Activision-Blizzard

I just got done watching a video from a YouTube creator that I really like by the name of Tyler J who goes by the name CleanPrinceGaming. He was talking about the recent news that Activision-Blizzard is laying off 800 of its roughly 10,000 employees. To put it succinctly, he was not happy and called it, among other things; a tragedy.

The video is here for those who are curious and I encourage you to watch it. It’s about thirteen minutes long and isn’t his usual polished content so clearly, he felt strongly about getting this out quick.

That’s understandable given the subject matter, a major publisher and developer are laying off, as Tyler puts it, “Damn near 10% of their staff.”. This is not something that should pass without notice especially given that they posted a record year for revenue in 2018. In the wake of that, the understandable response is to be aghast that a company would ever consider layoffs when they are clearly cash-rich after a record year.

Believe me, in spite of what I’m going to say after this I still feel that way but after watching Tyler’s take on the situation I can’t just let it stand. I cannot say that he is necessarily wrong in how he feels but rather either intentionally or unintentionally misrepresenting some things. First off I want to start with the video title–

“Activision Should Be BURIED For This”

It is a long understood trend with YouTube that incendiary titles garner the most attention. Regardless of how big your channel is you want to get as many eyeballs pointed in your direction as you can. There is a word you sometimes hear lawyers use which is prejudicial when referring to a statement or testimony about something or someone. Essentially it is not a neutral statement. I don’t expect Tyler to make a neutral title or even really advocate for forcing him to… if he went on to provide a much more full picture of what is happening.

So, no time like the present I guess– let’s dive in.

He starts out by saying that there is a lot more to this story than he has seen people talk about on social media which is a great starting phrase to hear. I am 100% interested in hearing any and all additional information he has managed to glean from his industry contacts. Does Activision deserve to be buried? Tell me why because I purchase their products and if there is more to this story then I desperately want to know.

He continues on and immediately we hear that Activision-Blizzard posted record, RECORD numbers for last year, carefully avoiding or excluding the profit vs revenue issue. I was unable to listen to the earnings call the other day but I am sure they bragged a bit about their year because that is what investors want to hear, confidence and a bright outlook. They aren’t wrong either, they did have a record year and you can read about it. If you would like The Motley Fool also has a series of articles that go more in-depth and has a transcript from the call yesterday.

Tyler follows this section up by giving some heartfelt words of encouragement and strength to the people who were affected by the layoffs, which is great. I’ve been in a position that was cut before and it sucks to have to sit down and be given that news, especially if you love your job or the people you work with. As clearly evidenced by this tweet from Jason Schreier about what was happening the other day at the studio’s offices, they did and everyone is feeling the loss.

Let me say this in no uncertain terms: This sucks. It really does. Absolutely no one, anywhere, should be happy about the news of 800 people being laid off from any job.

That being said, how are said employees being treated? We’ll take a quote from a Kotaku article here to see–


The letter also promised “a comprehensive severance package,” continued health benefits, career coaching, and job placement assistance as well as profit-sharing bonuses for the previous year to those who are being laid off at Blizzard. (Blizzard employees receive twice yearly bonuses based on how the company performed financially.) “There’s no way to make this transition easy for impacted employees, but we are doing what we can to support our colleagues,” Brack wrote.


For comparison, we can look back a few months at the shuttering of Telltale Games to see how it sometimes goes. I know that isn’t exactly a fair comparison but the reality is that in an overall terrible situation these 800 employees are not simply being kicked to the curb. Short of keeping them employed, even if they are non-essential positions, I feel like this is as close as you can get to a working-class golden parachute.

Anyway, back to the video. After this Tyler goes on a bit of a tangent, I feel, talking about microtransactions and how misguided people quip about how they buy them to support developers. He is right insomuch as he says that this money doesn’t directly line their pockets but for companies like Activision-Blizzard who offer revenue sharing bonuses… they kinda do.

Is it a lot of money? Probably not but it’s not nothing. I can go on an entire tangent here about all the things I despise about how we compensate the hardest working people in our society. Suffice it to say it could be a lot better and I really hope someday it is but let’s not shit all over companies who are doing better than most for right now. Also, I’m not defending microtransactions, I still hate them and think they’re cancer in the gaming industry, but that is a whole other thing.

