TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: JAN. 25

This week, Nintendo Switch beats out the competition, Machinima’s YouTube page becomes private, and BioWare’s Anthem goes gold.

Nintendo Switch Becomes the Highest Selling Console of 2018 in U.S.

According to a December 2018 report by industry-tracking firm The NPD Group, the Nintendo Switch overtook PlayStation 4 as the best-selling console of 2018 in the US. Additionally, the Switch earned the highest annual sales for any hardware platform since PS4 broke the previous record in 2015. Some media pushed the news as a devastating defeat for Sony and Microsoft, including a writer at Forbes who headlined  their article, “The Nintendo Switch Smashed The PS4 And Xbox One To Pieces In 2018.” Wired’s headline stated, “Nintendo Switch Had The Best Holiday Ever.” The news was also reported by IGN, Gamespot, Digital Trends, and more.

Entire Machinima YouTube Channels Gets Wiped

With no public announcement or advanced warning to many creators, the entire Machinima Youtube channel was effectively wiped from the internet recently. All videos on the channel are now private and  unable to view. The news quickly spread across social media, with fans and creators sharing their stories and information about the shutdown using the hashtag #RIPMachinima. The news was reported by gaming sites like Kotaku, tech sites such as The Verge, and multi-channel sites such as TubeFilter. PCGamer said the incident is a, “a good reminder of just how disposable the internet is.”

Anthem Goes Gold

BioWare has confirmed its upcoming sci-fi shooter Anthem has gone gold, which means the game’s development is complete. Anthem is slated to release on February 22. In addition to finishing development, BioWare has announced a new feature involving a 16-person social hub in the game where players can socialize. The news saw coverage from most gaming and geek sites including PushSquare, SlashGear, COG Connected, Comicbook.com, and more.

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: JAN. 18

This week, EA cancelled its open world Star Wars game, Valve’s TCG Artifact hits a new low, and  Bethesda unveiled the Elder Scrolls Online next expansion.

EA Cancels Open World Star Wars Game

Kotaku had reported that Electronic Arts canceled its open-world Star Wars game, according to its sources familiar with the company. The game, announced alongside the shutdown of Visceral Games back in 2017, had been in development at EA’s large office in Vancouver. The news was also picked up by gaming sites such as Polygon and Gamespot, along with geek sites like CBR, and business sites such as MarketWatch.

Valve’s Artifact Has Lost Almost Its Entire Player Base In The Two Months Since Launch

The collectible card game Artifact released on November 28, and had 60,740 concurrent players that day. On January 16, SteamCharts showed the concurrent players number dipped just below 1,500, marking a 97 percent loss in players. Most sites that covered the news showed no surprise of the decline in their articles. Kotaku stated, “players apparently remained unimpressed, since they continued to steadily leave the game in the subsequent weeks.” Forbes said, “Artifact is both late to the party and showed up as over monetized when it finally did arrive.” Other sites such as Den of Geek!, Business Insider, GameReactor, and more covered the news.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr Expansion Announced

ZeniMax Online Studios unveiled The Elder Scrolls Online’s next major expansion, Elsweyr, which will be released on June 4. Elsweyr will be similar in size and scope to last year’s Summerset zone and features a year-long story. The expansion will also add dragons to the game. PC World wrote an article detailing 5 reasons fans should be excited for the expansion. SyFy Wire ran the news in a Bethesda roundup piece, which also discussed the WestWorld mobile game shutting down after HBO reached a settlement with Bethesda. The news itself was picked up PC Gamer, Polygon, Rock Paper Shotgun, Gamespot, and more.

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: JAN. 11

This week, Bungie and Activision have parted ways, the Better Business Bureau has awarded Epic Games an F rating in customer service, and Ubisoft and Epic Games have partnered to bring the Division 2 to the Epic Games Store and UPlay store.

Bungie Parts Ways with Activision, Retains Destiny Rights

Bungie has announced that it will part ways with publisher Activision and retain ownership rights of shooter franchise Destiny. “Looking ahead, we’re excited to announce plans for Activision to transfer publishing rights for Destiny to Bungie. With our remarkable Destiny community, we are ready to publish on our own, while Activision will increase their focus on owned IP projects” Bungie stated. Gaming sites such as Polygon, Kotaku, and IGN focused on the split and Bungie’s focus to self-publish. Business sites such as MarketWatch and Business Insider focused on Activision-Blizzard as a publicly traded company and how the split is affecting its stock value.

Better Business Bureau Gives Epic Games an F for Customer Service

The Better Business Bureau announced that it has awarded Fortnite maker Epic Games with an F rating, its lowest grade possible, citing 247 “unanswered customer complaints” on its website. Variety reported that “several of the complaints stem from customers stating they’ve been ‘falsely accused’ of cheating, ‘unjustified platform bans,’ refusal to refund unauthorized charges, and a litany of other issues all related to purchasing ‘Fortnite,’ its premium currency V-Bucks, or the game failing to work in the first place.” The news was reported by game enthusiast outlets like Kotaku, PC Gamer, and IGN, as well as mainstream publications like the Washington Post.

