Palworld Tops, Game Devs Down, and Some Game Bytes

This week in gaming news: Palworld tops the gaming charts and rumour mills, a dismal prediction for Game Devs in 2024, and some special gaming bytes.

For those living under a rock, this week has been dwarfed by the unexpected boom of Palworld into the gaming stratosphere. The monster collecting survival game Palworld, has not only beat out opening week records set by Cyberpunk 2077, Elden Ring and Hogwarts Legacy, selling over 7 million copies in the last 5 days since release, but it also has beaten Valve’s own Counter-Strike 2 All-Time Peak player count, becoming the second most played game of all time with over 1.86 million concurrent players. However, this has not come without hiccups. The game has released in early access on steam and game preview on game pass, so bugs are to be expected, but steam and Microsoft are publishing different versions. Each with their own bugs and server issues that have required emergency meetings with Epic Games backend, and individual updates with expectations that they won’t coalesce until crossplay is established in the future. Until then, Microsoft players will have to deal with the lack of dedicated servers and slow updates, and the quality of life updates seen with steam users.
Internally, developer Pocket Pair has had to deal with a slew of press and player accusations with Community Manager and CEO reporting to have been receiving death threats, “slanderous comments, and outlandish claims.” Some of these being claims they “ripped off Pokémon” and utilised AI to either create the monsters in the game or that GenAI is used in the game. The CEO Takuro Mizobe has responded to at least one claim, stating that “We have absolutely no intention of infringing upon the intellectual property of other companies.” But not all are convinced, with former head of Pokémon’s legal team Dan McGowan saying the game “looks like the usual ripoff nonsense that I would see a thousand times a year when I was Chief Legal Officer of Pokémon.” And not without cause, with a mod already released and removed that not only put Pokémon into Palworld, but also Ash, Misty, and Team Rocket. Creator, Toasted Shoes, put out a statement after the mods removal.

“Nintendo has come for me, please leave me in your thoughts and prayers”

The 2024 Forecast for Game Developers
After more layoffs Game Devs are facing a hard reality this week with Riot laying off 11% of its workforce. That’s 530 people losing their jobs with the blame being put on management’s decision to rapidly expand after the pandemic. And it’s not the only one, with the trend continuing in more studios. 2k’s 31st Union is cutting team members even after the “momentous” move to California. Embracer Group is trying to find a buyer for developer Piranha Bytes. And the developer of recently released VR game Micro Machines: Mini Challenge Mayhem, WIMO Games, has announced they’ve closed their doors with around three dozen staff left out in the cold.
With one third of developers being impacted by layoffs in the last year, and more than half of developers concerned about their futures we can see there are challenges to face in the future. Experts are increasing the worry with expectations the gaming industry will face challenges possibly into 2025 after the abundance of games released in 2020, and 2021 pushing unrealistic release schedules. Despite this, industry leaders are optimistic of the long-term survivability of game development, leaning of the industries resilience and potential growth in the future.

And now for the Gaming Bytes:

  • Awesome Games Done Quick is back with AGDQ2024 streaming over 135 speedruns and raising over 5 million us dollars for The Prevent Cancer Foundation during the week-long event.
  • While earlier this week it was rumoured BulletStorm VR was to be removed from the PS5 Store and auto refunded… it has come to light that only Japan and South Korea will be receiving this golden ticket with the rest of the world left to fend for ourselves.
  • And for those people looking forward to the game Indiana Jones and the Great Ciricle, Harrison Ford is NOT voicing Indiana Jones, rather Troy Baker the voice actor behind The Last of Us’s Joel, BioShock Infinite’s Booker DeWitt , and many more.
  • OH! And the finalists for the Freeplay Awards for 2024 have been announced. If you don’t know what they are, it is the world’s longest-running independent games festival with the awards ceremony to take place on the 29th of February in Melbourne. These awards focus on Australian and New Zealand indi grass roots game artists and developers with this year’s nominees to include Unpacking from Witch Beam Games, Wayward Strand from ghost pattern, and Dap from Melting Parrot, plus many more. For the full list of nominations CLICK HERE

And now for the upcoming game releases.
Friday the 26th brings us two new releases with Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth coming to PC, PlayStation, & Xbox, and Tekken 8 coming to PC and Next Gen Consoles.
On Tuesday the 30th Rugby 24 to PC, PlayStation, & Xbox.
Wednesday the 31st the DLC for 2021’s Eastward, Eastward: Octopia DLC and is coming to PC & Switch
And lastly, Thursday the 1st of February, Granblue Fantasy: Relink comes to PC and PlayStation.

Bad News Can’t Keep a Good Boy Down

Turmoil in the Kingdom

Staff at Australian game studio Mighty Kingdom have indicated they would leave the company if proposed resolutions are approved by shareholders at an upcoming extraordinary General Meeting. Key in these proposals is a replacement of the board and a return of former CEO Shane Yeend. In a letter outlining their position several staff are quoted regarding Mr Yeend’s relationship with the company,

“He was our CEO for 6 whole months and made no real effort to understand us, how we work, and the work and sacrifice it’s taken for us to make the turnaround we have over the past 2 years.”

