I’m not exactly known for being consistent when it comes to putting out a weekly post, as my Best of Xbox Game Pass series knows all too well. But I’m going to give it another shot with this format which is a simple look at some of the week’s biggest videogame-related headlines with a few of my own thoughts thrown into the mix.
Before we jump into it, though, I thought I’d chat quickly about what I’ve been playing this week. The game I’ve sunk the most time into has been Hogwarts Legacy which has clearly been resonating with people based on its reported sales numbers. There’s a lot of stuff to talk about and I’ll be tackling them all in my review, so for now I just want to praise Hogwarts castle. The amount of detail and love that Avalanche has poured into every inch of the castle is mindboggling. Every corridor, every room and every hall features a wealth of unique assets that aren’t repeated elsewhere, making it a joy to explore and learn about. As a big book and movie fan, it’s honestly one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in a game.
Outside of the castle, it’s a fairly bog-standard open-world adventure, in many regards, but with a strong combat system that makes good use of the many spells you have at your disposal. In some ways, I was almost expecting a school-life simulator with attending classes being a big part of the game, so I’ve been surprised at how little that stuff matters. There are a few lessons to go to, but you can disappear into the countryside e and none of the teachers seems too worried that you haven’t turned up for classes in a month. Really, you aren’t a Hogwarts student, you’re more like a moocher who occasionally turns up to raid the kitchen and use the beds.
I also found the whole being evil thing kind of funny. On the one hand, it’s pretty clear that Avalanche knew some players were going to want to play the role of a dark wizard or witch, so they played along by letting you learn the unforgivable curses. But they never really follow through on the whole idea: you can murder random people with no repercussions, and you can’t actually be evil in terms of the story and dialogue. At most, you can opt to be mildly passive-aggressive in conversations which comes across as hilarious because of how very polite and very British everyone is. Really, you just come across as a psychopath, one minute demurely talking to professors and the next casting Crucio on a goblin.
The story hasn’t grabbed me, though, which is a shame. I’ll try to explain why in the review but the short version is that the characters are quite one-note and a little dull.
Anyway, let’s jump into some of the headlines from this week, shall we? Use the list below to jump to any specific story.
- Has Sony Bought Another Studio?
- Returnal Isn’t Doing Great On PC
- Blizzard Pisses Off Their Workforce. Again
- Civilization 7 Announced
- Wild Hearts Launches With Some Problems
- Multiversus Loses Over 99% of its Players on Steam, And Consoles Aren’t Looking Good, Either
- Saudi Arabia Increases its Investment in Nintendo
Has Sony Bought Another Studio?
Sony promised that there were more acquisitions to come and it seems like they might already be hard at work fulfilling that promise. The target of their affection? Ballistic Moon, a developer based in the UK. While the company currently doesn’t have any released games, they are reportedly working on a game using Unreal Engine 5. But the biggest reason for Sony’s interest is likely because Ballistic Moon was founded in 2019 by former Supermassive staff who had worked on games such as Heavy Rain and Until Dawn. Sony has had a long-running relationship with Supermassive, which is why many people thought they might attempt to buy the studio, however, Supermassive actually wound up being acquired by Nordisk Film who also owns Avalanche.
Initial rumours of a Sony purchase came last week when Sony themselves posted up a job listing for a Senior Dialogue Designer. In the advert, they listed off their first-party studios and among the names was Ballistic Moon. The advert has since been edited to remove that phrase, but of course, the Internet was quick to grab pictures.
Now, PitchBook, a website that tracks public and private markets, lists Ballistic Moon as “acquired/Merged” with the parent company being listed as Sony.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a big Sony purchase got leaked ahead of time. Their purchase of Housemarque was leaked by themselves months before the official announcement was made.
EDIT: Sony leaked the acquisition of Bluepoint ahead of time, not Housemarque. I’m an
If true, this acquisition would bring Sony’s total studio count to 20.
Returnal Isn’t Doing Great On PC
Speaking of Housemarque, it looks like the recent PC port of Returnal isn’t doing all that great. The game launched on Steam on February 15th and a week later its highest concurrent player count was just over 6500. So far none of the other Sony titles on PC has managed to improve upon their initial launch player count, but Returnal could buck that trend.
To put those numbers into context, here’s the full list of Playstation games published on PC and their highest concurrent player counts.
- God of War — 73,529 players
- Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered — 66,436 players
- Horizon Zero Dawn — 56,557 players
- Days Gone — 27,450 players
- Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales — 13,539 players
- Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection — 10,851 players
- Returnal — 6,691 (2 days ago)
- Sackboy: A Big Adventure — 610 players
So what’s up? Returnal is a great game, as I can attest to in my own review, but even on Playstation 5 it didn’t shift a lot of copies. The last time we heard, Sony revealed that it had sold just 560,000 as of July, 2021. At the time the console wasn’t exactly easy to get, but since then Sony has stayed quiet on Returnal’s performance so we can probably assume it hasn’t done that well.
