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Gaming Curbs in China: Youth React to Restrictions on Titles Such as Honor of Kings With Anguish and Cunning

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 16 August 2021

It is Zhang Yuchen’s last summer break before high school, but events have taken an unwelcome turn – the 14-year-old’s game time has been decimated as China’s tech firms try to dispel accusations that they are selling “spiritual opium” to the country’s youth.

An edict by gaming giant Tencent means players under 12 can no longer make in-game purchases in multiplayer battle smash-hit Honor of Kings, while under-18s are locked out after two hours during holidays and one hour on school nights.

“I wanted to cry,” an anguished Zhang said as the news ricocheted across the world’s largest gaming market, which soaked up $20 billion (roughly Rs. 1,48,500 crores) in the first half of this year alone.

“Limiting game time over the holidays means I can’t play (Honor of Kings) to my heart’s content,” he told AFP.

The changes – incontestable and imposed far too quickly for the liking of Zhang and his peer group – have come as a censorious state scours the tech scene for signs of any firm growing too big, owning too much data or having too great a hold over China’s people.

Gaming appears to be the latest target for regulators who have already strafed mega-apps providing ride-hailing, personal finance and online learning, as the Communist Party refines the type of capitalism it wants for society.

State media reports have singled out gaming, with one article calling it “spiritual opium” and another advocating an end to tax breaks for the sector.

‘I have nothing to do’

Investors rushed to sell shares in Tencent and rivals NetEase, XD, and Bilibili, despite China’s place as the world’s biggest gaming market.

In reaction, Tencent this month dropped the bombshell curbs on play time, an early sign of broader industry changes to come.

Minors complain that the measures are too sweeping, affecting even teens who have finished their university entrance exams and just want to relax.

“I’m on vacation now and have nothing to do, but I can only play for a short while,” said a 17-year-old student surnamed Li.

“It’s quite upsetting,” she added, noting that older teens have more self-control and should not be forcibly stopped from playing.

She gets automatically locked out after hitting the two-hour holiday limit.

But there are loopholes even with broader curbs, Li added, as playing an hour on different games could still lead to teens gaming for the same hours as before.

Others have circumvented the policy altogether, by borrowing an adult’s account or using their parents’ mobile phones.

“By borrowing an account now, I can play two to three hours a day and of course, game after 10 pm,” said another 17-year-old student on condition of anonymity.

Some analysts say the reaction to state media reports about gaming may be excessive.

“Investors made it a big story by overreacting,” Ether Yin, partner at consultancy Trivium China, told AFP.

“Keeping kids from getting addicted to games has been the policy of the land since 2018.”

‘Why do they have to do this?’

To get ahead of public criticism, however, Yin believes other gaming companies will likely roll out their own plans to restrict minors from playing and spending money inside games.

The impact on Tencent for now will be “minimal”, given that children under 16 contribute around three percent of gross billings, said Michael Norris, research and strategy manager at consulting firm AgencyChina.

But with the gaming sector already highly scrutinised, Norris called it “unusual” to single out online gaming, which is regulated, if the concern was addiction.

For now, Tencent’s gaming curbs have claimed unlikely victims – with some parents who game with their children also locked out.

Programmer Peng Jianfei said his 12-year-old son was using his account to play Honor of Kings while on summer break when an authentication prompt appeared and the boy entered his own ID number, triggering a block.

“I think such measures can, to an extent, reduce minors’ gaming time,” the 45-year-old said.

“But for now… if I can’t play Tencent’s games, I could always go to NetEase, don’t you think?”

But other parents welcomed the restrictions.

“If children spend too much time on games, it’s bad for their eyesight,” said a 34-year-old mother in Beijing surnamed Wang.

Tugging on her arm was her 10-year-old son, an Honor of Kings fan who was less enthusiastic about the changes.

“Mum, say it’s a bad decision!” he said. “Why do they have to do this?”

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Activision Blizzard-Owned Studio Raven Software’s Workers Say They Have Formed Union

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 January 2022

A group of employees at an Activision Blizzard studio that works on the Call of Duty franchise said on Friday that they had formed a union and would seek voluntary recognition from the company, signalling organized labour’s first foothold at the video game giant.

The union, supported by the Communications Workers of America, represents 34 people in the quality assurance department at Raven Software.

Activision said it was considering the matter. Workers could also seek to hold an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Activision’s stock has been battered in recent months as the company faces multiple accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct, and on Tuesday Microsoft announced plans to acquire the company.

As criticism of Activision Blizzard’s culture has mounted in recent months, workers have banded together to influence the company’s future, including staging a walkout and circulating a petition calling for the removal of Chief Executive Bobby Kotick.

Unionization has emerged as a goal for some, and workers in other parts of Activision Blizzard are also signing union cards, said Jessica Gonzalez, a former Activision employee, as well as a current employee who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“I hope that we are able to serve as inspiration and to help guide other parts of Activision Blizzard … that want to follow in our footsteps,” said Onah Rongstad, a quality assurance tester at Raven.