 “I don’t feel the working environment will be safe if Yeend and his connections are in charge. I won’t stay around for it.”

 “If the resolutions pass, you will have driven a knife through the heart of MK and its people. We will not stay, and everything that is currently representative of a business that will succeed, will simply tumble like a house of cards. Who is going to do the work when we all stand up and leave? I would encourage our shareholders to remember that they are investing in the people and the talent, because it is the people who make the games, not the business. If you vote for Shane, you vote against MK, and we won’t be here to see what happens next if you do this.”

Mr Yeend has posted his own letter defending himself which you can find linked on here.

 

A Good Boi

Awesome Games Done Quick, the yearly speedrunning event which raises money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation is on again and runs until the 21st of January.  This year’s event  has featured a first however. Peanut Butter part time speedrunner and full time dog has been featured playing the NES classic Gyromite. The shiba inu spent a year of vigorous training to play the game with his custom adaptive controller. Assisted by human JSR_, Peanut Butter livestreamed the play through but due to some unfortunate RNG was unable to post an official time due a game over.  Despite this EVERYBODY agreed that he was a very good boy.

Preview | Alan Wake 2 "The Dark Place" - XboxEra

Take Two? But there can be only one!

Take Two Interactive are suing Remedy to prevent the trademark of the developer’s new logo. They argue that remedy’s logo, a stylised R too closely resembles the logo of subsidiary company Rockstar, which also features the letter R. Take two have a long history of aggressively protecting their trademarks including challenge the trademark of the videogame ‘It Takes Two’.

Rickey's World Famous Louisiana Hot Sauce: A Review | Arcade on a Gravel Road

Billy Mitchell never change

Hot sauce enthusiast, documentary subject and infamous video game player Billy Mitchell has settled his lawsuit against video game record platform Twin Galaxies after being banned and having his scores removed back in 2018 after allegations of cheating.   The outcome of which is that Billy’s scores will be reinstated… in a historic archive showing he used to have those records before they were removed in disgrace.  He is still banned.

Bethesda Reveals New Indiana Jones Game - Game Informer

Xbox, New Games

Set your alarm clocks as Microsoft will be holding an Xbox Developer Direct tomorrow (the 19th of January) morning at 6am AEST! The event is set to include Obsidians new game Avowed, Hellblade 2, Ara: History Untold and a first look at the upcoming Indiana Jones title by Machine Games.

Palworld" creator says game is more than Pokémon with guns

Videogame releases

January 19: Bulletstorm VR (PlayStation VR2, Quest, PC), Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown (Playstation, Xbox, Switch, PC), Turnip Boy Robs A Bank (Xbox, Switch, PC), Another Code: Recollection (Switch), The Last of Us Part II Remastered (PlayStation 5) and Palworld (Xbox and PC)

January 24: Graven (PC), Immortality (PlayStation 5)

January 25: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)

Rapid Fire Reviews

This week Hazel leads the round table with Zahra and Peter to talk Gaming News (from Cam) and the impact of AI. Zahra goes mobile while reviewing sandboarder Alto’s Odyssey developed by Snowman. Caroline then goes digging and gets stuck in(to) the early access game Below the Stone developed by Strollart. And finally Zahra jumps back in for an extra review of mobile creative Let’s Create! Pottery 2 from Infinite Dreams.

The Robots Are Taking Over, Everything is Fine

You love gaming news! I love gaming news! Oh my god let’s be best friends and enjoy some
gaming news together!

Layoffs! Layoffs! Layoffs!

2024 has started off strong with two major rounds of layoffs and we’re not even halfway through January! The first comes from beleaguered middleware development behemoth Unity, who this week announced that they no longer needed a whole 25% of its workforce. That’s 1,800 people who are now competing for an ever-decreasing pool of jobs in the games industry. It’s not all bad news though, because Unity’s share price rose 4% after the layoffs were announced.

Not to be outdone, Amazon just announced they were laying off 35% of Twitch’s employees, estimated to be around 500 people.

AI Voices Are AI-OK

Mere weeks after SAG-AFTRA ended their strikes over issues such as AI being used to replace human actors, the guild has struck a new deal that says that the process is good, actually. On Tuesday, SAG-AFTRA entered into an agreement with Australian-based Replica Studios, an AI voiceover studio, to establish guidelines for the use of artificial intelligence in video games.

The union made the announcement at CES in Las Vegas, with Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the executive director, highlighting the inclusion of informed consent provisions for the creation of AI-generated voice replicas and the implementation of secure storage protocols for digital assets.

Some prominent voice over artists have come out against the move. Erika Ishii, who voices Valkyrie in Apex Legends, wrote: “Approved by… WHO exactly?? Was any one of the ‘affected members’ who signed off on this a working voice actor?” Elias Toufexis, who has games such as Starfield, Deus Ex and Death Stranding in their credits, added: “I would humbly consider myself one of the top voice actors working in games. No one asked me about this. No one reached out for my opinion.”

Steam heats up its AI terms

Speaking of AI, this week Valve issued new guidelines for how they handle AI content in games released on Steam. From now on, developers will need to describe how they use AI in the development and execution of new releases.

