Wherein I discuss the biggest acquisition in the history of video games, the speculated evils of the metaverse, a potential end of an electronic expo, some terrible brick crunching, and the glory of unionization!
This past week Pokémon Legends: Arceus came out— by which I mean it leaked, because nowadays I consider leaks to be when games truly release. Seeing as how leaks are an essential part of the Pokémon hype cycle— and have been since 1997— I dove into the crusty scum-scented gulags of CentroLeaks and regaled myself with new forms, new move lists, and spoiled the gimmick of the final boss, which seems fairly similar to a gimmick I pitched this past July.
Though, I think what has me the most excited are the things that are minor, but were not revealed in pre-release materials. Such as how Pokémon can vary in size, with some being 12 apples tall. How the player can walk around and move the camera during battle, which dramatically changes the feel of these encounters. How small the Pokédex is, which makes the prospect of snagging every Pokémon all the more enticing. And how goofy two new regional designs are. Seriously, I cannot look at either of them without thinking of that one horse cartoon that my childhood friend and I used to watch. I love them and want to stuff them into little balls.
Basically, everything I saw from these leaks left me with a positive impression, to the point where I’m somewhat excited to give this game a whirl and let the adventures of the infallible Wu-Wu-Chan continue!
Over the past four years, the video game industry has been lousy with acquisitions. While I was initially okay with this trend, due to the efficiency and security that ideally follows an acquisition, that’s changed in the past two years. While individual acquisitions can be good for the buyer and/or seller, they generally are not good for the industry. Because there is basically no situation where industry consolidation and the shift to an oligopoly, or possibly even a monopoly, is a good thing.
The reason I bring this up is that Microsoft is acquiring Activision Blizzard for $70 billion.
Yes. Microsoft is aiming to buy one of the top ten biggest names in video games, and they are spending an absolutely unfathomable amount of money on them. Hell, I’m pretty sure that is enough money to end world hunger, vaccinate the entire world against COVID-19, eliminate a few diseases, and more!
From an industry perspective, I think this is incredibly worrisome, as this shows what Microsoft’s true endgame is. A company that, less than a decade ago, was thinking of exiting the gaming scene, has decided to create a gaming empire. They started with smaller studios and developers, but now? Now they are aiming for some of the biggest publishers on the planet. Normally, there would be antitrust laws to prevent situations like this, but in the 21st century, laws are mere suggestions that one can bend, twist, and change by exerting money and power. Microsoft has the power to be truly above the law, and they would never dream of announcing this unless their lawyers drafted a case for the acquisition and checked it 7+ times.
From an Xbox ecosystem perspective, this is a massive boon to Microsoft’s line-up, as they will own some of the biggest names in gaming. Call of Duty, Candy Crush, World of Warcraft, and Starcraft alone are some pretty massive names, but they also own their entire back catalogs, providing Microsoft with dozens upon dozens of neglected IPs they can dig into. Now, they aren’t going to make all future titles exclusive outright— they already announced that Call of Duty will continue to be released on PlayStation— but they are probably going to make more niche titles exclusive to add more value to Game Pass and the Xbox ecosystem as a whole.
And from a humanistic perspective, this news is worrying, as the strikes and union-creation attempts are likely to be snuffed out by Microsoft, who is not too fond of unions. As for the abusers, after some initial confusion, Microsoft has announced that Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick will only be removed after the acquisition is finalized. Reading between the lines, I’m assuming that Kotick, and other abusive managers at Activision Blizzard, will receive large payouts from this acquisition, allowing them to walk away from this ordeal with a slightly sullied reputation and pockets lined with cash.
Now, I thought that was all I had to say regarding the Microsoft Activision acquisition. …But then I was directed to the Newswire press release, which is different from the press release on Xbox.com and mentions that part of the reason Microsoft is investing in Activision Blizzard is to “provide building blocks for the metaverse.” I don’t know what that actually means, and I don’t think the person who wrote this really knows either. Regardless, I fund this announcement to be worrisome, as I have come to view the metaverse as something that only has the potential to make lives worse.
In discussions about Web 3.0, there is a lot of talk about how the internet will be ‘decentralized.’ How things will be open source, independent, and similar to how things were back in the Web 1.0 days. Except that fundamentally isn’t what the metaverse is about. The true idea behind the metaverse is to create a digital world that is managed, run, and owned by corporations, and people own digital goods where the ‘ownership’ is listed on a decentralized blockchain. Everything might be ‘decentralized,’ but in the vision for the metaverse, everything would still be managed and truly owned by the corporations, who would make money on every purchase or sale of a digital good. The metaverse is not imagined at this broad and open digital work as much as a new frontier that corporations can divide into fiefdoms in order to get to get recurring revenue from users who have a need or want to use this digital space.
You see, unlike what cyberpunk fiction predicted, the true goal of tech companies and the biggest corporations in the world is not for them to ‘take control’ of the real world. The future is not going to be one filled with corporate cities or any of that crap. Because corporations don’t want to own cities, deal with the hassle of managing societal infrastructure, tax the rich, or run programs to help the unfortunate and keep them off the street. They want to create a new world without the same limitations, overhead, or upkeep as the real world. They want to create a digital world, a metaphysical world, where corporations do not need to worry about physical limitations, laws, or much beyond maintenance and keeping users locked into a system where they can be used to generate revenue.