Continuing on we get some snarky throwaway comments about how Activision-Blizzard is giving their execs and CEO, fifteen million dollar incentives and bonuses. We can have a conversation about the ridiculous nature of executive job offers and what some companies pay to fill a position like that but honestly, I don’t want to. I don’t agree with it but that guy got paid because another guy fucked up and got fired, I try not to judge. Good for him. There were also people who brought up Bobby Kotick and the fifteen million dollar bonus he was offered last year and all the better uses for it. Again I agree but only to an extent.

Assuming a generalized salary for those 800 at $40,000 a year (which is low) that is a cost of $32,000,000 per year to keep them employed, excluding any additional ancillary costs. Just keep in mind that we’re talking about the non-development staff here. Not to say they don’t matter, far from it, but for a company trying to reposition after a rather rocky period PR-wise last year laying off these 800 makes a little more sense. Especially given that they will be hiring on additional development staff to increase content production for their biggest franchises.

As much as I would love to it doesn’t make sense to tell a company to keep people employed that they are no longer using in areas of their business that they are drawing back on. I wouldn’t do it as a manager or business owner and I can’t expect them to either. I think we could certainly criticize them cutting jobs without moving to adjust or staff up for other projects but that just isn’t the case here. They aren’t cutting these jobs to save money or increase their profit margins, they’re repositioning to better produce products in the coming year(s). In his video, Tyler makes the accusation that this is just Activision being greedy for more and bigger profits but to be honest I just don’t see it. I suppose we’ll see over the next year or two if they don’t end up hiring in the areas they said they would be then I’ll be wrong.

From here he moves on to some vague suggestions about this layoff signaling a crash coming in the video game industry. Again as I said above I’m not sure where he is getting this and I’m more than happy to admit I’m wrong here if there is evidence. His accusation of cutthroat profiteering makes sense if we’re looking at it strictly from the direction of monetization and loot-boxes. I 100% agree. In the context of these layoffs though? I’m just not convinced although perhaps there is a wider trend I’m not seeing, I only wish he had talked about it in the video. Moreso anyways than just criticizing the industry for seeking new and better (more profitable) forms of monetization. As much as I hate it clearly there is a certain level of tolerance by audiences for it and so far we have established some distinct boundaries for companies to respect.

He also makes a fairly broad statement that from this point forward we, the consumers, no longer matter in the creation of games. They are purely in profit mode now with no care for what audiences want. Again, on one hand, I definitely agree that the overall trend of the industry in the last five or so years has gone that way. I just can’t see this incident being the point of no return for video games as a whole. As I pointed out above Activision-Blizzard’s decision here is, ostensibly, to reposition their resources in order to produce more of what their customers want. It remains to be seen if that is the truth but lacking a functioning crystal ball I can only look at what they have said and the actions they have taken in accordance with those words.

I think I’m going to end it there because this is sort of turning into a rant of my own which wasn’t really my intention. I don’t like having to take the stance of defending a massive loss of jobs and I dislike even more when people say, “That’s just the way things are.”. In this case, I find it hard to see fault in their actions as much as I would like to. As these departments shrink others within the company will grow and as silver linings go that one isn’t bad. I really do hope that all 800 people affected will land in new positions that will treat them well and give them new purpose and projects within the gaming industry. With the outpouring of support on social media with other devs and studios reaching out to make sure folks know they are hiring I think the chances are pretty good.

Thanks for reading.

  • Anthony

In the Year of Humanity, 12,018

Celebrating another year gone by always feels a little odd as it inevitably forces you to face what you didn’t do as much as appreciate what you did. In the spirit of looking back, not to mention a healthy dose of blackmail, I’d like to take this chance to reminisce about the year of humanity, 12,018.

In spite of the sheer cliff like drop-off towards the end of the year I was actually proud to have accomplished a bit on the creative side of my life. Let’s take a quick stroll through what those accomplishments were, don’t worry it wont take long.

I Made This.

Back in March I took my first whack at writing an actual review that wasn’t just one long paragraph but was visually interesting as well. Golf Story remains, even a whole afternoon into 2019, one of my favorite games that I played last year. The review itself I was very proud of and still remains one of my most viewed posts as well as one of my most popular tweets which was neat.

