Doublejump Digest: August 1, 2021

by Doublejump

This week in gaming: things heat up at Activision-Blizzard & Ubisoft, the Aussie government starts promoting local game development, PS5 sales hit 10M, and more!


In the spirit of keeping our readers up to date with what’s happening in the video game industry, the Doublejump Digest is a brief collection of the major news stories from the past week. Keep an eye out for the Digest every Sunday night, and head on into the archive for news from weeks gone by!


FROM DOUBLEJUMP 

  • Callum traded cabbage for guns to review Hungry Couch Games’s Black Skylands and found it to be “an engaging title with plenty of promise”.
  • In the latest Doublejump Radio episode, John & Abir talked about the beginnings of the turmoil at Activision-Blizzard, EA Play 2021 announcements, and Mobile Suit Gundam.


MAJOR NEWS

Activision-Blizzard staff walk out in solidarity, company responds by hiring anti-union organisation

This week was quite a tumultuous one for the game development industry, and it kicked off with Activision-Blizzard CEO Robert “Bobby” Kotick penning “a letter” to the company’s employees in response to the work culture lawsuit brought on by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing last week. Oh, and also in response to the organised walk-out that the publisher’s employees organised during this week.

“I want to recognize and thank all those who have come forward in the past and in recent days. I so appreciate your courage. Every voice matters – and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future,” he wrote. Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf. It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.”

Unfortunately, Kotick didn’t end the letter there; he ended it by revealing that Activision-Blizzard has brought on law firm WilmerHale – which Amazon recently deployed to stop its employees from unionising – to “review” the publisher’s “policies and procedures”.

Kotick noted that, “effective immediately”, Activision-Blizzard will “continue” to look into every allegation and “take decisive action”, create “safe spaces” for employees to voice concerns, firing any leaders found to have protected harassers or obstructed investigations, “requiring all hiring managers” to consider candidates fairly, and “removing” questionable content from games.

It’s extremely sad that these are things that weren’t already in place at the company, and thousands of the company’s employees agreed because they organised and then orchestrated (both in-person and virtual) walk-outs this week to protest Activision-Blizzard’s toxic workplace culture and the lack of action on management’s part to change this for years.

The employees also stated the following demands that they require to be met to prevent further walkouts:

Activision Blizzard Walkout – Employee Demands

  1. An end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, current and future. Arbitration clauses protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution.
  2. The adoption of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and promotion policies designed to improve representation among employees at all levels, agreed upon by employees in a company-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion organization. Current practices have led to women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups that are vulnerable to gender discrimination not being hired fairly for new roles when compared to men.
  3. Publication of data on relative compensation (including equity grants and profit sharing), promotion rates, and salary ranges for employees of all genders and ethnicities at the company. Current practices have led to aforementioned groups not being paid or promoted fairly.
  4. Empower a company-wide Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion task force to hire a third party to audit ABK’s reporting structure, HR department, and executive staff. It is imperative to identify how current systems have failed to prevent employee harassment, and to propose new solutions to address these issues.

Look out for next week’s Doublejump Digest to see how Kotick and the company’s leadership team respond to this week’s walk-out.

Ubisoft employees sign open letter against management, CEO says company has improved since last year’s scandals

Almost 1000 current and former Ubisoft employees have signed an open letter in support of Activision-Blizzard staff following the lawsuit by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The Ubisoft employees also blass Ubisoft management, stating that “we have seen nothing more than a year of kind words, empty promises, and an inability or unwillingness to remove known offenders”.

In the letter, they also propose that “Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft and other industry-leading publishers collaborate and agree to a set of rules and processes for handling reports of these offences” which “must heavily involve employees in non-management positions and union representatives”.

In a message shared with Ubisoft employees, CEO Yves Guillemot described action taken over the last year but made no mention of any new actions or changes for the future.

“Since last summer we have implemented new anonymous reporting tools, revamped our HR processes including new global policies to prevent and manage discrimination, retaliation, harassment, installed a new code of conduct, rolled out mandatory training, established a content review group and are bringing in new leadership across major studios, HR, D&I [Diversity and Inclusion], Editorial, and Production,” he wrote. “These are important steps forward, but this is a long process, and there is still more work to be done.”

Aussie government starts its campaign to lure foreign game studios to our shores

Following its announcement of a 30 percent “Digital Games Tax Offset” in May, the Federal government has begun a campaign to expand the game development scene in Australia via the Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce, a new post-COVID agency aimed at creating new jobs by attracting foreign studios.

Designed to draw larger publishers to our shores, the pitch highlights Australia’s biggest and more successful developers – like Hollow Knight’s Team Cherry and Untitled Goose Game’s House House – as well as our time zone’s ability to support a “continuous development cycle…while North America and Europe are asleep”.

The PS5 beats PS4 to 10M sales, PS5 beta testers can now add in SSDs

Sony has announced that it has sold more than 10 million PlayStation 5 systems since its launch in November, reaching this milestone faster than the PlayStation 4. Where the PS4 hit this milestone 271 days after launch, the PS5 did the same in just 249 days.