The obvious argument is that Returnal doesn’t have the brand recognition of God of War or Spider-Man. However, Days Gone was also a brand new IP and managed to draw in over 4x the concurrent players, though it arguably benefitted from being on PS4 for a while before making the jump.
Ultimately, though, I think Returnal is just a niche game. That’s also why I think it still has a chance to be a slow but steady seller for Sony as word of mouth draws in more and more people who want to see what the fuss is about.
Blizzard Pisses Off Their Workforce. Again
Blizzard continues its ongoing mission to become more disliked than EA at the peak of the “Worst Company in America” era. In a company-wide Q&A that was meant to address a recent employee satisfaction survey, Blizzard Entertainment president Mike Ybarra dropped a bombshell by revealing that employees would only be getting 58% of their profit-share bonuses for 2022.
It’s a particularly harsh thing to announce less than a month after the company announced that 2022 was a great year for it, especially its Q4. The launch of Overwatch 2 boosted users massively, Diablo Immortal is “stable” and a new World of Warcraft expansion helped bump up the numbers. Meanwhile, Activision obviously had a new Call of Duty game dominating the market.
In other words, Blizzard did exactly what employees would hope when awarded bonuses based on profit: it earned a heap of profit. I’m sure after Blizzard crowed about its great numbers its employees were celebrating some nice bonuses coming their way.
The Q&A session featured a lot of bizarre, worrying and frankly disgusting quotes and I’d highly recommend reading gamedeveloper.com’s excellent write-up, but for me, the weirdest was this little nugget from Mike Ybarra: “If you think that executives are making a lot of money and you aren’t, you’re living in a myth.”
Put in context, what he was pointing out was that ALL Blizzard employees would be taking the same cut to their profit-sharing bonuses. It’s factually correct, but when you consider it from a wider perspective it’s an absurdly dumb thing to say and anyone with two brain cells would be able to anticipate how much it would anger the workforce. Many of Blizzard’s employees work at a rate only slightly above the minimum wage and that 42% reduction will hit them far harder than it’s going to hit the likes of Mike Ybarra.
Blizzard also recently told employees that they would need to start returning to the office instead of working remotely, which is rightfully making those employees worry that their costs will soar when they have to start paying for fuel or transportation again.
Understandably, it’s reported that the chat (the Q&A took place over Zoom) exploded in anger, and management actually disabled the ability for people to respond, leaving them with only emojis to voice their displeasure.
Civilization 7 Announced
There isn’t too much to say about this little snippet of news, but it’s incredibly exciting nonetheless; Firaxis have officially announced that Civilization 7 is being made. No other details were shared, though, so whether we can expect to see it by the end of the year is unclear.
Civilization 6 launched back in 2016, so it’s been a while since the series has seen a new game. It’s not like Firaxis were twiddling their thumbs, though – there’s been plenty of post-launch DLC that’s added in new factions, maps and other goodies. And, of course, they’ve been working on other titles, like the rather awesome Marvel’s Midnight Suns which, according to reports, hasn’t sold very well.
This announcement comes just after some of the company’s key staff revealed they were leaving. Studio head Steve Martin is heading out the door after 27 years at the company and a whooping 32 game releases. Also, Jake Solomon, who served as creative director on the XCOM games as well as Marvel’s Midnight Suns, is also departing after 23 years.
The new game was announced in the same press release in which Heather Hazen was revealed as the new studio head of Firaxis.
“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to carry on the studio’s storied legacy, beginning with the announcement that Firaxis is in development on the next iteration of the legendary Civilization franchise,” said Hazen. “I’m lucky to be working with some of the best developers in our industry, and we have plans to take the Civilization franchise to exciting new heights for our millions of players around the world. In addition, we will continue to support Marvel’s Midnight Suns with post-launch content, and explore new creative projects for our teams.”
I, for one, can’t wait to see how terrifyingly aggressive they make Ghandi in this one.
Wild Hearts Launches With Some Problems
Wild Hearts launched this week, the monster-hunting game that totally isn’t just Monster Hunter in a different hat and a fake moustache. Okay, that’s kind of unfair. While Wild Hearts is absolutely inspired by the Monster Hunter series, it’s trying to take the idea and run with it, giving Konami’s Monster Hunter franchise a bit of competition. Honestly, it kind of reminds me of From Software accidentally creating a whole new ‘Souls’ genre that has spawned hundreds of new games inspired by From Software’s love of torturing players. Wild Hearts might be one of the first to take the Monster Hunter concept and turn it into a genre unto itself.
Anyway, its off to a good start critically. It currently holds a Strong rating over on Opencritic with 80% of critics recommending it and a critic average of 80%. Not too shabby for a game about building boxes and then jumping off of those boxes to stab animals in the face, eh?
However, it also seems to have some performance woes, especially on PC. The folks over at PCGamer gave it one of the lower scores, giving it a 63. According to them, “Dire PC performance makes me wonder why this game didn’t have a few more months to cook. On an Intel Core i5-13600K and RTX 3070 I rarely got above a consistent 60 fps at 1440p, and turning down the game’s settings had little effect. Some areas in the game run especially poorly—something about the icy fourth zone would tank my framerate down into the 20s. For a PC Gamer colleague with an RTX 3060 Ti, Wild Hearts barely got above an average 30 fps at 1080p.”
