games that sell millions, but investors are forever bad at rushing to judgment.
  • Nintendo’s stock price dived twice in the past month: once for the Zelda game delay and then again today for the Mario movie.

What’s next: Nintendo will announce the results of its most recent fiscal year on May 10, which will also give it a chance to start filling in blanks about how it intends to fill out a late 2022 and early 2023 that have more holes than previously expected.

2. The big Activision vote

Photo of logos for Microsoft, Activision and Blizzard
Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Activision Blizzard shareholders will vote Thursday about whether their company should sell to Microsoft, but they’re voting on even more than that.

Why it matters: The vote is both a referendum on a massive merger and the next step in an exploration of fairness and consequences at the corporate level.

  • Activision has been mired in misconduct scandals since last summer. Much of the blame has been placed on the leadership of longtime CEO Bobby Kotick, who nonetheless has pledged reform.

The shareholder vote on the merger is, at a glance, the more straightforward of two key choices that will be made.

  • Stock owners will vote for or against selling the company to Microsoft for $69 billion.
  • Activision Blizzard’s board has advocated for the deal, though activist investors have urged a “no.”

The other major vote, which is nonbinding, calls on shareholders to approve or turn down “golden parachute” compensation for several top Activision executives.

  • Those deals would allow the company’s chief financial officer, chief administrative officer and top lawyer to all leave the merged company six months after the deal and collect millions.

The intrigue: Bundled into the merger plan is an eyebrow-raising agreement between Microsoft and Activision to pay Kotick a $22 million bonus in July or later, if a board of directors subcommittee decides the company has sufficiently reformed its workplace.

  • The subcommittee making the call is composed of three board members, one of whom joined the company this month. Another, Reveta Bowers, is a longtime educator at The Center for Early Education, an elite Los Angeles private elementary school where Kotick had served on the board for years until 2020.
  • Asked about a potential conflict of interest between Kotick and Bowers, an Activision rep said Kotick quit the school’s board to avoid such conflicts and shared a statement from board member Robert Morgado praising Bowers for her “considered judgment and diverse perspectives." Bowers did not return requests for comment.

What’s next: Activision is required to report results of the vote within four business days, which is May 4.

  • Even with shareholder approval, the deal would need to clear regulatory hurdles, which is no sure thing.
  • Beyond that, the window to close the deal is open until June 2023.

3. Digital disappearances

The impermanence of video games is on display again with new deletions and deactivations announced by Sega and Ubisoft.

Driving the news: Sega said it would remove four classic Sonic games from most digital storefronts in advance of releasing a new compilation of those titles.

  • Ubisoft said it will turn off any online-based features for dozens of its older games, in the process shutting down multiplayer modes and removing access to some content in those games only available by establishing an online connection.

The big picture: Once again, the theory that anything digital could have an endless life meets the reality that game companies won’t pay for servers forever or, in Sega’s case, will sell classic games in whichever way they feel is currently most marketable.

4. Need to know

🇷🇺 Russian security services are being mocked for showing not very terrifying copies of The Sims 3 among supposedly confiscated goods from would-be Ukrainian assassins.

🇨🇦 A unionization effort in Canada could include some testers for EA game studio BioWare, The Verge reports.

🤔 PlayStation has started a new “game preservation team,” according to a new hire whose tweet about it was spotted by VGC.

💰 Sales of Ubisoft-backed gaming NFTs are so rare that the purchase of just one of them made for a pretty good Vice report.

🎮 The annual Tribeca Festival (formerly Tribeca Film Festival, June 11-19) will once again feature a selection of games that remote attendees can play via streaming platform Parsec. (Games list here)

5. Worthy of your attention

Dutch Gambling Authority vs Electronic Arts, and the future of loot boxes [René Otto, GamesIndustry]

It has yet to be seen whether this decision will set an international precedent. Gambling laws are determined nationally and therefore the legal frameworks are different between countries. However, since the Netherlands was one of the countries at the forefront of the discussion about whether loot boxes were compliant with gambling laws, I could also imagine that the decision could set some informal precedent for other countries as well.

6. When Assassin’s Creed heroes meet

Illustration of two warrior women facing off with an Assassin's Creed logo between them
Image: Ubisoft

I finally got around to playing the second of Assassin’s Creed’s “crossover stories,” two free expansions to 2019’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and 2021's Assassin’s Creed Valhalla released in December.

Quick impressions:

  • Odyssey’s is more fun. It’s a 2-3 hour coda to Odyssey’s sprawling adventure, focusing on an island-bound adventure for the game’s protagonist (in my case, ancient Greek wonder woman Kassandra) and two game-long allies. It sets the stage for Kassandra’s travels through history, but works as a pleasant tale of its own.
  • Valhalla’s is more novel, as Kassandra from Odyssey meets Eivor from Valhalla. But the two protagonists spend a disappointing amount of their shared mission bickering.
  • Oddly, it’s Odyssey’s addition that teases where the crossovers might go next, though Ubisoft has yet to announce a clear commitment to making more (surely, though, they’ll eventually want to get to Kassandra meeting the series’ most popular assassin, Ezio. …)

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Please don't judge me for any copies of the Sims in my posession.