Meanwhile, Sony has released a new PS5 beta update that allows owners to expand local storage via the built-in M.2 expansion slot. However, hard drives must meet several requirements: a read speed of 5,500MB/s or higher (meaning PCIe Gen4 SSDs only) and a heatsink that matches the required dimensions (whether it’s built-in or attached).

Despite supply constraints, Xbox Series X|S is fastest-selling Xbox ever 

According to Microsoft’s latest earnings report, the joint current-gen Xbox platform, the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, is the fastest-selling Xbox ever. The company estimated that it sold more than 6.5 million units as of June 30, with this milestone being higher than the Xbox One’s 5.7 million and Xbox 360’s 5.0 million figures over a similar post-launch period.

Similarly, the company also announced that, over the last year, Xbox gaming revenue increased by 11 percent and hardware revenue by 172 percent (thanks to the new console launch), while content revenue dropped by 4 percent due to a decrease in third-party game purchases.

Annapurna Interactive holds its first showcase event

A late arrival to the E3 season, game publisher Annapurna Interactive showed off a number of new announcements and upcoming releases in its showcase event:

Melbourne studio Beethoven & Dinosaur’s psychedelic adventure title, The Artful Escape, is set to release later this year on September 9 on Steam and Xbox.

Neon White is “a single-player speedrunning FPS where you sacrifice guns for parkour moves” with a dating sim in the background and is set to release later this year on PC and Switch.

A Memoir Blue is a subdued “interactive poem” by developer Cloisters and is set to release on iOS, Switch, PC, PlayStation systems, and Xbox (as well as Game Pass).

Storyteller is a new puzzle game about building tragedies, using a variety of characters, settings and emotions to jigsaw together your own heartbreaking tales. Daniel Benmergui’s Storyteller is coming to PC and Switch.

From the team behind Hyper Light Drifter, Solar Ash gets a release date of October 26 on PS4, PS5, and the Epic Games Store (PC).

Skin Deep is the next game by Brendon Chung’s Blendo Games, and is an immersive first-person shooter where you play an “insurance commando” taking down space pirates.

We also got a new look at Stray, BlueTwelve Studio’s action-adventure game starring a cat trapped in a mysterious cybercity. It’s coming to PC, PS4, and PS5 in 2022.

Mobius Digital announced Echoes of the Eye, the first and only expansion to its game-of-the-generation contender Outer Wilds. The DLC is slated for September 28, while a Switch port of the original game is slated to launch later this year.


NOTABLE GAME RELEASES

  • The Ascent (PC and Xbox Series X|S)
  • Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster (Android, iOS, and PC)
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator (Xbox Series X|S)
  • NEO: The World Ends With You (PS4 and Switch)
  • Samurai Warriors 5 (PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One)
  • The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (PC, PS4, and Switch)

VIDEOS AND TRAILERS

FIFA 22 — Official Gameplay Trailer

New animations, new goalkeeper programming, new lighting, and a new commentary team await virtual football fans.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles — Launch Trailer

Ryunosuke Naruhodo is back in HD!

Apex Legends — Meet Seer

There’s nowhere to hide when Seer’s inside.

Apex Legends — Emergence Gameplay Trailer

World’s Edge looks worse for wear while future champions will get their hands on the new Rampage LMG.

Halo Infinite — Multiplayer Technical Preview Overview

Please be good, please be good, please be good…

Forza Horizon 5 — Let’s ¡Go! – Episode 4

More biomes and weather effects? Yes, please!


OTHER NEWS

  • Discord takes on Slack with its new threaded chat functionality: GameSpot
  • Guerilla Games has reportedly delayed Horizon Forbidden West to next year: Kotaku
  • Panic sold 20,000 Playdate pre-orders in 20 minutes: Gamasutra
  • Respawn Entertainment will buff Fuse, Caustic, and Horizon in the upcoming Emergence patch: Eurogamer
  • Forza Horizon 5 will boast more biomes and weather effects than its predecessor: Rock, Paper, Shotgun
  • Former PlayStation boss Shawn Layden is worried about rising development costs, increased acquisitions, and the toll on indie studios: GameSpot
  • Bungie will add cross-play to Destiny 2 in Season 15: The Verge
  • Hisense Australia updates TV listings to clarify actual HDMI 2.1 compatibility: Kotaku Australia
  • Fortnite’s latest countdown might be for an Ariane Grande concert: GameSpot
  • Gardevoir is now in Pokemon Unite: Polygon
  • Niantic has committed to overturning false Pokemon GO bans: Eurogamer
  • Valve has defended its 30% revenue cut in court: PC Gamer
  • New Pokemon Snap players should expect to see 20 new Pokemon and new courses in a future update: Polygon
  • Arcade1Up announced an arcade cabinet to commemorate The Simpsons beat-em-up’s 30th anniversary: Engadget
  • Sony confirmed that it bought Nixxes to port PlayStation games to PC: Kotaku
  • Microsoft will remove Forza Motorsport 7 from sale soon due to expiring licences: Gamasutra
  • Halo Insiders can now test out Halo Infinite: The Verge
  • A Total War Sage: TROY is launching on Steam next month: Eurogamer
  • Here’s what we can expect in Hitman 3’s next season: GameSpot

John Reeves and Abir Chowdhury contributed to this article.


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