Avoiding Hell

Matt and the Evil Empire team announcing a delayed release date for Ubisoft’s upcoming The Rogue Prince of Persia:

So it’s been a bit of a crazy week for us! It all started when a little game called Hades 2 released - you might have heard of it?

Seeing as everyone and their mum is playing that game (including our entire team… and their mums), we have decided to let people have their fun with it before we release The Rogue Prince of Persia.

We will still be releasing in May and will be back with a precise date on Monday.

While we have every confidence in The Rogue Prince of Persia, it’s not every day that a game in the same genre as you, which is one of the most anticipated upcoming games of 2024, will release into Early Access a week before you plan to do the same.

Years ago, I wrote about self-competing and time blocking. While I’m not sold on the conspiracy, it remains true that the year-by-year, month-by-month deluge of amazing games has titles eating each others’ lunch. Hades 2 — the sequel to one of best and most hooking games ever made — is certain to eat everyone’s lunch. This announcement from Evil Empire is the sort I’ve been yearning to see.

As calendars become packed with incredible releases, many developers and publishers have found their highly anticipated game gets overshadowed by an even more highly anticipated game releasing in the same window. More often than not, it’s impossible for release dates to shift due to in-flight marketing campaigns, resource forecasts, and release management on various platforms.

Seeing as this delay is specifically for the Early Access (beta, more or less) version of The Rogue Prince of Persia, Evil Empire and Ubisoft have the benefit of a much smaller impact for delaying. Still, it’s a small step in the right direction. Even more shocking that this is an Ubisoft title. Maybe I’m naive, but I didn’t have “Ubisoft approved game delay” on my bingo card.

My favorite part:

This also lets us keep polishing up the game, add even more cool things and kick some stubborn bugs out before release. The Day 1 patch was getting pretty hefty, so gaining more time to test it and add more stuff before launch day has considerably lowered the stress levels of our producer and game director already!

Wonderful move for both players and the team.

'They’re getting away with it because everybody is doing it.'

Bobby Allyn, NPR:

“There is a herding effect in tech,” said Jeff Shulman, a professor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, who follows the tech industry. “The layoffs seem to be helping their stock prices, so these companies see no reason to stop.”

Some smaller tech startups are running out of cash and facing fundraising struggles with the era of easy money now over, which has prompted workforce reductions. But experts say for most large and publicly-traded tech firms, the layoff trend this month is aimed at satisfying investors.

Shulman adds: “They’re getting away with it because everybody is doing it. And they’re getting away with it because now it’s the new normal,” he said. “Workers are more comfortable with it, stock investors are appreciating it, and so I think we’ll see it continue for some time.”

'So don't get worried and sell all your shares'

Gita Jackson, episode 2 of the new Aftermath Hours podcast (edited for clarity):

Microsoft is beginning to gear up for their first financial meeting where they’re discussing the impact of the Blizzard Activision acquisition. As sort of a runway up to that, they laid off a huge number of roles…

What really drives me wild about the Microsoft one [compared to Riot] is that Microsoft is a company that makes profit at a level that if they eliminated their gaming division tomorrow, it would have a minimal impact on their bottom line. By that same token, they could keep their gaming division at exactly the same size and those 2,000 jobs would not actually impact their bottom line all that much.

Think about how big Microsoft is. Because of the way that the economy works and the way that I’ve learned that most of economic projections are just sort of guesstimates and lies, video games for a company like Sony or Microsoft that do other things, that do consumer electronics and software, video games are not even a secondary revenue stream. They’re like a tertiary revenue stream. They’re like third in priority. They don’t need to do this. They really don’t need to do this. And by that same token, it doesn’t make sense when they have layoffs this huge. This is like a show of force for their investors more than anything else, right? To say that they’ve identified the profit centers and are trimming the fat in their new acquisition. “So don’t get worried and sell all your shares.”

In years past, I would have written extensively about the insane amount of gaming industry layoffs occurring right now. This is exactly the thing I want people paying attention to. Thankfully, there are loads of outlets covering this madness. I also haven’t had time to put my thoughts together. My jaw hasn’t left the floor. I’m flabbergasted by the current state of things, keep seeing more bad news, and frankly, I’m out of practice of research and reporting. Plus, there are much more informed people dropping insightful takes about this atrocious time, like the folks at Aftermath. (I’m really enjoying the Aftermath Hours podcast. Highly recommend.)

That said, if I had written something, I would have wanted it to echo what Gita has said here. It isn’t a coincidence that Microsoft’s layoffs came one week before their shareholder meeting. That’s not to say these layoffs wouldn’t have happened regardless, but this timing does away with any facade.

(Also, if I’m reading this correctly, Gaming accounted for about 7% of Microsoft’s FY24 Q1 revenue. I wouldn’t say it has “minimal impact on their bottom line”, but it certainly isn’t their moneymaker.)

Miyamoto: 'The border of video game is becoming less and less set in stone'

Shigeru Miyamoto, in an interview with The Guardian’s Keza MacDonald:

When Miyamoto started at Nintendo, video games were still yet to be defined. Arcades and early home consoles were sketching out the earliest versions of what would become possible with virtual worlds. In 2023, most of the world plays video games, and the boundaries of what constitutes a game are once again becoming porous. The corporate world is encroaching on the universes of play that gamers have long inhabited, rebranding them as “the metaverse”. Everything from shopping and language learning to going for a run is being gamified through apps.

“Even grandpas like me know what games are now,” says Miyamoto. “Nowadays it’s very common to use PCs and smartphones, they’re used as pen and paper used to be. The border of video game is becoming less and less set in stone. People are having a broader understanding and acceptance of the term.”

Video games do not exist.

Announcing Y-Button

Today, I’m launching Y-Button: a podcast that asks why we care about video games.

Y-Button podcast cover art

Since my previous, short-lived video game podcast Ported went on hiatus in 2016, I’ve been ruminating on what would make a compelling video game podcast. (I’m not exactly sure why Scott Taylor and I stopped recording after only three episodes, but I’m sure we fall into some statistic.) Video games are space I care deeply about, but I’m not exactly sure why. I don’t play video games often, but the majority of media I consume — podcasts, news, documentaries — is video game related.

After seven years of asking myself why I care about video games, it dawned on me that maybe I should ask other people why they care about video games. (The realization hit me when I was listening to the Smartless episode with Rian Johnson and he and Will Arnett went on a tangent about games.)

Y-Button will feature interviews with journalists, enthusiasts, creators, and media personalities covering their origins with video games, why they care about the medium, and what excites them about the future. I’m starting with some friends and aquaintences, but the goal is to branch out to both well known industry insiders and celebrities you may not have known had a passion for video games. Dream guests include Kumail Nanjiani, Emily Gordon, AOC, Chrissy Teigen, Sarah Bond, Reggie Fils-Aimé, Rian Johnson, and Will Arnett to name a few. If you know any of these folks, hook it up! (The late Lance Reddick was also a huge source of inspiration and would have been a great get. RIP.)

Publishing this podcast is a source of immense excitement and anxiety for me. Worst case, I’m very proud of the name and cover art. I spent two nights learning Blender to create the 3D rendered button — my first experience with 3D modeling. I also wrote the theme song featuring my friend Scott Wilkie on a Minimoog with the direction, “make it sound like Steve Winwood”.

I hope you listen, provide constructive feedback, and maybe even suggest or connect me with a guest you’d like to hear on the podcast. It’s available wherever you find your podcasts including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. You can find the RSS feed here.

Enjoy the show.