The Division 2 is skipping Steam in favor of the Epic Games Store

Epic Games has announced a deal with Ubisoft to bring the PC version of The Division 2 to its newly launched game store. The online shooter will also be available through Ubisoft’s own digital store, UPlay, but it won’t be for sale on Steam. The original The Division was sold through Steam and the sequel was listed previously but has since been taken down. This is the latest development in a growing battle between Steam and the Epic store, and many outlets picked up on this in their coverage. The Verge stated, “the war of the digital game stores continues, and this time it’s Epic making a major move.” GamesIndustry.biz noted that “shots have been fired today in the digital distribution platform war as Ubisoft shuns Steam in favour of Epic Games.” The news was also covered by Polygon, PCMag, Eurogamer, Venturebeat, and others.

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: JAN. 4

This week, Activision Blizzard fired CFO Spencer Neumann for an undisclosed reason and he was then hired as CFO of Netflix, Nexon founder Kim Jung-ju has put his company up for sale at $9 billion and Tencent is a potential buyer, and Soulja Boy has ended the development of his emulator console.

Netflix hires former Activision Blizzard CFO Spencer Neumann to be new CFO

On Monday, Dec. 31, Activision Blizzard had announced the firing of its CFO Spencer Neumann for reasons unrelated to recent financial problems. Shortly after the news was announced, Reuters reported that Netflix had poached Neumann as its new CFO and will succeed David Wells. Reuters stated, “The source said Netflix, which is making more of its own films and series, would like its next CFO to be based in Los Angeles with a focus on production finance.” The news was also picked up by multiple outlets across various trades such as The Hollywood Reporter, MarketWatch, IGN, CNBC, PC Gamer, and more.

South Korean Gaming Giant Nexon is Up for Sale

The Korea Economic Daily Newspaper originally reported that Nexon, the South Korean gaming giant, is being put up for sale with 99% of stocks available for purchase by founder Kim Jung-ju. This would be the largest M&A in South Korean history and Tencent is rumored as a potential new owners for Nexon. The estimated value of the sale would be nearly $9 billion according to the paper. The news was picked up by Reuters, Korea Times, Kotaku, Destructoid, TechCrunch, Korea Herald, Variety, and more.

Soulja Boy Ends Development of Console After Potential Lawsuit

Engadget reported that Soulja Boy had had pulled SouljaGames emulators off his official SouljaWatch merchandise website possibly due to a lawsuit. On Twitter, the rapper’s only response was “I had to boss up, I didn’t have a choice.” Engadget stated “Keen-eyed observers who visited the retailer noticed that many of his products looked similar to the sort of IP-infringing wares you’ll find on Alibaba or Wish.” VG 24/7 also reported the news adding that “everyone was pretty much expecting this to happen, so the news shouldn’t come as a surprise.” Many media expressed their disdain for the console, such as GamesRadar, who stated, “in the first place, all of Soulja Boy’s consoles were nothing more than bootleg systems being resold at a dramatic mark-up.” The news was also reported by IGN, Rolling Stone, GameRevolution, TechCrunch, and others.

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: DEC. 14

This week, most of the gaming and consumer tech media focused on roundup pieces for the Game Awards, Epic Games pulling the Infinity Blade series from the App Store, and Daybreak Games laying off 70 employees.

Game Awards Announcements

For the December 6 Game Awards, a number of new games and updates were announced including Zenimax’s The Outer Worlds, Mortal Kombat 11, Far Cry New Dawn, a new Dragon Age from Bioware, Hades by Supergiant Games, and the addition of Persona’s Joker to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The roundup of announcements were covered by Polygon, The Verge, PC Gamer, Comicbook, BGR, and more. Most articles provided the list and gave Geoff Keighley acknowledgement of the work he’s done for the show. BGR said “the reason that many of us tuned in was to see all the world premiere trailer and announcements that Geoff Keighley wrangled for the event.” Polygon said, “the evening was densely packed with video games news and announcements, well more than the 10 premieres host Geoff Keighley promised in the run-up.”

Epic Games Pulls Infinity Blade Trilogy from App Store

Epic Games announced that it’d pulled the Infinity Blade Trilogy from the App Store due to it becoming “increasingly difficult” to support. The trilogy was arguably the first AAA mobile experience on iOS. BGR acknowledged the high-caliber series that it was for mobile saying “Eight years ago, back in the early days of the App Store, Epic Games set the world of mobile gaming on fire.” CNET talked about the state of digital mobile games stating “The games’ removal says something about the ephemeral nature of digital games — companies can simply yank anything that’s no longer profitable as they move onto the next big thing.” Apple-centric sites such as 9to5Mac did somewhat of an ode to the series, stating “The Infinity Blade games were a staple of iOS gaming since the first iteration was released in 2011.”

Daybreak Games Lays off 70 People

Variety reported that Daybreak Games, the developers behind “EverQuest II,” “H1Z1,” and “PlanetSide 2,” laid off a number of employees this week as part of a structure optimization. This comes after the studio laid off an undisclosed amount of its staff back in April, shortly after launching its battle royale title H1Z1 out of Early Access. The news was picked up by GamesIndustry.biz, Gamasutra, Polygon, and more.

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: DEC. 7

This week a number of top tier outlets published their top 10 games of the year, an NFL player was removed from Madden due to assault allegations, and Fortnite was sued by rapper 2 Milly over allegedly stealing his dance moves.

