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

The Endgame

You thought this was going to start with a joke about Infinity War, didn’t you? Be honest. If you are, then I will be and admit that the first couple drafts of this did indeed start that way. As it turns out trying to link Doctor Strange’s line into a conversation about the controversy surrounding Anthem’s launch state is harder than it seems.

See how I did that? Nice, right?

Anywho, let’s talk about the latest whirlwind of, I won’t even call it a conversation, as it is really just a bunch of people screaming into the void about the newest death knell for Anthem.

Endgame content.

We’re not going to start out talking about it immediately, it’ll take a minute but trust me, we’ll get there.

First off we may as well take a moment to explain exactly what that is for the curious but unfamiliar and to do that let’s go over some general info. Video games are broken down into some broad categories which over time have been parted out even more into various sub-categories. The number of these is easily into the dozens so you’ll forgive me for not listing them all here, we’ll stick with just the relevant ones. Anthem is most often referred to as a Looter Shooter which combines elements of Action/RPG/First or Third-Person Shooter games into one package. We can credit the existence of this genre to games like Hellgate: London and the short-lived Tabula Rasa. Two years after those games released Gearbox’s entry Borderlands would finally cement the Looter Shooter as a staple in the gaming industry. Titles like Warframe, Destiny and The Division were not far behind, as well as numerous indie projects. All of these games, while also being looter shooters, share similar monetization schemes ranging from subscriptions (Hellgate: London), DLC, and microtransactions.

I’m going to take just a small detour here to explain the distinction between games as a service versus DLC. It may not seem important but for our purposes, the distinction does matter. DLC or Downloadable Content for games, for the most part, exist as distinct content additions to a retail product. Usually, they are additional chunks that build on the core experience of a base game either tangentially to the story or directly related to it. Most of the time these pieces of content can be completed in the <10-hour range and costs anywhere between $5 and $20.

A Games as a Service/Live Service style product will generally package a set of microtransactions along with annual or bi-annual DLC content and seasonal events. All of these are designed to keep players engaged over multiple years of content and microtransaction releases. In effect, these games don’t want to give you the opportunity to stop playing and go elsewhere between DLC.

This is where the design of endgame content starts to matter. When the big bad is vanquished and you stand triumphant while the credits roll, what do you do after? Traditionally in linear story-oriented games, this is when you take a break and then move on to some other title. In the world of monetization that we now live developers instead want to keep you right where you are, playing their game and investing your hard earned money in keeping that experience going. By all accounts, it’s not a bad business strategy as it directly addresses the worst part of finishing a great piece of entertainment, you want more. This is where the RPG in the Looter Shooter game design really shines as one of the core aspects to many roleplaying games is the equipment. With the addition of milestone challenges, rare gear to collect, and even bits of hidden lore to uncover these are the building blocks of the all-important endgame.

Which brings us to…

The Grind

Disclaimer – I was going to make a “Bump N’ Grind” joke here until I realized much to my dismay that R Kelly sings that song and because fuck that guy, you get the gif instead, enjoy.

If you’ve ever wondered what work feels like in your leisure time I encourage you to immerse yourself in the grind of any game mentioned in this post or your choice of MMO. The more Korean the better. Ideally, it won’t feel like work because as a fan of the game you’ll enjoy what you have to do regardless of its repetitive nature.

Skill-Up on YouTube had one of my favorite descriptions of it when it came to the most recent updates for The Division.

If you watched a couple minutes of that you might end up agreeing with Skill-Up that it doesn’t seem like that was very repetitive at all and you would be right. What you have to remember though is that it took almost two years for the game to reach that point. Think about that, the endgame of a major IP didn’t come together fully until nearly two years after it’s initial release. To be honest, I was almost positive that it would never really get there after playing at launch but to their credit, they stuck with it and built a game they could be proud of. One that ended up being so good I came back to it with a friend and we poured a ton of hours into it, a lot of which was a second run for me.

So how does all this tie in with Anthem? The current picadillo that Bioware seems to be in is that no one believes their endgame is up to snuff. I’ve heard everything from it’s “light” to “non-existent” and everything in between.

Today Bioware posted part 2 of their This is Anthem video series about the endgame, it’s worth a watch.

Everything said in the video pretty much lines up with what we’ve come to expect from other live services with a healthy spread between daily, weekly, and monthly challenges. In addition to world events like the shaper storms and cataclysms, the developers have also said that things like weather and time of day will also affect available activities. You also have other codex challenges like using different equipment to unlock more advanced crafting recipes for a given gear type.