It’s not just them, either, as Youtuber SkillUp also struggled to get anything resembling a decent framerate, even on the very latest hardware.
Developer Omega Forced have acknowledged the problems and says they are currently working on a patch, most notably to fix a CPU bottlenecking issue. Quite a few people have noticed that the game uses just one CPU core instead of spreading out the load.
Those issues aside, though, Wild Hearts looks like a lot of fun and people seem to be really enjoying its take on monster hunting. EA might have stumbled onto a strong new franchise here, which probably means we can look forward to a new iteration being shoved out the door every year.
Multiversus Loses Over 99% of its Players on Steam, And Consoles Aren’t Looking Good, Either
Multiversus looked promising when it first launched last year, a Smash Bros style brawler featuring characters from across Warner Bros. many properties such as Arya, Batman, Shaggy, Rick, Morty and more. Being free to play and containing so many well-known names drew in some big numbers, with a peak of 153,433 players on Steam 7-months ago according to SteamDB.
Skip forward to now, though, and Multiversus has lost over 99% of its players, dropping below a peak of 1000 players per day for the first time.
This might be because players have been growing restless with the developers. Season 1 dropped five new characters into the mix. Season 2 kicked off in November 2022, and only one character appeared. Season 3 was supposed to begin on February 14th but the developers have delayed it until March 31st, saying that they want to give players more time to complete the season 2 battle pass. Considering the last character arrived three months ago, that means players will have a roughly 5-month draught between new characters.
Let’s put this into some better context using Brawlhalla, another free-to-play brawler released back in 2017. Naturally, it has had a lot longer to build up a dedicated and loving fanbase, but with that age you would expect it to have lost a good chunk of its players. But its exactly the opposite: Brawlhalla has continued to slowly and steadily grow since its launch. It peaked a few years ago at just 31,846 players but continues to consistently draw in no less than 15,000 players per day. At the time I’m writing this section of the news, SteamDB’s last update was for February 16th (at the time of writing) where Brawlhalla drew in 14,904 players while Multiversus had just 1114 players.
However, all hope may not yet be lost. While we can get accurate information from Steam we have no idea how Multiversus may be performing on consoles. TrueAchievements provides perhaps the best look based on its own data which is taken from around 2 million players. According to their awesome article on Multiversus, the game has dropped to around 4% of its original players and now has fewer people playing it than other games like Injustice 2.
Can it be saved? I don’t think so. Warner bros. has plenty of characters to throw at the game to spike interest, but the issues seem to be far deeper than that, including the expensive cosmetics. Perhaps the bigger problem is simply one of free time: there are more games than ever being launched, and heaps of them are free-to-play with promises of constant content designed to make you play every day. People have a finite amount of free time, and I think publishers and developers are starting to discover that people can’t support a million different games. At most, they probably only have time to pick one or two, so naturally, they’re going to gravitate towards the games that have already proven themselves worthy.
Saudi Arabia Increases its Investment in Nintendo
Saudi Arabia has continued investing in Nintendo this week. The Public Investment Fund, chaired by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, which contains over $ 600 billion, began its investment in Nintendo in May of 2022, buying up 5.01% of the company. It then increased that amount to 6.07% a month ago. Just last week it boosted that number up to 7.08%. And now they’ve decided to gobble up another 1.18%, bringing their total share in Nintendo up to 8.26% and thus making them Nintendo’s largest outside investor.
The Fund has bought into numerous videogame-related companies over the past few years. In 2020 the fund bought $ 3 billion of Activision, Blizzard, Take-Two and EA stocks. In February of 2022 the Fund spent another $ 1 billion to buy stocks in Capcom and Nexon.
Last year, the crown prince’s Electronic Gaming Development Company bought 96% of SNK, giving Saudi Arabia full control of the Japanese studio known for Fatal Fury, Metal Slug and King of Fighters.
They aren’t stopping there, either. Last year the prince announced that the Public Investment Fund would be put aside over $ 13 billion to be spent on acquiring, “A leading game publisher.” While no companies were mentioned specifically, there are a few potential options that come to mind, such as Ubisoft which has seen its stock prices drop substantially.
Interestingly, Nintendo previously stated they weren’t even aware of the Fund’s initial investment back in 2022, and only learned of it via news reports. Of course, the Fund was simply buying stocks so they didn’t need to inform Nintendo, but in the case of large purchases, it’s pretty common for both parties to have communicated at some point. If Nintendo gets too concerned they can always send over Kirby to deal with the problem, though.
Investments happen all the time, but this one is worth talking about simply because of Saudi Arabia’s track record when it comes to human rights, or more specifically its lack of them. Foreign investments are neither good nor bad by themselves, but countries such as Saudi Arabia and China hold such differing views on many things that we consider fundamental to who we are that clashes are inevitable. China has used its investments in the past to force change in movies and games. So far, Saudi Arabia seems content to keep its views to itself, though.
Categories: Gaming Headlines, News
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