Top 10 Games

Mashable, Vulture, and NME posted their lists of top 10 video games of the year this week. Overall, triple-A games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War, Fortnite and more dominated the lists. Though indie titles like Donut County, Tetris Effect, Into The Breach, Dead Cells, Return of the Obra Dinn, and others were peppered in as well.

Fortnite Sued By Rapper 2 Milly

A number of top tier sites covered a lawsuit between rapper 2 Milly and Fortnite, in which 2 Milly claims that Fortnite ripped off his Milly Rock dance. The Washington Post reported not only that Epic Games ripped off the dance without permission but also for exploiting “various African American artists’ talent without credit.” Polygon noted in their coverage that a number of other dances including Snoop Dogg’s Drop It Like It’s Hot, The Carlton Dance from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and a dance from Marlon Webb’s Band of the Bold video series were also copied. NPR mentioned as well that this may be a difficult case as technically U.S. Copyright Offices says it, “cannot register short dance routines consisting of only a few movements or steps with minor linear or spatial variations, even if a routine is novel or distinctive.”

Kareem Hunt Removed From Madden

The Washington Post, USA Today, and other national news outlets reported on the removal of former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt from the Madden NFL 19 roster by EA due to assault allegations that circulated last week. Hunt was replaced by a generic player with identical stats in-game and remains a free agent in the NFL at this time.

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: NOV. 9

This week, fan outrage surprises Blizzard following a Blizzcon reveal, Riot Games faces a gender discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit, and Nintendo removes an offensive Native American caricature from the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Diablo Mobile Game Announcement Sparks Fan Outrage

In advance of last week’s Blizzcon, Blizzard teased big news for the Diablo franchise, leading many to believe that Diablo IV could be announced despite a Blizzard blog post warning otherwise. Instead, Blizzard revealed Diablo Immortal, a free-to-play mobile game developed by NetEase. The reveal followed a high production value CGI trailer typically reserved for flagship Blizzard games and was met with immediate booing from attendees, with some openly mocking it during a fan Q&A. After stating that the game wouldn’t be coming to PC, the on-stage Blizzard employees were further booed, with one attempting to break the tension by asking “Do you guys not have phones?” prompting more backlash. Polygon reported on fan suspicion that the game might simply be a reskin of a past NetEase game, Crusaders of Light, which boasts a very similar user interface. In an interview with Variety, Blizzard denied the accusations, stating that the game had been “built from the ground-up,” and noted that Hearthstone’s announcement was met with a similar level of apprehension. Kotaku’s Jason Schrier posited that Blizzcon was likely the wrong place to make such an announcement, as the convention has a hardcore fan-friendly atmosphere, while Diablo Immortal is clearly meant for a much broader audience. The trailer posting on YouTube was met with a massive number of dislikes and negative comments. According to Bloomberg, this negative reaction caused Activision Blizzard’s stock to drop as much as 7.2%, despite mobile games being an incredibly lucrative space that investors would likely be happy for the company to enter.

Riot Games Faces Employee Class Action Lawsuit

Kotaku’s Cecilia D’Anastasio, the first reporter to break the news about Riot Games’ toxic workplace culture, reported that one current and one former Riot Games employee “filed a class action lawsuit against the League of Legends publisher, accusing it of endemic gender-based discrimination and fostering a ‘men-first’ environment.” Among the lawsuit’s allegations are denial of equal pay based on gender, women having their careers purposefully stifled, sexual harassment, misconduct, and bias. The plaintiffs are seeking unpaid wage compensation, damages, and “other penalties, with an exact amount to be determined at trial.” Business Insider noted that the lawsuit still needs to be certified by a court to be considered class action. CNET reinforced that sexism is widespread in the industry and inevitably alienates many women looking to make a career for themselves within the space. Rock Paper Shotgun suggested that Riot Games’ apologetic statements promising to create a safe, egalitarian work space wasn’t backed up by its actions, as several high-level employees accused of misconduct are still with the company.

Nintendo Removes Offensive Native American Imagery from Super Smash Bros.

Nintendo announced that it would be removing an offensive character animation from the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The character in question, Mr. Game & Watch, originated from a line of Nintendo handhelds in the 1980s. One of these handhelds had a game called “Fire Attack,” in which a Civil War-era general defends a fort from Native American-caricatured attackers. This caricature, featuring a stereotypical Native American wielding a flaming torch while wearing a loin cloth and feather, served as an attack animation for Mr. Game & Watch in a recent Nintendo Direct that prompted fans to call for its removal. Variety, GameSpot, and Eurogamer all pointed out that when Nintendo re-released Fire Attack in a Game & Watch collection for the Game Boy in 2002, they removed said caricature, showing that Nintendo has been aware of its offensive nature in the past. Nintendo released an apology along with their plans to remove the animation, stating that it originated in a game “released more than three decades ago and does not represent our company values today.”

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: NOV. 2

This week, Microsoft Research publishes prototype designs for mobile Xbox controllers, Red Dead Redemption 2 breaks records, and a British technology site faces possible litigation from Take-Two Interactive.