Activision Blizzard said in a statement that it is “carefully reviewing” the request for voluntary recognition.

“While we believe that a direct relationship between the company and its team members delivers the strongest workforce opportunities, we deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union,” the company said.

If Activision Blizzard does not voluntarily recognize the union, workers plan to seek to hold an election sponsored by the NLRB, Rongstad said.

Workers on Raven’s quality assurance team began striking in December after learning that 12 of their colleagues had been laid off, Rongstad said.

By forming a union, the workers hope to gain more of a say in decision-making at the company as well as help set their working conditions. QA testers at Raven work up to 50- to 60-hour weeks when deadlines are looming, Rongstad said.


© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Microsoft’s $68.7-Billion Purchase of Activision Blizzard Could Shake Up Gaming

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By Associated Press | Updated: 20 January 2022

Microsoft stunned the gaming industry when it announced this week it would buy game publisher Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion (roughly Rs. 5,10,990 crore), a deal that would immediately make it a larger video-game company than Nintendo.

Microsoft, maker of the Xbox gaming system, said acquiring the owner of Candy Crush, Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Diablo would be good for gamers and advance its ambitions for the metaverse — a vision for creating immersive virtual worlds for both work and play.

But what does the deal really mean for the millions of people who play video games, either on consoles or their phones? And will it actually happen at a time of increased government scrutiny over giant mergers in the US and elsewhere?

So, is it good for gamers?

“For the average person who is playing Candy Crush or anything else, there will probably be no changes at all,” said RBC analyst Rishi Jaluria.

But Jaluria and other industry watchers think it could be good news for game development more broadly, especially if Microsoft’s games-for-everybody mission and mountain of cash can rescue Activision from its reputation for abandoning favorite game franchises while focusing on a few choice properties.

“Microsoft wants to increase the variety of intellectual property,” said Forrester analyst Will McKeon-White. “Their target is anyone and everybody who plays video games and they want to bring that to a wider audience.”

He said the “most egregious” example of a popular franchise that Activision, founded in 1979, left by the wayside is StarCraft, last updated in 2015. Others include Guitar Hero, the Tony Hawk skateboarding games and MechWarrior, which McKeon-White said “basically wasn’t touched for two decades.”

On the other hand, the prospect of a console-maker like Microsoft controlling so much game content raised concerns about whether the company could restrict Activision games from competitors.

Microsoft expects to bring as many Activision games as it can to Xbox’s subscription service Game Pass, “with some presumably becoming Microsoft exclusives,” wrote Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter. However, he noted antitrust regulators may not allow Microsoft to keep games off Sony’s competing game console, the PlayStation.

Pachter said that Activision presents a model for Microsoft for how to evolve its classic console franchises. It has adapted Call of Duty into successful mobile and free games, and he expects the company to help Microsoft do the same with its own games, such as Halo.

Is this really about the metaverse?

Microsoft says so. And there are some ways Activision could help the tech giant compete with rivals like Meta, which renamed itself from Facebook last year to signal its new focus on leading its billions of social media users into the metaverse.

Metaverse enthusiasts describe the concept as a new and more immersive version of the Internet, but to work it will require a lot of people to actually want to spend more time in virtual worlds. Microsoft’s metaverse ambitions have focused on work tools such as its Teams video chat applications, but online multiplayer games such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft have huge followings devoted to interacting with each other virtually for fun.

“That’s where Activision really helps,” said RBC’s Jaluria. “Millions of people play Call of Duty online. The community element helps drive adoption.”

Pushing more people into such virtual social networks will not be all fun and games, however, and could amplify existing problems with online harassment, trolling and identity theft, according to Elizabeth Renieris, founding director of the Technology Ethics Lab at the University of Notre Dame.

Will it actually happen?

That’s a big unknown. Regulators and rivals could turn up the pressure to block the deal.

Other tech giants such as Meta, Google, Amazon, and Apple have all attracted increasing attention from antitrust regulators in the US and Europe. But the Activision deal is so big — potentially the priciest-ever tech acquisition — that Microsoft will also be putting itself into the regulatory spotlight.

“I think it should get a hard look and it probably will get a hard look” by antitrust enforcers, said Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute. Regulators could ask questions about Microsoft making games exclusive to their own systems and about whether the company would harness user data gained in the acquisition to its advantage in its other businesses.

The Biden administration has been moving to strengthen enforcement against illegal and anticompetitive mergers.

If the deal fails, Microsoft will owe Activision a “break-up fee” of up to $3 billion (roughly Rs. 22,340 crore). That prospect should motivate Microsoft to make concessions to antitrust regulators to get it done, said John Freeman, vice president at CFRA Research.

Doesn’t Activision have workplace problems?

Activision has attracted unwanted attention from US workforce discrimination regulators, the Securities and Exchange Commission and its own shareholders over allegations of a toxic workplace. California’s civil rights agency also sued the Santa Monica-based company in July, citing a “frat boy” culture that had become a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.”