Admittedly it’s a small thing but as anyone who has taken the time to write or produce any level of content will tell you that tiny bit of recognition goes a long way. Mostly it just gave me a warm feeling to think folks who read it found it in any way helpful. As Tycho from Penny Arcade once pointed out in a podcast he felt his job was not to help people save their money but rather how to actively spend it. That always struck me as a very productive view for people making recommendations to consumers. We spend a lot of time criticizing things we see as bad but perhaps not enough seeking out things that are worthwhile. It’s not to say there isn’t value in those criticisms and I certainly haven’t shied away from it but sometimes its more fun to be a spotlight than a Death Star.

After the Golf Story review I posted pretty regularly week to week as a sort of inter-blog challenge between myself and my friend who writes the incredible Histastrophe blog. It’s hard to put into words how much of an inspiration and motivator she has been this year but the fact that this blog has anything on it at all stands as a testament to that.

So as not to downplay the “It takes a village” concept there was plenty of encouragement and cajoling from my best friend who keeps his thoughts on StrideTheEarth.com. There you will find what most call “The Total Package” of video and tabletop gaming as well as travel posts complete with amazing photos. It’s millennial in the best possible way. Feel free to give him shit for not posting more.

If you’re into projects of all different kinds I expect great things from this awesome guy in the next year who started strong with a pretty awesome post about refurbishing a deck. I crave the woodworking project breakdowns I know are destined to come.

Last but certainly not least if food is your thing we even have a dork for that and don’t worry, she’s in the process of switching over to WordPress so you wont have to visit that weird, scary place ever again. Still though if you aren’t currently hungry the writing and photos there should cure that unfortunate reality in a hurry.

Live!-ish

A couple weeks after that Golf Story post a game I had been anticipating for years finally released, Star Wars Legion. At the time my head was swirling with possibilities and while I still want to attempt it, it’s clear that at the time my eyes were bigger than my abilities. I did quite a few test videos and versions of the pictured setup and none of them came out at a quality I would have liked to share. I argued with myself that it was acceptable for a first time out but honestly that seemed like more of a cop-out than anything. I have continued painting on and off and am still trying to figure out a good way to set up my craft desk so I can possibly make videos. The way I envision it is maybe a way to paint, craft or learn while chatting about things that didn’t make it into their own blog posts. A way to sort of empty my brain of stuff I want to talk about in a more relaxed setting.

It is entirely possible something like that only sounds interesting in my head and not in practicality but there it is. I’d like to give it a shot but in a way that is nice to watch and not an exercise in pure amateurism. Regardless of how much prep I do I know it’ll never be perfect but best foot forward and all that. Much like with the blog I realized that the more work I put in the better the end result. Effort equals quality shouldn’t be that alien a concept but sometimes seeing it in action can really crystallize it for you.

This was definitely a failure of mine in 2018 and while it still disappoints me I will say that the attempt taught me a lot. That knowledge fed into my ability to make cooler things to go into my blog posts and in general sped up my content creation. As silver linings go I can’t really complain.

In the same vein a lot of us experimented with some streaming on Twitch through the year and while it was fun I’m not sure it’s something I want to dive into in any serious way. At least not for now. On the fringes of my always swirling project clogged brain I think it would fun for us to stream as a group a game or three that we enjoy. Seems to me there are a few on the horizon for 2019 that would be quite fun but we’ll see what happens.

Emile Berliner Died for This

I’d like to think that the inventor of the microphone would be proud of what his creation has wrought over the years but alas came April of last year. There is no use denying it, we did this. One day many years ago two friends were playing a game of Civilization when one of them, who shall remain nameless, suggested that they do a podcast together. This would give them a way to discuss their creative journey of hopefully, eventually, reaching their goals of writing full time, among other things. Now while she’ll say she was in fact not responsible for this, she is and we all know it. Not to mention I have proof, not that you know it though, it goes to a different school up in Canada.

At any rate while the origins of this whole thing may be questionable the result wasn’t and I enjoyed the experience immensely. Rolling into the new year we both hope to return to this with a more organized format and schedule and incorporate some other fun ideas. I feel it’s important to note that there is no “endgame” as such for this podcast. It really is just something we do for fun and as a way to keep us creatively engaged, no more, no less.

As it stands currently there are several back episodes, cutting room floor type things and two experiments we did with different content which have not been posted. Starting fresh with 2019 seems like a good time to rectify that. I look forward to once again sitting down and broadcasting our thoughts into the ether for the enjoyment of anyone who cares to listen along.