Microsoft Research Prototypes Xbox Controllers for Mobile Devices

Microsoft Research recently published prototype Xbox controller designs for phones and tablets that would likely accompany their game streaming service, Project XCloud. The design in question looks like a variation of the typical Xbox controller, except the game pad and grips can be detached and customized based on what device you are using to stream games. Windows Central and Destructoid point out that the research dates back to 2014, and has likely been resurfaced due to the success of the Nintendo Switch, which proved that there is a huge market for mobile gaming outside of smaller-scale iOS and Android games. IGN noted that it’s unclear whether Microsoft ever intends to bring the controller to market, or if it is “simply some practical research that will remain in the testing stage.” TechRadar posited that we could be seeing the release of this controller sooner than one might expect, as public trials for Project XCloud begin in 2019.

Red Dead Redemption 2 Breaks Sales Records and Garners Widespread Critical Acclaim

The massive success of Red Dead Redemption 2’s launch caught the eyes of mainstream, entertainment, and financial publications everywhere this week. Fortune reported that the game made more than $750 million in just three days, and noted that its massive sales figures will set a huge foundational player base for the upcoming Red Dead Online. Engadget, Quartz, and The Hollywood Reporter noted that the only entertainment property to ever exceed that amount in the same time frame was another Rockstar franchise release, Grand Theft Auto V. Variety observed that the only movie to ever come close to the fiscal success of Red Dead Redemption’s first three days was “Avengers: Infinity Wars,” grossing $640 million in its opening weekend. The game was a critical smash hit as well, topping Metacritic’s all-time highest rated games list for both Xbox One and PS4.

TrustedReviews Donates $1.3 Million After Wrongfully Leaking Internal Rockstar Document

In February of this year, British technology website TrustedReviews published an extensive list of features and details regarding the (then) upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2. This week, they donated $1.3 million to charities of Take-Two’s choice (Rockstar’s parent company), stating “We should have known this information was confidential and should not have published it. We unreservedly apologise to Take-Two Games and we have undertaken no to repeat such actions again.” The article featuring leaked information has now been pulled from their website. Variety noted that it was unclear if TrustedReviews had broken any laws in obtaining the document, and reached out to Rockstar for comment. A spokesperson responded “Take-Two takes security seriously and will take legal action against people or publications who leak confidential information.” GamesIndustry.biz extrapolated from the full statement that this donation was likely the result of litigation, as Take-Two referred to the donation as a “settlement.” Kotaku noted that if TrustedReviews had indeed broken the law in obtaining the leaked documents, that Take-Two would potentially be able to demand far more money in court. They also noted however, that if the documents were legally obtained, that “This case is an extraordinary one, then, and it might prove to be influential. For many media organizations—especially smaller ones–the mere threat of expensive legal action might be enough to prevent the publication of leaked information, even if it was legally obtained from verified sources. Whether or not it’s defensible in court, the risk just wouldn’t be worth it.”

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: OCT. 26

This week, China’s continued freeze on game approvals massively benefits Steam, EA and Activision experience tremendous growth thanks to their “games-as-a-service” business model, and Microsoft reports record growth.

Steam’s User Base Skyrockets After China’s Freeze of Game Approvals

In a talk at Melbourne Games Week, a spokesperson from Valve revealed that, in just one year, Steam gained 27 million users, bringing their total user base to over 90 million. Market intelligence firm Niko Partners attributes this to a massive uptick in Chinese users due to their government’s freeze on new game approvals, instituted in March of 2018. This has forced Chinese gamers to use Steam for the latest releases instead of platforms like Tencent’s WeGame. VentureBeat highlighted an observation from Niko Partners, noting that Steam is technically operating illegally in China as it hasn’t gone through the country’s official licensing process, effectively making it a “gray market.” Valve did announce in June however, that they are working with local publisher Perfect World to officially launch Steam China in the near future. According to sources close to GamesIndustry.biz, Tencent’s value plummeting by a staggering $190 billion is likely of little concern to the Chinese government, as they instead prioritize their public health agenda, which is meant to curb increasing rates of addiction, myopia and “other ills” supposedly related to gaming. According to Bloomberg, the temporary stopgap approval process for new games instituted in August, known as the “green channel,” was also frozen, further exacerbating Tencent’s monetary struggles and ensuring Steam’s continued popularity in the region.

Electronic Arts and Activision Gain Billions in Value With Games-As-a-Service Mode

GameDaily.biz reported on findings from analyst group DFC Intelligence, in which Activision and Electronic Arts were reported to have grown by a combined $79 billion thanks to their switch to the games-as-a-service model for marquee franchises like Madden, Call of Duty, Destiny, Battlefield, and more. While many might prefer traditional, stand-alone, “pay to play” games like God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man, TechSpot observed that games relying on DLC and microtransactions like loot boxes are likely here to stay for the foreseeable future thanks to their massive success. In fact, EA is launching only seven games next year, all of which are expected to use said model. GameDaily.biz explained the rationale behind the business model’s success, stating that “[publishers] are able to release fewer products while generating far more revenue.” Thus, the games-as-a-service business model is not only insanely profitable, but sustainable as well. IGN noted that Activision’s value grew from $10 billion in 2012 to $60 billion this year, while EA grew from $4 billion to $60 billion in the same timeframe.

