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Xbox Chief Says Evaluating Relationship With Activision After Reports of Sexual Harassment, Gender Inequality

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 November 2021

Xbox Chief Phil Spencer is evaluating its relationship with Activision Blizzard, the Microsoft-owned gaming console maker confirmed on Thursday amid allegations of sexual misconduct and equal pay violations against the video-game publisher.

Bloomberg first reported the news on Thursday, citing an email sent to employees.

Spencer told the staff the Xbox gaming leadership team was “disturbed and deeply troubled by the horrific events and actions” at Activision, the report noted.

“The leadership at Xbox and Microsoft stand by our teams and support them in building a safer environment for all,” Spencer said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Activision said the company was engaging with its partners.

Allegations against the company, known for video-game titles including Call of Duty and Diablo, have led to launch delays and exit of top executives.

Earlier this week, employees staged a walkout following a report that the company’s chief executive officer knew about allegations of sexual harassment and assault earlier than previously known.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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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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Activision Loses Blizzard Co-Leader; Delays Launch of Overwatch, Diablo

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By Reuters | Updated: 3 November 2021

Activision Blizzard co-leader Jen Oneal on Tuesday decided to step down from her role, giving full control to Mike Ybarra and the videogame publisher put off the launch of two much-awaited titles, sending its shares down 10 percent.

Ybarra said the delay in the rollout of Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV was due to the leadership change, but did not give a new timeline for their launch, while the company forecast an underwhelming adjusted sales in the holiday quarter.

Oneal and Ybarra took the helm three months ago after Allen Brack stepped down as president, a week after the company was sued for workplace harassment and pay discrimination.

Following this, the company last month fired more than 20 employees, with 20 more facing other forms of disciplinary action.

The owner of Call of Duty and Candy Crush franchises also created an $18 million (roughly Rs. 135 crore) fund to compensate and make amends to eligible claimants, while Chief Executive Bobby Kotick said he would take a large paycut.

In a letter to the company’s gaming community, Oneal said she will leave at the end of the year to focus more on diversity in the gaming industry, which will “hopefully make a broader industry impact that will benefit Blizzard” and other studios.

With her exit, the company now has three female executives in the 13-member leadership team.

Meanwhile, as pandemic-related curbs eased, Activision’s total monthly active users in the third quarter remained unchanged at 390 million from a year earlier, indicating signs of slowing demand for games.

The company, which faces competition from rivals Electronic Arts and Take-Two, said in-game net bookings were same as the third quarter of 2020.

Its adjusted sales for the third quarter was $1.88 billion (roughly Rs. 14,020 crore), in line with Wall Street expectations.

The company said it expects fourth-quarter adjusted sales to be $2.78 billion (roughly Rs. 20,735 crore). Analysts were expecting it to be $2.93 billion (roughly Rs. 21,855 crore), according to Refinitiv data.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Fortnite Pulled by Epic Games From China Over Sweeping Crackdown on Tech Sector

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 2 November 2021

US tech giant Epic Games said it will shut down its popular survival game Fortnite in China, months after authorities imposed a series of strict curbs on the world’s biggest gaming market as part of a sweeping crackdown on the technology sector.

Beijing has embarked on a wide-ranging regulatory clampdown on a number of industries in a drive to tighten its control of the economy, with tech firms taking the brunt of the pain.

In September, officials said they wanted to curb addiction in the gaming-mad nation by announcing drastic cuts to the amount of time children can spend playing online and ordering players to use ID cards when registering.

The moves dealt a severe blow to companies’ ability to make profits and sent the share prices of gaming firms tumbling.

Now, Epic has pulled the plug on Fortnite, saying it will shut down the massively popular game on November 15.

“Fortnite China’s Beta test has reached an end, and the servers will be closed soon,” it said in a statement.

“On November 15 at 11am, we will turn off game servers, and players will no longer be able to log in.”

Hong Kong-listed shares of Tencent, which has a large stake in Epic, were down Tuesday.

The move brings an end to a long-running test of Epic’s version of Fortnite specifically created for the Chinese market, where content is policed for excessive violence.

The Chinese test version was released in 2018, but Fortnite never received the government’s green light for a formal launch as approvals for new games slowed.

The action-packed shooter and world-building game is one of the most popular in the world, boasting more than 350 million users – more than the population of the United States.

Industry crackdown

Epic is the second US-based company to pull a popular product from China in recent weeks, after Microsoft announced in October that it will close its career-oriented social network LinkedIn.

In September, hundreds of Chinese video game makers including Tencent vowed to better police their products for “politically harmful” content and enforce curbs on underage players, as they looked to fall in line with government demands.

The 213 gaming firms promised in a joint statement to ban content that was “politically harmful, historically nihilistic, dirty and pornographic, bloody and terrifying”.

Chinese gaming firms have also been ordered by regulators to stop focusing on profit and gaining fans, with enterprises that are seen as flouting rules threatened with punishment.

Fortnite’s announcement was met with sadness from fans in China, who took to social media to mourn the loss of the game.

“I’m genuinely crying so hard – I was just playing with my boyfriend and was really looking forward to what was coming next,” one Weibo user wrote. “This is just so sudden.”

