Sep 15, 2021

Axios Gaming

Hi, all. Stephen Totilo here on a sunny day in my neck of the woods.

Did you know the maker of "Metal Gear" once made a solar-powered Game Boy game? Your character got stronger when you played under bright sunshine. Just made it hard to see the screen. So much glare.

Situational awareness: EA has delayed its flagship holiday game "Battlefield 2042" from Oct. 22 to Nov. 19.

Today's newsletter is 1,084 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: An infuriating status quo

"Rocket League," one of the games in the ADL's survey that reported a decrease in toxic player interactions. Image: Psyonix, Epic Games

Three in five teenagers who play games online have been harassed by other players while doing so, according to a new study by the Anti-Defamation League and global industry tracker Newzoo.

Why it matters: Online gaming, like other connected tech platforms, has an epidemic of harassment.

  • That poses an implicit question to players, industry leaders and policymakers about what more can be done.

The details: Among the 500+ teens aged 13-17 who answered the survey, 29% said they were called offensive names while playing online and 17% said they were bullied across multiple gaming sessions.

  • A quarter of young players said they always hide their identities while playing online to avoid hate. Another 42% said they do at least some of the time.
  • Harassment of adult gamers is even more common, according to the survey.
  • In-game abuse against women, Black people and Asian Americans were all up in the past year, it found.

Yes, but: Nearly everyone also said they had positive experiences playing games online.

  • Teens told survey-takers that online gaming helped them learn about themselves and make friends, as well as offered a sense of community.
  • Games in which players cited positive experiences include “World of Warcraft,” “Rocket League,” online shooting games such as “Fortnite,” “Apex Legends” and even “Grand Theft Auto.”

The big picture: Major gaming platforms already provide parental controls that can restrict who kids can play with. And discussion about toxicity in online gaming is nearly as old as online gaming.

  • But the ADL urges more action, including an industry-wide assessment of whether current efforts to combat hate and harassment are working.
  • It notes that less than 40% of parents and caregivers report activating safety controls for online games.
  • It also calls on the industry’s ratings group, the ESRB, to include “metrics on in-game extremism and toxicity” in the board’s ratings of games. Those ratings have only focused on in-game content, not communities.

As for players, the ADL urges gamers to get more active on this issue and not buy games with bad online communities.

  • “Consumer demand may be the best lever to move game companies to better address hate and harassment,” the group writes.
2. Activision hit with labor complaint

"Call of Duty: Vanguard." Image: Activison

A union supporting workers at Activision Blizzard has filed an unfair labor practice complaint to the National Labor Relations Board, alleging the game company has “repeatedly engaged in unlawful conduct” against workers fighting against working conditions at the game maker.

Why it matters: It’s another log on the fire.

Between the lines: In its filing to the NLRB, the Communication Workers of America says Activision Blizzard has threatened employees to not discuss pay or working conditions.

  • The CWA also says the game company “engaged in surveillance” of workers who were doing protected activity.
  • “We care deeply about our employees’ rights and have made great efforts to respect the rights of all employees under the NLRB,” an Activision rep told Axios.
  • Axios reported last month that a current employee of Blizzard was asked by an in-house recruiter to tone down her criticism of the company. It’s unknown if that incident is among those being cited to the NLRB.

Activision also announced two executive hires yesterday, including a new head of people ops, Julie Hodges.

  • The Disney veteran will replace Claudine Naughton, who joined the company in 2019 and served as the head of HR. A company rep said Naughton’s departure was not related to the California lawsuit.
  • Delta Airlines veteran Sandeep Dube will join as the company’s chief commercial officer.
3. New studio pitches smaller games

New Quebec City-based game studio Nesting is promising to develop spectacular games that don’t occupy as much of their players' time.

Why it matters: Nesting is composed of veterans of studios such as Ubisoft, that have been making big-budget games that are longer each year. But they’re pitching something different.

What they’re saying: “We are moving away from the ‘massive open world’ model, full of icons to clean up,” said Nesting chief creative officer Jordane Thiboust, who worked on “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate” and “AC Odyssey,” which were massive open-world games full of icons to clean up.

  • The studio will focus on “experiences that are content-driven and ultimately respect the player’s time. Whether you play our games for a 30-minute or two-hour session, what you will get is always interesting content and a gratifying experience.”
4. Need to know

🎧 The Nintendo Switch will finally support wireless Bluetooth headsets (but no Bluetooth mics), thanks to a new system update.

💰 The makers of the online shooter “Splitgate” have secured $100 million in new funding, led by Lightspeed Venture Partners. Nevada-based 1047 Games says its new game, which hasn’t even gone into full release, has been downloaded 13 million times so far this summer.

🚀 Notoriously impenetrable (yet highly fascinating) multiplayer space/diplomacy/economics game “Eve Online” is getting a revamped intro to make it more accessible to new players. Developer CCP is promising an “emotionally-driven training program” to help onboard people.

5. Worthy of your attention

Can a Game Get Young Players Interested in Holocaust History? (Katherine Brodsky, Wired)

[Game designer Luc] Bernard saw a video game industry where the only conversation games had with their players about World War II was from the perspective of American soldiers gunning down Nazis, ignoring the horrors of the Holocaust entirely.

“This may be controversial, but I believe that pop culture has turned Nazis into cartoon villains, like the zombie Nazis in Call of Duty and Wolfenstein (which I love). You’re diminishing the true evil of what Nazis are and what they did … and you’re profiting off of Jewish trauma.” [Researcher Joan] Salter adds: “You have to walk a very careful line between sanitizing the Holocaust and really hitting home the absolute inhumanity.”

6. Game recommendation: “Golf Club Wasteland”

Screenshot: Demagog Studio/Axios

Golf Club Wasteland has been one of the surprises of the season for me. It’s a beautiful, moody, simplified golf game about trying to keep par in a destroyed world. (The Washington Post dug it too.)

The premise: As the developers explain, “Human life is wiped out. Earth is now a golf course for the ultra-rich.”

  • You play as a person vacationing from Mars, playing holes of golf that are set under decrepit skyscrapers and on ruined yachts.
  • As you try to sink each shot, the game plays music and interviews from “Radio Nostalgia From Mars,” a fictional radio show that offers hints about humanity’s disastrous undoing.
  • It’s available on most console and PC platforms for about $10.

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🐦 Find us on Twitter: @megan_nicolett / @stephentotilo.

I would like Earth not to be ruined, please.