Microsoft Experiences Tremendous Growth in Gaming, Cloud, and Hardware

The Verge reported on Microsoft’s Q1 2019 financial results, after the company declared they had experienced a record first quarter. The company experienced large increases in Surface and Azure revenue especially, but also cited a 44 percent year-over-year growth in gaming revenue. Xbox hardware revenue grew by a massive 94 percent, while Xbox software and services grew by 36 percent. Gamasutra noted that the launch of the Xbox Adaptive Controller and the subscription-based Xbox All Access this quarter saw a “strong consumer response and exceeded sale expectations.” GameDaily.biz posited that the company is doing a great job of retaining its users through a Netflix-style business model, and is generating good will with consumers through its push for cross-platform multiplayer and accessibility for players with physical disabilities. However, Engadget pointed out that Xbox Live “sat flat at 57 million for the second consecutive quarter, down from the 59 million in its fiscal Q2 and Q3 earlier in the year.”

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: OCT. 19

This week, comments from a Rockstar co-founder cause debate and controversy around “crunch culture,” Activision Blizzard stocks take a hit despite Call of Duty’s success, and PlayStation 4 users receive system-crashing, malicious messages.

Rockstar Executive Triggers Discussion and Debate Around “Crunch Culture”

Earlier this week, in an feature with Vulture, Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser mentioned that members of the studio behind the upcoming “Red Dead Redemption 2” often had 100-hour work weeks while preparing the game for launch. These comments, meant to show the passion and hard work put into the heavily anticipated sequel, instead prompted controversy around the studio’s treatment of employees and stirred much discussion about “crunch culture” in the games industry. The Verge reported on these comments being “very disappointing,” pointing to recent cases of unethical employee treatment from studios like Telltale Games, and cited crunch culture as a prominent topic at this year’s Game Developers Conference. Kotaku reported on a follow-up statement from Houser, in which he clarified that these 100-hour work weeks were electively carried out by senior members of the team that are particularly passionate. Houser declared that they would never expect such hours from their employees and that “additional effort is a choice.” Gamesindustry.biz reported on members of the games industry relaying their own horrific crunch stories, affirming that crunch culture has become an unfortunate but expected phase in game development. In response, Rockstar lifted their ban on social media and encouraged their employees to tweet about their experience at the company. Ars Technica compiled said tweets, with Rockstar employees reporting generally positive experiences counter to the ongoing narrative prompted by Houser’s comments. Many stated that, while crunch culture was present at Rockstar, they never had 100-hour work weeks, though some reported daunting figures like 79-hour work weeks.

Activision Blizzard Stocks Fall Despite Success of Call of Duty

This year, Activision shipped its first-ever, multiplayer-only edition of Call of Duty and broke multiple franchise records for digital sales and player engagement. Forbes listed out said franchise records, and noted that the PC player base was double that of last years, indicating that “[the franchise] may finally have legs on PC.” While Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has been well received for its tight multiplayer and acclaimed new Battle Royale mode, the game’s sales failed to impress Activision Blizzard stockholders according to The Next Web. Even though the game made $500 million in its first three days, previous installments of the game reported similar sales figures, and shareholders seem like they expected more from this year’s release. Nasdaq noted that, despite breaking the franchise’s digital sales record, Activision has not yet disclosed physical sales, and the crowded holiday release season may have stymied the game’s sales.

PlayStation 4 Users Receive System-Crashing Messages

PS4 users have been receiving malicious messages over PSN resulting in hard-locked systems. Kotaku reported on such user experiences posted on the PS4 subreddit, in which players received a message through the system’s messaging application that prompted “continual error loops,” crashing their consoles in the process. Members of the subreddit found that setting messaging to “private” would prevent the receipt of such messages, and advised fellow community members to do so. ZDNet pointed out a Reddit user who observed that some Rainbow Six: Siege players had recently skyrocketed up the game’s rankings by sending such messages to their opponents, calling for their banning. Eurogamer reported on Playstation UK acknowledging the issue and providing instructions on how to restore the crashed consoles, but also pointed out that Sony has yet to make an official, full statement on the issue.

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: OCT. 12

This week, Microsoft announces its new game streaming service, Sony’s CEO confirms next-gen hardware, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey breaks franchise sales records despite controversy around its monetization options.

Microsoft Announces Game Streaming Service “xCloud”

Starting in 2019, Microsoft will begin to roll out public trials of Project xCloud, the company’s new video game streaming service. According to the official announcement, players will be able to use touch controls or use Xbox One controllers (via Bluetooth or a small hardware attachment) to play Xbox games on a wide array of personal devices. The backbone of the service will be Microsoft’s Azure datacenters, which they state will be more than capable of scaling the service so that players everywhere can enjoy a quality, low-latency gaming experience, even over 4G networks. WindowsCentral speculated that streaming games to mobile devices represents a valuable opportunity to Microsoft to attract casual gamers to their platform, and “convert casual mobile gamers into core console gamers.” The Verge and Gamespot pointed out that this announcement comes hot on the heels of Google’s recent announcement of Project Stream. Last week, a limited number of users that applied on the Project Stream website were selected to try streaming Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on Google Chrome, requiring an internet connection of 25 megabits per second or more to do so. Polygon was pleasantly surprised by how well the game performed through Chrome, reporting responsive controls without noticeable input lag, medium to high visual settings, with the only issues being some light audio compression and some decrease in performance when running downloads and streams in the background.