Many said they had poured hundreds of hours into building up their characters and social networks on the game.

Multiple Fortnite fan accounts on Weibo shared a link to a petition where players urged Epic to transfer players’ data to servers outside China, writing they would lose the gaming data with “our heart and mind” stored in it.

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Microsoft, Sega Explore Cloud Gaming Alliance to Develop Big Budget Titles

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By Reuters | Updated: 1 November 2021

Sega Sammy on Monday said it is exploring a strategic alliance with Microsoft to develop big budget titles using the Xbox maker’s cloud gaming tech, driving anticipation the move could signal a deeper tie-up.

Tokyo-based Sega is exploring making titles with global reach on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, it said in a stock exchange statement without providing further details, including whether a deal would involve exclusivity for the titles or capital investment.

Sega shares jumped 6 percent in morning trading.

Microsoft’s own major cloud gaming initiative is available via the Xbox Game Pass, a cross-platform subscription service which features Sega titles such as the hit “Yakuza” series.

Cloud gaming cuts ties to bulky hardware but requires a fast Internet connection. Deep pocketed Microsoft’s push into the nascent sector comes as Xbox is widely seen as being on the backfoot in the console battle with Sony’s PlayStation.

“By working with Microsoft to anticipate such trends as they accelerate further in future, the goal is to optimise development processes and continue to bring high-quality experiences to players using Azure cloud technologies,” Sega said.

A bid for “Sonic the Hedgehog” publisher Sega by Microsoft has been rumoured for decades. Japan, the world’s third largest gaming market and a major innovator in the industry, remains a weak spot for the Redmond, Washington-based firm.

The two firms have a long history of partnership with Monday’s announcement coming after a string of critically acclaimed recent releases from Sega including in the “Persona” and “Total War” series.

Sega, which abandoned its own console business after a string of flops, is a prolific maker of “pachinko” machines for gambling and has flagged its ambitions to widen the appeal of its video games.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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GameStop COO Jenna Owens Exits After a Short 7-Month Stint

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By Reuters | Updated: 30 October 2021

GameStop, the company whose stock became a sensation with day traders this year, said on Friday that Jenna Owens agreed to leave, just seven months after joining the video game retailer as its chief operating officer.

It is the first major executive departure at GameStop since the company hired a new chief executive officer, Matt Furlong, in June.

Owens, who was a top executive at Amazon and Alphabet’s Google, joined GameStop in March. She was one of the technology veterans recruited by Ryan Cohen, the co-founder and former CEO of online pet food retailer Chewy, as he laid the groundwork to transform the moribund brick-and-mortar retailer into an e-commerce powerhouse.

GameStop did not provide a reason for Owens’ departure, which is effective immediately. The company said in a regulatory filing that it and Owens had reached a “separation agreement,” which is typically negotiated when companies and their executives do not see eye-to-eye.

GameStop also used separation agreements when it parted ways with its chief financial officer Jim Bell and chief executive officer George Sherman earlier this year. They were replaced by Furlong as CEO and Mike Recupero as CFO.

Owens will be entitled to a severance package, the filing said. Her duties will be taken up by other senior GameStop managers.

The company declined to comment beyond the filing. Owens could not immediately be reached for comment.

Cohen and two other former Chewy executives joined the GameStop board in January, right before retail investors piled into the company’s stock and drove it up more than 2,500 percent. The shares have given up some of their gains and GameStop is now valued at roughly $14 billion (roughly Rs. 1,04,913 crore).

Since becoming chairman in June, Cohen has pushed aggressively to improve customers’ experience but has not offered a detailed plan about how GameStop will achieve its digital transformation..

The Grapevine, Texas-based company’s business of selling video games for consoles faces competition from streaming services such as those of Apple, which allow users to play video games on their TV sets without a console required.

Cohen recruited a number of executives from Amazon, including Furlong and Elliott Wilkie who joined as chief growth officer in March.

Public records and filings show the company has hired dozens of new executives with supply chain and technology backgrounds from companies including Chewy and ecommerce company Zulily.

Cohen and Furlong have also let go several senior employees in recent months who have not fit their system, the two sources said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Among Us Coming to PlayStation, Xbox in December; Will Also Be Featured on Xbox Game Pass Alongside

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By ANI | Updated: 22 October 2021

The popular social deduction game, Among Us’, is arriving on Xbox and PlayStation on December 14. It will also launch on Xbox Game Pass on the same day and be available on Xbox One, Xbox Series S / X, PS4, and PS5 consoles.

According to The Verge, this announcement comes months after Sony confirmed Among Us was coming to its PlayStation consoles this year. Just like on other platforms, the game will support crossplay and online multiplayer across mobile, PC, and now consoles.

The only difference between the two console versions is PlayStation players will get access to exclusive Ratchet and Clank-themed cosmetics. There”s a skin and hat to make your character look like Ratchet and a pet that looks like Clank.

Among Us was a huge hit during the early stages of the pandemic, becoming 2020’s most downloaded mobile game. Innersloth has been gradually improving the game over the past year, revealing plans to add a hide and seek mode, visor cosmetics, and a fifth map earlier this year.

As per The Verge, physical editions of the game will also be arriving in Europe on December 14, with a US release due in January.

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