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted in an investor call Tuesday that “the culture of our organisation is my No. 1 priority,” adding that ”it’s critical for Activision Blizzard to drive forward” on commitments made last year to improve its workplace culture. Activision hasn’t made clear if its longtime leader Bobby Kotick, the CEO since 1991, will stick with Microsoft after the deal is closed.

Activision’s legal problems dragged down its stock price and might have made it easier for Microsoft to make a successful takeover bid. But a union representing technology and gaming workers said concerns about working conditions should be considered by US and state officials before any deal is approved.

“Activision Blizzard worker concerns must be addressed in any plan – acquisition or not – on the future direction of the company,” Christopher Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America, said in a statement.

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Wordle Knockoffs Pulled From Apple’s App Store

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By Reuters | Updated: 13 January 2022 12:25 IST

Apple said on Wednesday it has removed from its App Store several knockoffs of Wordle, a website-only word game that has seen a recent surge in popularity thanks to celebrities like Jimmy Fallon.

The once-a-day online word game, originally created in October by former Reddit software engineer Josh Wardle, can only be played on his website and does not have a mobile app.

However, several developers have created identical app versions to cash in on surging demand for the game, with unsuspecting users driving up downloads of the clone apps.

As of Wednesday, the only remaining product on the App Store with that title was Wordle!, a time-based game created by Steven Cravotta more than four years ago.

Josh Wardle’s game has flooded Twitter and Facebook timelines in recent weeks as players posted their scores. It gives a player six chances to guess the day’s secret word, which has five letters, and the aim is to figure out the secret word with the fewest guesses.

The game is a free-to-use, ad-less experience on a simple website that does not have to be downloaded from Apple’s App Store or Google’s PlayStore.

Bloomberg News first reported the news on Wednesday.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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E3 2022 Won’t Be Held in Person Due to Rising Omicron Cases

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By Reuters | Updated: 7 January 2022

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), a globally renowned event for video games, technology, and computers, will not be held in person this year amid fears around COVID-19, its operator said on Thursday.

The development adds to a list of many showpiece events being wrapped up early or getting canceled or postponed for in-person gatherings amid a surge in US cases, with the latest ones being technology and gadget show CES, the Grammy Awards, and the Sundance Film Festival.

“Due to the ongoing health risks surrounding COVID-19 and its potential impact on the safety of exhibitors and attendees, E3 will not be held in person in 2022,” the E3 operator Entertainment Software Association (ESA) said in a statement.

The rolling seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the US hit 540,000 earlier this week along with a surge in hospitalisations, days after the country reported a record one million infections in 24 hours.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Nintendo Console Creator Masayuki Uemura Dies at 78

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By ANI | Updated: 11 December 2021

Masayuki Uemura, the lead architect for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the Super NES, has died, local media reported.

He was 78, a Japanese newspaper Nikkei Asia reported. Uemura, a native of Tokyo, was a visiting professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan.

In 197Os, Uemura was in charge of developing the NES and its successor, the SNES. These consoles became huge hits with combined sales of 100 million units worldwide.

Uemura is known as one of the main architects of popular systems in video games died on Monday, according to the Japanese newspaper. This propelled Nintendo to become one of the world’s leading video game companies.

Uemura, an electronic engineering graduate of Japan’s Chiba Institute of Technology, started teaching at Kyoto University in 2004.

In 1983, Disk System hit the Japanese market as Nintendo’s first cartridge-based console. This enabled users to play an expanding range of video games.

The Super Famicom was later released in 1990.

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Activision CEO Bobby Kotick Would Consider Leaving if He Can’t Quickly Fix Culture Problems: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 November 2021

The Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard Bobby Kotick has told senior managers at the company that he would consider stepping down if he fails to quickly fix the culture problems at the company, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, quoting people familiar with his comments.

In a meeting on Friday with executives of the video game publisher’s Blizzard Entertainment unit, Kotick stopped short of saying he would step down, but left it open if misconduct issues at the company weren’t fixed quickly, the people quoted told WSJ.

Activision Blizzard did not respond to a Reuters request for comment outside business hours.

The move comes after some employees at the company staged a walkout last Tuesday after a Wall Street Journal report stated that Kotick knew about allegations of sexual harassment and assault earlier than previously reported.

The comments on Friday by Kotick were part of a series of internal meetings across Activision last week, in which he and other members of the leadership team met with employees to reaffirm their commitment to a healthy workplace, the Journal reported quoting people familiar with the meetings.

Kotick held meetings last week with senior leaders from two of Activision’s units, Activision Publishing and Blizzard Entertainment, WSJ reported, adding top executives of Activision Publishing relayed to Kotick in an online meeting that some employees would not be satisfied unless he stepped down.

Activision has been facing mounting pressure in recent months of allegations from employees of equal pay violations, sexual discrimination and sexual misconduct. The company said it had fired more than 20 employees following allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination last month.

The allegations at the company have also led to delays in launch of products and exit of top executives.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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