Sony Confirms Next Generation Hardware

In an interview with the Financial Times, Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida confirmed the existence of next-generation PlayStation hardware, stating “At this point, what I can say is it’s necessary to have a next-generation hardware.” This somewhat off-handed confirmation of next-generation hardware mirrors a similar statement from Phil Spencer at Microsoft’s E3 press conference earlier this year, when he stated that the Microsoft hardware team “is deep into architecting the next Xbox consoles.” Gamesindustry.biz extrapolated that “[Sony] is preparing for the end of the PlayStation 4’s natural lifecycle” from Yoshida’s statement. US Gamer cited games industry analyst Michael Pachter’s prediction of a 2020 release date for the PlayStation 5, but also acknowledged that if Sony maintains market dominance in 2019, we may have to wait until 2021 for their next console. Forbes speculated that Sony could be in an awkward position for a new hardware release, as Nintendo and Microsoft have bet heavily on mobile platforms with the Switch and xCloud, whereas it is “unclear whether [Sony is] prepared to dive into the mobile space or not.” The publication also suggested that Sony’s cancellation of the PlayStation Experience this year may be because heavily anticipated sequels to games like God of War and Horizon: Zero Dawn, may be reserved for next-generation hardware that the company is not yet ready to reveal.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Breaks Franchise Records

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey had the franchise’s best launch sales yet for this console generation. Though sales figures were not disclosed, IGN noted that last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins outsold Assassin’s Creed Syndicate twice as fast in a 10-day period, making Odyssey’s sales even more impressive in comparison. They also pointed out that it is unclear whether Odyssey outsold Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, which launched on both last-gen and current-gen consoles and sold 10 million units. This positive news follows some controversy around the new game, as its heavy use of microtransactions to speed up player progression has led publications like Forbes to believe that Ubisoft made the game excessively difficult and “grind-y” to encourage players to pay for experience bonuses. Kotaku published an exhaustive breakdown of Odyssey’s in-game purchasing options, of which there are many. They quoted a Ubisoft PR representative denying that the game was altered in any way to force players to purchase experience bonuses, advising that players having a difficult time should simply lower the game’s difficulty. Kotaku stated that some of their staff have found the game “challenging but not so tough as to need permanent boosters to play or even have a good time.”

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: OCT. 5

This week, a new version of the Nintendo Switch is expected to release late next year, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé breaks down Nintendo’s competitive philosophy, and ESA CEO Michael Gallagher steps down after 11 years with the organization.

Nintendo Plans to Release a New Version of the Switch Next Year

The Wall Street Journal reported on Nintendo’s plans to release a new version of the Switch in the second half of 2019. According to their sources, Nintendo has yet to finalize their plans for iterating on the  console. The Verge noted that, though the Switch is a quality piece of hardware, there is still room for improvement as Nintendo attempts to maintain sales momentum. The Wall Street Journal speculated that the Switch’s low-grade, power-inefficient LCD screen could be replaced by a higher-quality one. TechCrunch noted that an OLED screen like the new iPhone’s would be highly unlikely as Nintendo prioritizes affordability in their products. Polygon made a wishlist of feature iterations they would like to see including a brighter screen, bigger and more ergonomic Joy-Cons, more internal storage,  larger Wi-Fi range, and more.

Nintendo of America President Breaks Down Competitive Philosophy

Earlier this Week, Nintendo of America President and COO Reggie Fils-Aimé made an appearance at the GeekWire Summit. In his Q&A, he stated that Nintendo thinks of itself as an entertainment company and not a gaming one. As such, he said it would be shortsighted to think of just Sony and Microsoft as Nintendo’s chief rivals, instead competing for consumers’ overall “entertainment time.” That means competing with web-surfing, movies, TV, and more, not just other gaming platforms. He cited the underperformance of the Wii U as being crucial to the development of the Switch, as Nintendo learned some hard lessons about what their consumers wanted out of a Nintendo console. He also expanded on Nintendo’s mobile strategy, explaining how they couldn’t simply port past games to smartphones, but instead had to create unique, fun mobile experiences. To TechCrunch, this explanation “rang a bit hollow,” as Nintendo’s smartphone games rely heavily on microtransactions and grinding, which are typical in the mobile games market. According to the publication, this deviates heavily from “Nintendo’s core mission of entertainment.” Ars Technica’s coverage also touched on Nintendo’s vision for exploring newer technology like augmented and virtual reality. Fils-Aimé confirmed that Nintendo in the process of exploring these spaces, but have nothing to announce at this time.

Entertainment Software Association CEO Steps Down After 11 Years

Entertainment Software Association (ESA) CEO Michael Gallagher stepped down earlier this week after 11 years in leadership. Aside from organizing E3 every year, the ESA also plays a huge role in swaying legislation around video games and outlets like CNET listed some of Gallagher’s notable accomplishments in that realm. For instance, in response to the controversy around the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, the National Rifle Association (NRA) blamed violent video games for contributing to gun violence. Gallagher met with Vice President Joe Biden to convince him otherwise, citing research contradicting the NRA’s claims. He also helped prevent the passing of a California law that would restrict the sale of violent video games to minors in 2011. With a wealth of political experience under his belt, VentureBeat reported that “[they] heard” Gallagher may be planning to run for office in his home state of Washington. Initial reports of Gallagher leaving the ESA did not specify reasons for his departure, but Variety reported that Gallagher was apparently pressured by the ESA’s board to step down. They reached out to ESA for comment, but the organization declined to comment.