The questions I asked myself while reading through all the criticism, some of which is in the comments of that video, was how much endgame is really needed at launch? Does the min-max grind count once you’re there? Anyone with any experience in the various gaming communities, or any rabid fandom really, will tell you how little time it takes people to blow through content. As recently as a day ago a world first race for new World of Warcraft content concluded. Gamers have built careers on how quickly they can knock down incredibly complex content upon its release. People plan their days off so they can binge new titles, we’ve built conventions around speed running and are still finding decades-old secrets in games most of us barely remember anymore. Whether it’s out of sheer passion or the drive to be first fans will find a way to consume content or do things faster than was ever intended. Its become a bit of an amusing arms race between developers and their communities as they try to stay one step ahead and provide new, more challenging gameplay.

Anyone remember the No Man’s Sky launch? Even Destiny 2’s community has had heated discussions since its launch about whether or not the developers should be catering more towards hardcore or casual fans. Do you do it via a majority vote? Player statistics? Squeakiest wheel? Dartboard? Guess there is always this but it just seems cruel and wasteful.

So what do they do? Bioware has been working on Anthem since at least 2012 so that is already six years worth of work just to bring the game to this point, two weeks and change out from release. From everything I have seen the game is sporting a respectable amount of activities for a new, ambitious IP at its launch and what appears to be a rather extensive future roadmap. Striking the balance between “having enough” and “ever launching your game at all” is no easy task but at some point you have to end development and go live. What’s funny is that they haven’t even really ended development on Anthem as they have already had teams working on post-release content for months to get it ready. It’s always possible that Anthem will end up like other live service games that take months, if not years, to reach their full potential. The silver lining to that possibility is that three of the most prominent titles in this genre all suffered from this at launch and since then have all gone on to rather amazing success. Bungie actually managed it twice now with Destiny 2 following a similar fate as their first game. In spite of what you might have heard Destiny 2 outsold the first and was Activision Blizzard’s largest PC launch. Far from a failure in spite of Activision being disappointed in its performance.

It’s entirely possible that this is just par for the course for this genre of games and that no amount of endgame content at launch will ever be enough. I don’t think that I’m quite ready to declare that the set in stone reality but the evidence does seem to be pointing in that direction. As I said in my last post I feel like Bioware has proven that Anthem has all the ingredients to be amazing which leaves only a couple questions up to the community.

Do you want to be there from the potentially rocky, buggy launch?

Are you okay with feeling like you’ve caught up and have nothing new to do but grind and explore until new content drops?

If you answered yes then barring any cataclysmic problems I’ll be there with you to ride the launch-day rollercoaster. It’ll be frustrating but fun I’m sure.

If you answered no then that is fine. If the game is still here and kicking out content in six months to a years time you can pick it up on sale and join in. If not then you were right all along and it was a good thing you waited.

The question of whether or not there is enough endgame content at launch is, I think, a bit of a false dilemma. The questions we should be asking is whether or not the game is done. If the story is interesting or engaging. Is the aesthetic interesting? Are the graphics good? Does it feel like the Bioware we’ve fallen in love with in the past?

I honestly don’t think I care if there is enough of an endgame grind out of the gate to keep me busy right up until new content is released.

I just care that what is there is worth playing in the first place. I can always look forward to more if it is.

  • Anthony

Anthem, Part 1 – Rocks and Shoals

Everyone has had a lot to say about this game since that very first E3 tease all the way back in 2014 and before we really get started let’s take a second to revisit that.

Bioware teases brand new IP at E3 2014.

It may sound a little mean but, I always find it funny when we get these produced pieces set to hopeful music about the grand future waiting for us just around the corner. That being said regardless of how many times I see them from developers I love they never cease to get me excited for what’s coming. Bioware has had something of a rough few years what with Mass Effect: Andromeda being an unmitigated disaster and Star Wars: The Old Republic being… a long story. EA, the publisher for Bioware’s games, has not been free of controversy either over the last handful of years. Their most notable, but far from only, debacle being Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and the famous “…sense of pride and accomplishment…” quote. You really have to marvel at a PR statement that is so bad to be that soundly rebuffed by an entire demographic let alone the specific community it was targeting.

Three years, a lot of bumps and roadblocks later brings us to E3 2017 and the official trailer and gameplay reveal of Bioware’s new IP, Anthem.

E3 2017 reveal.

Mmph, that dialogue. Never ceases to remind me of the face creasing power of a mouthful of Warheads but without the reward of actually having candy. That aside it was hard to not instantly be pulled in by the impressive visuals, gameplay, and hints at a fully realized sci-fi world from Bioware. There is little point in lying about the fact that I was hooked immediately in spite of the deluge of cautionary, “Yeah, but it’s EA.” cries from every corner. EA and Bioware’s latest string of foibles was still fresh on everyone’s mind and there was no getting around that. Things were relatively quiet through 2017 with little details trickling out here or there but 2018 was an entirely different story. Bioware went on the offensive with a steady run of live-streamed content for transparency with a rightly skeptical community.

