Axios Gaming

Picture of a gaming controller.
May 23, 2022

Happy Monday, everyone.

Tomorrow is another primary day in the U.S., including in Georgia. Most of the narratives there involve Republican intraparty fights, but there’s also a small gaming subplot: the New Georgia Project earlier this cycle released This Is Not A Game, a mobile puzzle game about voting that’s targeting young people and people of color with hopeful messages about the power of voting. An NGP rep tells me it’s been downloaded nearly 600 times.

🚨 Situational awareness: Quality assurance workers at Activision-owned studio Raven voted 19-3 to form a union this afternoon, potentially establishing the first union at a major U.S. publisher.

Today’s edition: 1,097, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Aztec fantasy

Video game screenshot of a woman flying toward the camera with a high-tech Aztec pyramid in the background
Screenshot: Lienzo

The creators of the action game Aztech built their unusual virtual world with a simple premise: What would have happened if the Aztecs hadn’t been conquered?

Why it matters: Aztech is an ambitious game from a small team in Mexico, a part of the world that has little representation in the industry and its culture.

  • Released in March for PC and console, Aztech puts the players in control of Achtli, a young woman with a magical arm that enables her to fly over a futuristic Mesoamerican megacity and battle the gods.
  • In a medium filled with adventures inspired by Anglo-Saxon and east Asian cultures, it stands out.

What they’re saying: “We aspire to be the voice of our people,” Edgar Serrano, cofounder of Chihuahua-based studio Lienzo, told Axios earlier this spring, shortly after the game’s release.

  • The studio started a decade ago, mixing contract work with original projects.
  • Its 2018 release Mulaka was an action game set amid the mythology of the Tarahumara, an Indigenous culture in Mexico. The game was narrated in the Tarahumara language, and hewed close to historical traditions.
  • Aztech began as an attempt to make something more fantastical while indulging the fantasy of an Aztec empire that spread across the Americas.

Lienzo’s games can reach three key audiences, Serrano believes:

  • Local players, like the young Indigenous people he met while making Mulaka, who he said knew little about their own legends.
  • The Latin American diaspora in the U.S. and elsewhere, who he believes are yearning for work that helps them reconnect to their roots.
  • The wider — and often whiter — world of people he believes seek some level of “social currency” in understanding other cultures. “If you play our games throughout, you're going to end up knowing a lot more than you knew before about our culture. And the things that stay with you are going to be true and authentic and researched.”

Between the lines: Serrano is quick to point out that Aztech isn’t perfect. He calls it “over-scoped,” perhaps biting off too much.

  • He’s still proud of the game and hopeful what Lienzo’s team of about seven developers can build in the future.

What’s next: He’s dreaming of a movie. Serrano has partnered with a production company to shop Aztech to Hollywood.

2. PlayStation sued

Image of the PlayStation logo and a woman seen in silhouette
Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Former Sony Interactive Entertainment employee Emma Majo is again suing the maker of PlayStation in a potential class action gender discrimination lawsuit, this time in California, after a federal judge dismissed her first lawsuit last month.

Why it matters: Sony, like other video game companies before it, faces allegations it had a sexist workplace.

  • But Majo, who said in her November suit that she was fired after complaining about gender bias, has encountered more judicial skepticism in the early going than others.

Driving the news: The new, narrower complaint is no longer national. Instead of seeking damages for all women who worked for PlayStation in the U.S., it’s trying to get them for women below the vice president level who worked at PlayStation’s California locations, including San Francisco and San Diego.

  • The suit states: "Because of Sony’s systemic pattern and practice of gender discrimination, the plaintiff and members of the proposed class have suffered harm including lost compensation, back pay, employment benefits, and emotional distress." It specifically alleges violations of California's Equal Pay Act.

Between the lines: In April, a federal judge echoed arguments made by Sony’s own lawyers that Majo’s initial complaint was light on facts.

  • She dismissed it but said Majo could bring it back with more specific details.
  • Majo’s new claim appears to act on that guidance, adding the other women’s accounts, while downscaling the issue from a federal matter.

Sony reps did not reply to a request for comment, but Sony lawyers argued in February that Majo’s federal complaint failed to cite any policies or practices that proved there were widespread issues worthy of a class action.

  • At the time, they said Majo's "widespread claims of harassment are based solely on unactionable allegations of run-of-the-mill personnel activity."

The bottom line: It's too early to tell if the revisions to Majo's filing can prevail over such arguments.

3. Need to know

🤔 Comcast’s Brian Roberts tried to buy Electronic Arts earlier this year, while EA has been hoping for a deal with Disney, according to Puck’s Dylan Byers, who cited several inside sources and got a stack of official “no comments.”

🎮 The National Labor Relations Board says it sees merit in Activision workers’ complaint that the company illegally interfered with their ability to discuss wages and organize. It will seek a settlement with the game maker. An Activision rep told Bloomberg the allegations are “false.”

💰 Take-Two officially completed its multibillion-dollar purchase of Zynga today, merging the gaming giants.

📱 AT&T’s unexpected gaming push continues, as it uses Google’s Immersive Stream tech (aka Stadia) to offer the acclaimed Control to its 5G customers at no added cost. It started doing the same last year with Batman Arkham Knight.

😲 GameStop has launched a crypto wallet as it prepares to open an NFT marketplace this summer. It’s still unclear what GameStop will sell and how much buy-in it’ll see from game makers.

🧛‍♀️ V Rising, a survival game in which you’re a vampire, is the latest small studio surprise hit from Sweden, hitting 150,000 concurrent players on Steam today and having sold 500,000 copies in the week since its release.

4. You ask, we answer

Animated GIF of the WASD buttons
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Q&A time. Remember that you can send in a question by replying to the very email that contains this newsletter (unless you’re a web reader, of course).

Q: I’ve seen a lot of complaints of Overwatch 2’s beta looking and playing too much like the original. … Isn’t the real issue here a plethora of multiplayer games all built on the same business model? Halo and Call of Duty both went [free to play], and this essentially is as well. Are there just too many free options now which is causing people to pass on good games for the sake of the next big thing or trend?

A: Overwatch can blame the competition, but its biggest problem is probably the self-inflicted choice to even make an Overwatch 2, instead of just regularly updating the original game.

  • As more multiplayer shooters go free, they also maintain a cadence of perpetual updates to keep players involved. See Valorant, see Call of Duty: Warzone, etc.
  • But that’s not what Blizzard did: To focus on a sequel, the game just went without a new hero character — its main way of generating player excitement — for two years. That cooled off the game considerably.

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🐦 Find me on Twitter: @stephentotilo.

Running out of excuses for not having played Control yet.