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: SEPT. 28

This week, Telltale Games shuts down and sparks massive controversy, Sony introduces cross-play for Fortnite after increasing pressure from fans and the industry, and Ryan Reynolds is set to star in a new video game-themed film.

Telltale Games Shutdown Sparks Fan, Industry, and Legal Lashback

Telltale Games, known for their adventure game adaptations of major franchises such as The Walking Dead, Batman, and Game of Thrones, suddenly closed down their studio earlier this week, laying off approximately 250 employees with a 25 person skeleton crew left to finish Minecraft: Story Mode. The layoffs came as a complete shock to the employees, as many of them were up until 3 AM the previous night working on the latest episode of The Walking Dead. Many outlets cited a story from The Verge earlier this year that painted Telltale as a studio with toxic management and unethical working conditions. The company tweeted that “multiple potential partners” had expressed interest in helping finish The Walking Dead’s final episodes. This prompted further outrage from games press and fans, as there was zero acknowledgement of the 250 employees left jobless and without pay. Vice Waypoint’s Patrick Klepek penned an op-ed that deeply criticized the company for its handling of the matter, encouraging fans to not “let Telltale milk your fandom until they pay the workers they screwed.” He also criticized outlets like IGN for reporting on the news of The Walking Dead possibly being completed without acknowledging the hundreds kicked to the curb by Telltale. These layoffs prompted a retrospective from GamesIndustry.biz on 2018 being “the Year of the Bad Employer” referencing controversial cases of sexual harassment, worker abuse, and more from studios like Quantic Dream, Naughty Dog, and Riot Games.

Sony Gives in to Fortnite Cross-Play Demands

After months of pressure from players and industry competitors, Sony announced the immediate launch of a cross-play beta for Fortnite earlier this week. Players on Playstation 4, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac, will now be able to compete with one another. The Verge published a thinkpiece on the matter, examining how Sony’s decision may have changed the console market forever. They state that “hardware distinctions are growing smaller and smaller as the years go by,” with a gaming ecosystem that is beginning to feel borderless. Gamespot pointed out that the timing of this announcement conveniently aligns with the recent announcement of Fortnite Season 6. Eurogamer called Sony’s decision “historic,” and stated that based on their own investigation, prominent multiplayer game developers have been wanting the walls between consoles to come down for quite some time. What’s more, is that implementing cross-play seems to not be a necessarily labor-intensive issue, with Epic “accidentally” enabling the feature earlier this year, and Rocket League developer Psyonix stating that it requires only the “push of a button.”

Ryan Reynolds to Star in “Free Guy”

Entertainment and pop culture outlets like Deadline, Comicbook.com, and GQ Magazine are reporting on the casting of Ryan Reynolds in a new film entitled “Free Guy.”  In the film, Reynolds plays a bank teller that realizes he is living in a Grand Theft Auto-esque, open-world action game, essentially as a background extra. Upon learning that his game is about to be cancelled, he seeks the help of a player avatar in order to help save his world. Deadline drew a comparison between “Free Guy” and the critically-acclaimed film “The Truman Show” in which the titular Truman, played by Jim Carrey, realizes that he has actually been the subject of an extraordinarily high-budget reality show his entire life. Comicbook.com noted that the film’s announcement is coming at an appropriate time following the controversial closure of Telltale Games, as the film apparently addresses many current events and trends in the video game industry. Shawn Levy, behind popular projects such as Stranger Things, Arrival, and Night at the Museum, is set to be its director.

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: SEPT. 21

This week, YouTube redesigns its gaming page to compete with Twitch and announces it’s going to kill the YouTube Gaming app, Sony announces the Playstation Classic, and Spider-Man’s massive sales spark a discussion around AAA, single-player games.

YouTube Launches Gaming Redesign

In a further effort to compete with Twitch for the live games broadcasting crown, YouTube redesigned its gaming portal to mirror some of its competitor’s functionality. Engadget reported that the redesign also borrows heavily from mobile app YouTube Gaming, which will be shut down next March “due to its limited reach.” The reporter cites that most YouTube viewers preferred the standard YouTube mobile app instead of the YouTube Gaming standalone app, and would rather use the platform to watch pre-recorded content such as Let’s Play videos instead of live streaming. The Verge interviewed YouTube’s director of gaming content and partnerships, Ryan Watt, who admitted that most users didn’t even know what the app was for or what kind of content it served. The new redesign, baked into the  main YouTube app and site, features “faster access to top live streams, pages for specific games, and a new ‘On the Rise’ section that highlights up-and-coming creators.” The Verge points out that the service will receive a staggered launch beginning in the US first, as “the system relies on both algorithmic and human curation, and scaling that model will take some time.” Kotaku is pleased to see YouTube implementing “more focused curation features” on its main site, but that it seems like too little, too late to really challenge Twitch’s monopoly on livestreaming games.