As I watched the live-streams and read the myriad coverage of the game’s progression towards release I was constantly surprised by the number of comments calling it bland, boring or generic looking. I could see some arguments being made in reference to the lack of story information since without it all you have is the game mechanics themselves to hold your interest. People need to know their reason for suiting up and flying around your world blowing up bizarre creatures. The Matrix wasn’t sold to people on its revolutionary slow-motion technique alone but rather the story which was bolstered by the cinematography.

Even granted that we had heard some intriguing tidbits that had me engrossed.

The anthem of creation?

Shaper storms?

Fort Tarsis being one of the last bastions of humanity?

What made the world this way? What world are we even on?

New IPs while often a very dangerous proposition for even established studios have the benefit of being wholly unknown, a new frontier to explore and learn about. For me, Anthem had painted the perfect picture to draw me in with just enough information to get me asking questions but not enough to answer them.

On the mechanical side, the game is very familiar having been compared to everything from the very top-of-mind Destiny, who dropped all pretense on the matter, all the way to Diablo. Even if you’re playing these games for the story ultimately you’re still playing them for the loot because it is an inescapable part of their gameplay and progression.

All this being said, why am I here today talking about Anthem? This past weekend I was able to play in the VIP Demo/Beta and I’d like to chat about that experience. Especially given that there is an open demo weekend coming up where everyone, including folks without pre-orders, will be able to try out the game.

We may as well get the obvious stuff out of the way; the technical problems. The demo was a bit of a mess as Friday started out with the servers being largely unavailable to players because of a somewhat humorous design error. In an effort to make sure people could get in without manually having to retry over and over the game was accidentally designed to DDoS itself. Understandably most folks didn’t find this very funny as they had paid by way of pre-orders to have access to the game over the weekend. Eventually, they got it figured out but this was only the first in a series of issues the game would encounter. To make a long list short we’ll do it like this –

  • Stuttering/Lagging/Rubberbanding during play.
  • Infinite Load – Loading progress would stop at 95% and never progress. Seemed to be linked to folks using WiFi.
  • Second Javelin unlocks at level 12 – Many players once achieving level 12 were unable to unlock their second Javelin. The game also seemed to have trouble accurately tracking XP gains and levels in general.
  • Item stat errors both visually and mechanically.
  • Graphical errors along with enemies spawning and despawning randomly even while engaged in combat.
  • Immobile NPCs where their AIs seemed to be bugged.
  • “Connection Error” dialogue box would pop up frequently during play and could only be dismissed by clicking. This would interrupt your control inputs so you would simply stop moving and acting. The error didn’t actually disconnect you from the game.
  • Console players, by and large, being unable to log in and even play for huge chunks of time over the weekend. Partially caused by issues trying to link their Origin and console accounts for access to the demo.

I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting but those were the ones that either happened to me, people I was playing with or were simply the most prominent over the weekend. In the wake of this, I have seen lots of conjecture about the readiness of the game and how much can Bioware really fix in the weeks leading up to release. Not entirely an unreasonable point but it is important to remember that this was a six-week-old build of the game. I’m not offering this as a way to excuse the problems during the demo but simply to point out how much work has undoubtedly been done in those six weeks. Not to mention will be done in the four until release. All things being equal I would have preferred a demo with no problems or just fewer but we’ve all collectively done enough of these that this shouldn’t be too shocking.

A summary of the demo weekend from Bioware’s Head of Live Service, Chad Robertson.

Going from controlled closed alphas to even a pseudo-public demo will cause a lot of unexpected issues to crop up which is just an unfortunate reality. This statement certainly won’t quell the “I canceled my pre-order!” crowd nor should it, that is their recourse for a rocky demo. It isn’t money lost for the consumer because they got the experience they paid for, one that told them their money would be best spent elsewhere. It saddens me to see a product like Anthem, with so much potential, take it in the teeth like that on a demo but that is the risk they take.

For me, personally, the demo rocky as it was had the complete opposite effect on me. Call me a sucker or a shill but I’ve tried to never judge games too harshly based on demos, betas or alphas. Developers take huge risks in letting us see games early and in potentially broken states. They count on players keeping an open mind and sometimes seeing the potential in what they are trying to do rather than the current reality.

Even four weeks out, one troubled demo weekend down and one more rapidly approaching I still can’t help but see the potential in Anthem.

Thanks for reading part one and I’ll be back with part two tomorrow. Until then have a great day and happy gaming.

  • Anthony