Now, the big question I have is how tech companies plan on selling the metaverse to people, and I don’t even think tech companies have found the answer to that question yet beyond mere buzzwords. However, I do have a hairbrained and incredibly loose theory of how corporations can take over the world without being responsible for its physical upkeep.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still going strong, more and more people are communicating and working digitally. If corporations take away the existing methods of digital communication, or tie them into the metaverse, then people will need to use them if they want to do… anything. They could make the metaverse something essential for daily life, communicating with friends or loved ones, and something so pervasive that it could eradicate or assimilate other methods of communication.
The metaverse could sink its tendrils into email, phone calls, instant messaging, and more if there is enough of an agreement and enough of a push. A disturbingly small number of corporations have enough power to force everybody to use the metaverse. They can take this idea and make it essential for daily life. If they can and choose to do that, then… they win. They would not only win the game of capitalism, but the game of humanity.
Am I being hyperbolic? Absolutely. I am positing a loosely defined worst-case scenario. And I am only thinking of this scenario because I truly have no faith that the metaverse could help humanity. No matter how I look at it, the ultimate goal of the metaverse is to give corporations more power over the world… by letting them create a second world that they own, fully and utterly.
Moving onto something lighter, and a reprieve from a deluge of heavy stories, two weeks ago, it was announced that E3 2022 will be held as a digital event. I thought this was a good call, albeit a tad premature, but industry insider Jeff Grubb has recently spoken up on the state of the convention, explaining that “E3’s been canceled. Well, physically it’s been canceled, digitally probably also canceled.” If this is indeed the case, and E3 2022 is fully canceled, then… okay, I guess.
Over the years, I have explained that I have something of a love/hate/apathy relationship with E3. I enjoy the excitement and barrage of news. However, I also find it to be overwhelming and an inefficient way to distribute information. Nowadays, you can just upload a video, put out some press releases, arrange a livestream, and have basically the same effect of a presence at E3 without any added costs. Plus, I don’t really care for the event beyond its utilitarian purpose as a place where people meet in back rooms to strike business deals. Which things like GDC are better at anyway.
I admittedly will miss the rush and thrill of crunching to get a series of Rundowns out during E3 season, as I enjoy scheduled low-effort and low-stakes blitz work, but I won’t miss it that much.
Speaking of crunching, it is well documented that the games industry is lousy with crunch, as the industry has normalized unreasonable deadlines, unhealthy work culture, and, most of all, bad management. It has gotten to the point where I almost have to roll my eyes when a new ‘crunch story’ comes around. But I still feel the need to read them and remind myself of just how messed up this industry is.
This past week, Polygon released an article on TT Games, the developers of the licensed LEGO games, and the article had all the hallmarks that often plague game studios. Management pushing shoddy technology in order to avoid paying marginal licensing fees. Management saying that they will improve working conditions ‘after X project is done.’ And management pressuring employees to work 80 to 100 hour weeks via social blackmail.
Management is basically always the one to blame when projects go awry, and part of the reason for that has to do with just how challenging it is to manage a large team or a company with hundreds of employees. A good manager needs to understand their co-workers, workplace, industry, and the workload for their entire department. In addition to this, they also need to be able to schedule, plan, and effectively communicate everything that needs to be done to people above and below them. Management is not a singular skill, but rather a series of skills, potentially dozens, and few people have all of them.
As such, I want to offer some sympathy for managers at AAA games studios. I am sure that they are trying their best, trying to get everything done, and trying to make their bosses happy by meeting deadlines. The problem is that there are few good ways to manage teams of hundreds of people. Plus, due to corporate hierarchy and assorted bullcrap, managers often lack the ability to talk back to their bosses, who, typically, just want to ship out as many products as possible so they can make as much money as possible.
It is all part of this vicious circle to get things done fast, bring in the maximum amount of revenue, and please shareholders, who are the only human beings these mega-corporations, like TT Games’ parent company, Warner Bros., truly care about.
How does one go about fixing this issue of constant crunch and abusing workers for the sake of shareholders? Well, one solution is unionization, which has historically helped workers get additional rights, safety, and compensation. While I grew up being told that they are antiquated and make things worse, I’ve since learned that’s a lie. Unions are a pro-laborer structure that should be present in basically every specialized skill-based industry, including gaming and tech.
Now, the likes of Microsoft, Amazon, and every game publisher despise the idea of unions, but things won’t get better until the workers aim to seize some means of production. As such, I am glad to hear that, after being subjected to lies, layoffs, and strikes, the QA staff at Raven Software are unionizing. Thus marking the first video game union associated with a AAA publisher in North America.
The establishment of the union has not yet been finalized, but this is still a massive step forward to regulating this industry, and I hope this effort snowballs over the ensuing decade. Admittedly, this effort is narrow in its focus, as it only affects game developers in the United States (and maybe Canada, I’m not sure). So all the crunch work done by studios in China and Southeast Asia will continue— or perhaps worsen— as game developer unions grow in scale and power. However, a win’s a win, and this is a good sign of things to come… assuming Raven’s new owner-to-be, Microsoft, does not find some way to crunch this union before it gestates. Which they can probably do. I mean, Microsoft beat the IRS, and the IRS is probably more powerful than every union combined! Or maybe that’s just my tax accountant bias showing…
Based on the header image, it should be clear that I have learned how to make graphic design disasters using Paint.net. I know that I could have just taken a leak and heavily modified it using some basic filters, but instead I used 7 different filters before I added the LEAKY to it a bunch, because why not? Trash is an aged aesthetic that never loses its luster, because it never had an ounce of that ish, bucko!
Also, good news for those interested in my novels! All of the visual assets for Psycho Bullet Festival 2222 have been created and uploaded. Meaning the project is 100% done now. Hooray!~