Axios Gaming

Picture of a gaming controller.

September 15, 2022

Happy Thursday.

Every gaming system I own is filled to the brim with downloaded games and demos. Something's got to give. Maybe I'll spend tomorrow playing through lots of stuff. It's called "work" when I do it, right?

🚨 Situational awareness: A wave of layoffs is rocking games media, with partial cuts at Comcast-owned TV station G4 yesterday and the gutting of the website Fanbyte today.

Today's edition: 1,362 words, 5 minutes

1 big thing: Ubisoft's workers speak

Illustration of the Ubisoft logo as a lit bomb.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Ubisoft game designers are expressing a mix of despair and defiant hope when talking about their company’s attempts to reform.

Driving the news: Several of those workers spoke to Axios in Paris last week in meetings far from the company’s HQ.

Why it matters: In the last two years, Ubisoft has seen a raft of allegations about workplace misconduct, the departure of several men accused of toxic management or sexual misconduct, and a restructuring of the company’s HR and top creative teams coupled with vows by executives to do better. Some employees say that's not enough.

What they’re saying: “It’s not harassers who create toxic culture. It’s a toxic culture that produces harassers,” Ubisoft game designer Marc Rutschlé said, during a meeting at the office of French tech workers union Solidaires Informatique.

  • A four-year veteran in Ubisoft’s Paris office, he says the ouster of some problematic people from the company has helped, but he wants more structural change — more women in the company, for example, and more transparency about investigations.
  • In March 2020, Rutschlé formed a union chapter at Ubisoft’s Paris offices. A year later, the union filed a sexual harassment suit against the company, blaming current and former leaders for harassment or for enabling it. (Ubisoft doesn’t comment on litigation, a rep confirmed.)
  • The lawsuit, modeled off a successful action over “moral harassment” against France Télécom, is expected to take five or more years to unfold.
  • “We want explanations,” Rutschlé says. “The toxic people who left the company, because a large part of them just left and were not fired, never gave any explanation for their behavior. This will be the opportunity to hear them, in a court of law.”

Transparency is a big concern for Ubisoft workers around the world, several of whom emailed Axios about their experiences.

  • “I find it hard to gauge the truth,” one developer said.
  • “The only issue that I see as fixed is that people within Ubisoft are aware of the issues,” another said. “Not because of management, but because of the brave employees who spoke out and continue to speak out.”

In Paris, one former Ubisoft worker told Axios they used to feel great about Ubisoft but left as morale sank after the misconduct scandals.

  • “What used to be a big smile on people’s face when I told them I worked at Ubisoft turned into a weird sorry face,” the employee said. “This pride used to really unite folks working there, and now it seems to be gone for a lot of people.”

Management's take: Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot told Axios in Paris that he was aware of continued worker frustration and welcomed feedback.

  • “It's good to hear from people if there are other issues that have not been solved.”

Some Ubisoft workers have cited improvements, crediting enlightened leaders at the local level at Ubisoft’s worldwide studios far from Paris HQ.

  • “Morale is highly variable from team to team, in my experience, even within a single studio,” one developer said.
  • Some express hope in the company’s expanding diversity and inclusion team, which is looking at the workforce and the content of Ubisoft’s games.
  • But workers also report that some reforms are backfiring. “All the recent additional harassment, abuse and D&I training has taught managers is how to say the right things (or at least not say the wrong things) and appear to act correctly,” one said. “But in my experience much of the change is superficial.”

Go deeper: Interview: Ubisoft CEO on company’s scandals and attempts to reform

2. EA's mystery competition

EA chief Andrew Wilson has a warning he shares with his team:

  • “Never underestimate these giant companies that have innovative DNA, monopolistic tendencies and deep pockets. We always have to ask ourselves: What happens if they get it right?"

Who’s he talking about? Apple? Amazon? Someone else? He didn’t specify as he spoke this week at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference about EA’s business trajectory.

  • “Many of those that we should be most scared of are pulling back,” he also said.