Sony Announces “Playstation Classic”

Taking obvious cues from the runaway success of Nintendo’s NES Classic and SNES Classic, Sony announced the new “Playstation Classic,” a miniature version of the retro console featuring 20 built-in games. So far, only five of the 20 planned games have been announced, including Wild Arms, Final Fantasy VII, Tekken 3, Ridge Racer Type 4, and Jumping Flash. In their wishlist for the remaining 15 games on the platform, IGN points out that many hallmark Playstation One titles, such as the Spyro and Crash Bandicoot series, have already received recent HD re-releases and that the Playstation Classic would be better served digging deeper into its library for other revered titles. They also point out that the lack of a DualShock controller likely means that classics such as Ape Escape (which relied on the controller’s joystick functionality) will not be making an appearance in the console’s limited library. Polygon notes that a common complaint regarding the NES Classic and SNES Classic was that users had to hack them if they wanted to add any additional games to the library. They speculate that the plastic cover on the back of the system could possibly be hiding something like an Ethernet port for users to add classic titles they’ve purchased from Playstation Network. The console comes with two controllers, releases on December 3rd, and is available for pre-order now for $100. Tech review site Tom’s Guide points out that Nintendo’s classic consoles’ extensive, acclaimed libraries and cheaper prices makes the Playstation Classic’s price tag a bit off-putting comparatively.

Spider-Man Breaks Playstation Sales Records

Earlier this year, God of War’s record-breaking sales sparked a discussion (in publications like Comicbook.com and ScreenRant) around how a traditional, standalone, single-player, $60 game with a strong narrative and no microtransactions can still be a massive success in a marketplace seemingly dominated by multiplayer and “games as a service.” Spider-Man’s recent record-setting sales seem to further that narrative as 3.3 million copies were sold in its first three days of release, effectively out-grossing the opening weekend of the recent, hit film Spider-Man: Homecoming, breaking God of War’s recent record of 3.1 million copies sold in the first three days, and setting an all-time record for Sony exclusives. Gamespot, GameRant, and Destructoid all point out that the game’s financial success seems to be on par with its exceedingly positive reception from fans and critics alike. GamesIndustry.biz reported that the game’s second-week sales topped first-week sales for Shadow of the Tomb Raider and NBA 2K19, two new installments in two incredibly popular series.

TRIPLEPOINTS OF INTEREST: SEPT. 14

This week, Belgium opens a criminal investigation into EA for their refusal to cancel their loot box programs, prominent industry executives and analysts speculate on China’s game approval crack down, and PUBG’s concurrent player count drops below one million as the Call of Duty Black Ops 4 “Blackout” beta begins.

Belgium Opens Criminal Investigation Into Electronic Arts

After Belgium’s Gaming Commission determined loot boxes to be an “illegal game of chance” and therefore illegal for minors to access, Valve, Blizzard, and 2K Games all made sure to disable said feature in their games. EA on the other hand, has refused to comply. As a result, the Brussels public prosecutor’s office is conducting a criminal investigation on the matter. In their coverage, Eurogamer quoted a statement from EA in April, in which they stated that their games were “developed and implemented ethically and lawfully around the world.” According to their reasoning, the fact that players always receive the same advertised number of items, and can’t officially “cash out or sell items or virtual currency for real money,” means that their loot boxes should not “be considered as any form of gambling.” Ars Technica notes that though the Netherlands’ commission has reached the same conclusion, the UK and New Zealand gaming commissions do not agree. GamesIndustry.biz notes the EA may in fact be looking for a legal battle in hopes to have the decision officially reversed in court.

Chinese Government Rolls Out New Testing Period for Game Approval

The Chinese Government originally froze game approvals this past March due to the Chinese Ministry of Education’s concerns of a child myopia epidemic. Gamasutra reported on an article from the South China Morning Post stating that the government’s new game licensing procedures may take another 4-6 months to put in place due to a drastic internal restructuring. However, Asian games market research and consulting firm Niko Partners told VentureBeat that they expect things to progress far faster than the previously reported time frame. In the meantime, their government has implemented a “new testing period where games can go on the market for one month by getting a less stringent commercial-testing approval.” As such, Take-Two’s NBA 2K Online 2 and Kerbal Space Program for Tencent’s WeGame platform have been approved for public launch on October 2nd. GamesIndustry.biz reported on Take-Two’s CEO weighing on the matter. He stated that this issue hinges upon the Chinese Government reaching the conclusion that importing Western entertainment is in fact a good thing for their consumers and entertainment economy. He also stated that the U.S. government needs to take hard stance on the country’s “odd and unequal [trade] situation” with China in which half of an American business needs to be owned by a Chinese entity in order to market and distribute a title.

PUBG Concurrent Player Count Drops as Call of Duty Beta Begins

For the first time in the last year, PUBG’s concurrent player count on PC dropped below one million. Outlets like Eurogamer and PC Gamer point out that this dip coincided with the launch of the Call of Duty Black Ops 4’s battle royale mode beta, called “Blackout.” Player and press reception to Call of Duty’s stab at the genre has been very positive, with publications such as CNET and Forbes singing the beta’s praises and seeing it as more direct competition to PUBG than Fortnite due to its similar, military backdrop. While this broken streak may have come as discouraging news to the game’s developers at Bluehole, GamesIndustry.biz points out that PUBG broke a huge Steam record by being the first-ever game on the platform to maintain such a streak for an entire year. It still remains the most popular game on Steam ahead of titans like DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Assault. Outlets like Eurogamer and Comicbook.com reported on a PUBG data-mine earlier this week revealing huge content updates that could sway the player base back to the game later this year.