We’re saying bye to 2023, kicking off the new year with a scary haul of what will frame many, many changes on what may come in 2024.
Bobby Kotick Departs Activision Blizzard
As of the end of December 2023, Robert “Bobby” Kotick has officially retired from his role as CEO of Activision Blizzard.
Kotick’s departure leaves behind a legacy of controversy and potential complicity to the company’s toxic and hostile workplace issues in his wake, and is part a series of many leadership and policy changes to the company in response to the long, grandstanding saga of the acquisition of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft. As another subsidiary under Microsoft, Jill Braff has been named head of studio for Bethesda and ZeniMax. Microsoft’s acquisition of Blizzard was officially finalized in October 2023.
The state of California ended up settling the Blizzard’s gender discrimination lawsuit for about $54 million, the very case that has pushed the series of dominoes that catalyzed the acquisition of the company in motion back on July 2021.
In its initial filings of the suit, California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD) alleged that the company had a “frat boy” culture, but has went on to now conclude that “no court or any independent investigation has substantiated any allegations” of sexual harassment at Activision Blizzard in the suit’s settlement text. If the court approves of this settlement, the payout will go to “cover direct relief to workers and litigation costs” and “a settlement fund dedicated to compensating workers.”
While being pushed back by the ABK Workers Alliance union, Blizzard will also be ending hybrid work for QA employees starting this year. The union believes that the in-office accommodations that have been offered due to this decision will not adequately meet the needs of its membership and that it will cause “many, many more employees being forced out of the company and into a desperate situation.”
As Blizzard will be continuing to face turbulence and ongoing changes under a new coat of paint, Microsoft pulls back from their VR projects as consumer trends shown interest in the medium dipped in 2023.
Leaving the Year With Leaks
Insomniac Games had the misfortune of experiencing a severe cyberattack credited to ransomware group Rhysida, who claims to have taken over 1.67 terabytes of data from the company.
After a deadline has passed demanding a ransom of $2 million dollars, Rhysida went on to leak a plethora of internal data and sensitive employee information, such as HR documents, screenshots of private messages, and unreleased images and assets of future projects, and even a playable build of one of those projects. Sony experienced a data breach by a different group in October that same year.
Insomniac has went on to respond to how demoralizing the attack has been, but nonetheless has vowed that teams will resume to push on and that work will continue on the projects that have been leaked. The leaked playable build contains a warning against piracy, which could result in legal action from Insomniac. Downloading it also potentially comes with the threat that it contains implanted malicious software after the hack’s tampering.
Allegedly, Rhysida has sold a tiny portion of this data to an unknown buyer, but a significant portion of 98% of the data allegedly has been released.
In less concerning news, sensitive military documents have been leaked on the War Thunder forums —again.
The Blockchain Is Not for Babies
While the Epic Games Store still won’t necessarily list games in its catalog with the Adults Only rating, the platform has adjusted its policy to now allow exceptions for games utilizing blockchain technology.
The ESRB board has been labeling games using blockchain technology with the AO rating, determined on “assess[ing] whether products may reward real money, prizes with real world value, or something that can be exchanged for or converted to real money.” NFT-based game Gods Unchained was removed from the Store for its AO rating, but has since been relisted on the platform after this policy update.
Government Goes After Gacha
Reguators China are attempting to introduce new policies to curb spending and monetization practices in online games.
Per several other past initiatives in an effort to reduce play time and addiction to games, some of the terms of these regulations include imposing spending limits on players, disallowing in-game items to be auctioned or used as speculative assets and that all Chinese games must be ran in servers based within China.
Researcher Leon Y. Xiao has further found that the policies will require that loot boxes shouldn’t make their contents exclusive and that unspent currency must be refunded to players if a game shuts down.
While in Korea, the Korean Fair Trade Commission has fined Nexon for changing and reducing the loot box probability rates without transparency across their published titles that contain this equivalent mechanic.
The New York Times Sues OpenAI and Microsoft
On top of an ongoing string of other lawsuits pushing back against the exploitative use of the technology, The New York Times sues OpenAI and Microsoft, opening what might possibly be one of the largest lawsuits against AI thus far by for copyright infringement.
The publication alleges that the AI technology used has been illegally pulling from the Times’ archive to train ChatGPT. Data that that plaintiff has currently reported has found the Times as one of the largest sources that the technology has pulled from, arguing that ChatGPT is for-profit that now directly competes with the Times’ own services.
Wizards of the Coast deservedly catches flack again, this time for the use of AI art going unchecked in a recent social media campaign for Magic: The Gathering.
In other news…
Teenager Willis Gibson is the first human player to fully complete a version of Tetris on the NES. Going by “Blue Scuti” on his YouTube channel, the run lasted for about 38 minutes.
Actor James McCaffrey passed away. McCaffrey has starred in various film and television roles, and provided his voice for the titular role in the Max Payne series and was a regular talent for Remedy Entertainment’s various characters, such as Alex Casey in the Alan Wake games.
Publisher Versus Evil laid off its entire staff, effectively shutting down. Versus Evil was acquired by TinyBuild in 2013, and effectively all titles of their library, such as The Banner Saga games, have been moved under TinyBuild’s ownership.
Ubisoft’s The Crew will be going offline. The game has already been delisted from all online stores and will remain playable until March of this year.
While Sea of Stars has much to celebrate following their win of Best Independent Game at the 2023 Game Awards and achieving a 4 million player milestone, the game is removing the cameo appearance of Jirard Khalil. Also known as The Completionist, Khalil was met with allegations of financial fraud against his family-founded charity to support dementia research, the Open Hand Foundation.
Publisher Bushiroad Games and developer Eighting announced the production of a Hunter x Hunter fighting game. Bushiroad has published various titles based on anime and manga IPs, and was responsible for bringing the multimedia musical franchises Love Live! School Idol Festival and BanG Dream! Girls Band Party! into the mobile games market.
As even its own cast awaits an official greenlighting of a sequel to Illumination’s animated The Super Mario Bros. Movie, rumors suggest the animation studio has pitched the idea of potentially also adapting the Smash fighting games into a film.
Likewise, Jack Black won’t be waiting for his next gig for too long as he is reportedly to play Steve in the Minecraft adaptation.
While the official server of MMO City of Heroes was shut down way back in 2012, NCSoft officially granted a license to a long active, private-run server Homecoming. Players are reassured that accounts will remain untouched and that the gameplay will continue to be free, hoping to be supported by donations.
Fans of Baba Is You will be pleasantly surprised by the release of Mobile Suit Baba, a tactical mission-based puzzle game that revisits the same quaint Baba characters and setting.