Go deeper: EA CEO says player-made creations will be lucrative for EA

3. 6+ years of Nintendo Switch

Data: Axios research; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios
Data: Axios research; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Nintendo’s support for the Switch is oustripping any of its recent home consoles and underscores how the company is managing it like one of its long-lasting hit handhelds.

Driving the news: Earlier this week, Nintendo said its long-awaited sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, will be released on May 12, 2023, well after the Switch’s sixth birthday.

  • It will arrive 74 months after the console debuted, with more big games, including a new Pikmin title, expected beyond.

Between the lines: None of Nintendo’s four prior consoles — Nintendo 64, GameCube, Wii and Wii U — got new Nintendo-published games for nearly as long, usually fading out after 50+ or 60+ months.

  • But its handhelds such as the DS and 3DS were supported for 90+ months.
  • Those devices, like the Switch, were sustained not just with a steady flow of games but with new models featuring bigger, brighter screens and more convenient form factors. Those new models gave Nintendo new machinery to sell without having to swap out an entire platform.

4. Need to know

🚙 Highlights of a PlayStation showcase earlier this week included PS5 console exclusives Pacific Drive (2023), a driving survival game set in the Pacific Northwest (it’s being dubbed a “road-like”), and Rise of the Ronin (2024), an action-role-playing game from Team Ninja set in 19th century Japan.

🇯🇵 EA will publish a hunting game set in feudal Japan developed by Koei Tecmo and Omega Force, a rare partnership between the U.S. Madden publisher and Japanese game-makers.

🤔 Square Enix has a pile of games coming out in the next six months, but is also fully deactivating its worst 2022 release, Babylon’s Fall, in February.

🟩 Bethesda-made Deathloop, which launched as a console exclusive for PlayStation last year despite Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda, will finally come to Xbox with an upgrade that’ll also be offered for existing versions.

😲 Chinese regulators have finally approved new games from NetEase and a subsidiary of Tencent, thawing a year-old freeze, Reuters reports.

💰 GameStop’s head of blockchain has left the company, and its store workers are reporting meager raises, Kotaku reports.

👨🏻‍⚖️ Controversial arcade game player Billy Mitchell says allegations that he cheated to achieve record Donkey Kong scores (he denies it) have cost him $900,000, according to an Axios report and court records collected by PerfectPacman.

👩🏾‍🌾 A bumper crop of farming video games is on the way, Polygon explains.

5. The week ahead

Video game screenhsot of the overhead view of a bloody crime scene on a yacht
Serial Cleaners, a game about cleaning up crime scenes. Screenshot: Draw Distance / 505 Games

Friday, Sept. 16

Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 17 and 18

Monday, Sept. 19

Tuesday, Sept. 20

  • U.S. game sales for August will be reported by the NPD group.

Wednesday, Sept. 21

  • A quiet day (and the birthday of some newsletter writer).

Thursday, Sept. 22

Friday, Sept. 23

6. I played... Metal Hellsinger

Video game screenshot showing a demon fly toward the player, whose character is holding a sword
Metal: Hellsinger. Screenshot: The Outsiders

I don’t like heavy metal, and I’m not crazy about the demons-in-hell aesthetic, but I’m nevertheless having a great time with Metal: Hellsinger (2 hours played on PC and Xbox; also on PlayStation).

  • The hook is how the game’s developers at The Outsiders have combined the two, offering players a first-person action game in which you do better at slaying legions of evil monsters if you shoot or sword-slice them to the soundtrack’s beat.
  • Think: Guitar Hero + Doom.

The best-known rhythm games involve playing guitar, singing or dancing, but you can also have a great time with odder experiences.

  • Nintendo’s Rhythm Heaven series, with installments on DS, Wii and 3DS made music games out of doing karate, writing calligraphy and assembling robots.
  • Metal Hellsinger is equally engaging and refreshing. It’s also easy to try. There's a free demo out for PlayStation, Xbox and PC.

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🐦 Find me on Twitter: @stephentotilo.

Thank you to Peter Allen Clark for editing and Amy Stern for copy editing this newsletter.

I wasn't head-banging. Just nodding a little.