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Netflix Acquires Night School Studio That Created Oxenfree, Rolls Out New Mobile Games

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By Reuters | Updated: 29 September 2021

Netflix has bought video game creator Night School Studio and rolled out five mobile gaming titles in select European markets, the company said on Tuesday, as it looks to diversify revenue sources amid intensifying competition in the streaming space.

Night School Studio, the company’s first gaming studio purchase, is best known for its debut game, Oxenfree, a supernatural teen thriller with an eerie soundtrack.

“Netflix gives film, TV, and now game makers an unprecedented canvas to create and deliver excellent entertainment to millions of people,” Night School Studio said in a statement. “Our explorations in narrative gameplay and Netflix’s track record of supporting diverse storytellers was such a natural pairing.”

The studio’s games, which are available on Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PCs, will be the first non-mobile titles in the streaming giant’s newly created video game portfolio.

“Like our shows and films, these games will all be included as part of your Netflix membership — all with no advertisements and no in-app purchases,” Netflix said while announcing the aquisition.

Netflix had mentioned its plans to enter gaming during its last quarterly earnings, as newer players including Disney+ and HBO Max have been rapidly gaining subscribers, intensifying competition in the streaming landscape.

The company earlier in the day said it had introduced Stranger Things: 1984, Stranger Things 3: The Game, Card Blast, Teeter Up, and Shooting Hoops titles on Android to Netflix members in Spain and Italy.

Poland, where the Stranger Things titles are already available, will get the other three titles.

“We view gaming as another new content category for us, similar to our expansion into original films, animation and unscripted TV,” the company said in its shareholder letter.

“We think the time is right to learn more about how our members value games.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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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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