A Polyhedral Life

Throughout the course of the year quite a few of my posts wandered away from video games and other media to the realm of tabletop games, more specifically, Dungeons & Dragons. Conceptually I just think there are lot of interesting avenues of tabletop roleplaying to explore and more than that I just like talking about it. This might be further exacerbated by the fact that my work schedule isn’t allowing me to actually play any of the tabletop games I’d like to so this will have to suffice for now. I don’t have much more to say on this for right now except 2018 was a great year for my love of rolling dice so I would like 2019 to be at least more of the same but if possible, better.

In the same vein as D&D content I also had the privilege of taking part in a streamed game of D&D with a crew of lovely folks I met through twitter with @DMCorry as our Dungeon Master. His Twitch page is here. While I wasn’t able to make the scheduling work out for the entire run they are still going strong and are a joy to watch. Hopefully in the coming year I’ll have a chance to once again collaborate with these folks and others in the Twittersphere but for now stop by and cheer them on for 2019.

All Things Cardboard

To summarize.

We’re back in. It’s likely a mistake but it happened, wish us luck.

National Blood Pressure Month

For the second year in a row NaNoWriMo has come and gone and shockingly Sophycles and I have managed to hit the word goal by the deadline. Technically having written two continuous novel length word piles is something I didn’t think I’d be able to do, especially not within the time span of a month. So for that alone I appreciate it as a personal accomplishment and while I doubt either of these things will ever see publication it has shown me that it is at least within my power to achieve. We talked briefly, albeit this should go into a podcast, about whether or not I really want to write novel length works at all. 2018 showed me that I very much enjoy article formats and being able to touch on a variety of subjects as they strike me as relevant or interesting. Overall this is something I intend to try and explore more thoroughly going forward and see where my passion really lay. Either way it feels as though I’ve made some personal progress towards figuring out what I want from this whole endeavor.

Even after having the last one still so fresh in my mind I’d be hard pressed to say that I wasn’t at least a little excited for next November and clearing that hurdle for a third time.

Looking to the Horizon

So after all that, where do we go from here?

I know for a fact that I want to keep creating in some form or another and continue learning new ways to bring fun things, people and experiences to this blog. One thing I definitely learned last year was the tight balance I need to keep between reaching too far and expecting too little. Once you get on any kind of roll it’s hard to stop yourself from adding new goals before you’ve even really achieved the previous ones. On the other hand improving and expanding is vital to keeping yourself engaged and productive. This balance by far has been one of my biggest downfalls over the years and in the looming 2019 it’ll yet again be the hurdle I need to clear every day, week and month.

For the third, fourth or… fifth? Time I’m going to try and revive a Friday thing I liked doing and wrap up some of my favorite things from last year in a more traditional retrospective.

I look forward to seeing you then and apologize for being gone so long. Thanks for hanging around and I hope you had a wonderful start to the new year.

Here’s to you and your goals, creative or otherwise, in the year of humanity… 12,019.

Happy New Year.

  • Anthony

Friday Fireside Chat

Why fireside? Because it’s raining quite heavily outside and that seems like a cozy way to start off this Friday post. I also hope it helps distract from the fact that I might have missed last Friday… a little bit, or completely.

Sorry about that.

So what’s been happening? A little, a lot, really depends on where you sit.

I’m going to start with something I saw yesterday from one of my favorite YouTubers, Skillup. He started as a hardcore Division streamer and while he has since moved on to a much broader range of topics he has been covering Division 2. Since Ubisoft can’t stop stepping in it even when they’re doing well he released a video yesterday talking about their decision to sell stash space. Not to mention the ridiculous amount of versions of the game they have up for sale and at what prices.

Pretty sure you can all guess where I stand on this just based on my previous posts but I do want to reiterate: developers do not need to blackmail us to get our money. The reason that the subject of stash space and charging for it is so egregious is because of what a huge issue, among other things, it was in their first game. Massive and Ubisoft have been fairly adamant about avoiding the mistakes they made the first time around which layers this entire subject in sour irony. As Skillup points out in the video at this stage of development they don’t even know how much the space the base stash is going to have nor how many extra slots the Ultimate Edition will actually offer. They’re selling a product whose parameters aren’t even set in stone which in and of itself is insulting enough.

Ubisoft and Massive know definitively from their first release that they have a game people want, a game where people want to pay for cosmetic extras, a game that they can reasonably monetize. I have been and will always be vehemently against monetizing basic game mechanics and QoL (Quality of Life) improvements for players except in a Free-To-Play environment. There you can purchase what you want as you want or need it without any upfront cost to also consider, in effect you don’t need to purchase the game and it’s mechanics twice. Since this revelation my enthusiasm for this game release has been dwindling fast which is a shame as I fell in love the aesthetic and gameplay immediately and have been itching to play more. I want the story, I want the outfits, I want the guns and I want to continue exploring the world of The Division. I really do.

I just wish game companies like Ubisoft and Massive didn’t seem so dead set on making me weigh my morals as a consumer against my desires as a gamer. Being pro-consumer doesn’t mean you can’t make money, it never has, it’s just a way to make money while not making your customers simultaneously regret their purchase. I want to feel good about buying a product, feel good about the people whose jobs I’m supporting and about the type of business practices I’m encouraging. Eventually that grimace I make when pulling out my wallet is going to turn into disgust which is then going to turn into me looking elsewhere for my entertainment.

If you won’t take my word for it then listen to someone whose opinion you should at the very least respect: Shigeru Miyamoto.

Now that’s done with lets move on to some more fun things.

On a musical note the Moonbeam Rider EP by Slugabed has made frequent appearances lately in my writing playlists. I don’t know why honestly, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of the genre but its funky, awesome and just kinda puts me in a trance while I write.

It’s nice, you should give it a listen.

On the YouTube front I re-stumbled upon the joy that is Loading Ready Run and the series they make in co-operation with Wizards of the Coast called Friday Nights. If you like MTG and sketch comedy I recommend you give it a look, it’s worth your time. They have quite a few other shows they produce on a regular basis including their long, but well worth, Pre Pre-Release streams they do for new Magic: The Gathering sets. One of the things I like about it is that they have a judge on hand while they play their games so you can see how rules enforcement works. They also do a rules and mechanics review at the start with the judge to help familiarize you with new effects from the set. Even for the casual fan I think it can have some pretty helpful information and their streaming setup is great with a card reader to display cards as they are played.

I ran across this amusing thing in the smartphone world from Nokia: The 8110-4G. I understand the push for minimalism and people who want their basic necessities met without going overboard. Unfortunately I think we all know exactly who is going to end up buying and using these and spoiler; they’re not those people.

To the folks who want this kind of tech I wish you well and hopefully this thing fulfills all your needs. To the people who are going to buy this simply as an affectation, just do us all a favor and stick with your Android or iPhone, it’s fine.

Also, apparently it comes pre-loaded with Snake. Nothing but value.

On the extreme other end of that you can take a peek at the upcoming Hydrogen One phone from RED, the camera company. Looking it over with special emphasis on the price tag might have me understanding the minimalists a bit more.

Alright, now it’s time to discuss what is apparently on everyone’s mind: Nipples. No, seriously. I have to say that I am honestly impressed you can get so much out of a subject like this. I understand that everyone feels differently about things but, really? This can’t be that big of a deal. Although we also had to apparently deal with the whole fiasco of Luigi dying in a trailer for the new Smash game so maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising.

I can’t tell if folks are having too much fun or too little fun that these things need to be reported on as news but either way, let’s all take take a moment and reflect on where we are as a planet.

While you’re contemplating that you should also check this out. I’m not the biggest fan of racing games but I am a huge fan of, the old, Top Gear and the new Grand Tour on Amazon so I’m tentatively interested in this. Especially if it has Jeremy, Richard and James doing voiceover for it. So far it seems like a novel idea where the tracks you’ll get to play through in the game are taken directly from things they do on the show with new cars and locations being added as episodes release. Hopefully it will add up to being more than just a gimmick and instead a fun way to interact with a show you love. Unfortunately it seems that the game will only be available for PS4 and XBONE which seems like a peculiar choice to me given the company that is making it but hopefully we’ll see a PC release in the future if it’s successful enough to warrant one.

There is always more but that is where I’ll leave it this week so this doesn’t risk becoming a truly uninteresting novella. Thanks for sticking around and I hope you have had a good week!

Was there anything I missed that you think I should have included? What interesting things did you stumble across recently? Let me know!

Have a great weekend and I’ll be back soon!

  • Non-Washable