Basically, they’re putting AI into two categories: Pre-Generated, which means that the game uses content made through an AI tool, and Live-generated. In either case, developers have to pinky swear that AI content that is already in the game does not infringe any copyrights, but in Live-generated games they also have to cross their hearts and hope to die that the game won’t generate any illegal content.

Players will be able to alert Valve to games that they believe are infringing these rules through a new button in the Steam overlay.

Last of Us Gets Its Abby

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what any of this means, but it’s big news this week that actress Kaitlyn Dever is joining the second season of the TV adaptation of The Last of Us. She’ll be playing the role of Abby, who was one of the playable characters in The Last Of Us Part 2 who gets tangled up in…I don’t know, I started reading her Wikipedia page and got lost. But apparently Abby is a big deal and Kaitlyn Dever was really good in Unbelievable so here we are.

Series co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann said that “Nothing matters more than talent, and we’re thrilled to have an acclaimed performer like Kaitlyn join Pedro, Bella and the rest of our family.”

New Game Releases!

That horrible dry season where we were all forced to stop buying new games for a few weeks and go through our backlog is over, so now we can go back to buying games in a futile attempt to fill the empty space in our hearts. Here’s some of the notable games coming out this week!

Today sees the release of
Devil May Cry: Peak of Combat (iOS, Android)
Unstoppable (PC)
Radiance (PC)
Dig Dug (C64)

I need a lie down. Back to the gang in the studio!

Bobby GONE, The Mouse is OUT, Jack Black is Steve, and More!

Bobby Kotick Is Gone

The now-former CEO of Activision Blizzard has officially stepped down now that the 2023 year has ended and the acquisition by Microsoft proceeds. He won’t be the only executive-level employee leaving, with more expected to depart as the transition process develops. Otherwise, the leadership teams for Activision Publishing and Blizzard will remain in place.

The now-vacant CEO spot won’t be filled, and instead executives will report directly to Matt Booty, President of Microsoft Game Content and Studios.

Minecrafters, Grab Your Picks…

If you forgot that there was a Minecraft movie on the way, well, here’s your reminder. And now you also know that Jack Black, who has played Bowser in the Super Mario Bros. Movie, will be starring as the main man himself, Minecraft Steve. You may also know Jack Black from a few other films. The movie will be directed by Jared Hess, known for Nacho Libre, and Napoleon Dynamite.

Jason Momoa had reportedly been in negotiations to voice Minecraft Steve last year.

The Minecraft movie has been in development since 2014, while filming began in December 2023. It is scheduled to release in early April, 2025, meaning it will have been in development for 10-ish years. It hasn’t been the smoothest journey for the movie, as a few directors have dropped out, and the initial release date of May 24th, 2019 obviously not working out.

The Mouse Is OUT!

And a horror game has already been created within 24 hours of ‘Steamboat Willie’ entering the public domain. The game, called Infestation 88, has a terrifying depiction of the mouse hunting the player down in a spooky warehouse.

Disney is rather infamous for its heavy-handed approach to protecting its copyright, as the company has been reported to discourage a stonemason from carving Winnie-the-Pooh into a child’s gravestone. In fact, Steamboat Willie was initially set to enter the public domain in 1984, but the company lobbied US copyright laws to extend to “the life of the author plus 50 years”.

Now that the fated day has finally arrived, along with Infestation 88, a horror movie has been announced, as well as NFTs created, dubstep remixes mixed, and just generally making the mouse do things that Disney definitely wouldn’t approve of.

The 2023 Steam Awards

Let’s round up another round of awards! The Steam Awards is pretty straightforward, nominate your favourite games and then vote for them! Games also can’t win more than two categories.

Sit Back and Relax went to Dave the Diver, and the Labour of Love Award was granted to Red Dead Redemption 2.

Better With Friends went to Lethal Company, and Most Innovative Gameplay went to Starfield.

Outstanding Story-Rich Game and Game of the Year goes to Baldur’s Gate 3.

Some News Nibbles

Peanut Butter, a shiba inu, will be participating in Awesome Games Done Quick, a charity speedrunning event. He is probably the first dog to get into speedrunning video games, and he will be beating Gyromite in front of an audience.

The PlayStation 5 has officially passed 50 million units, managing to sell 10 million units in the latter half of 2023.

Square Enix has expressed a desire to apply AI technology ‘more aggressively’ to create ‘new forms of content’ for consumers, with Square Enix president, Takashi Kiryu stating “I believe that generative AI has the potential not only to reshape was we create, but also to fundamentally change the processes by which we create, including programming”.

And now for some upcoming game releases!

January 11

  • War Hospital – PC, PS5, XBX

That’s it for game releases. You have a week to work through your backlog before games start getting released again.

Toasting To A New Year

Come Toast To A New Year with Zed Games!
Get out your fireworks, bread, butter and soul crushing existentialism and raise your breakfast utensils to this week’s Zed Games. Join the Team of Zahra, Hazel and Rani while they chat
Gaming News, Hazel tests the skill ceiling in Toasterball, while Zahra questions reality in the walking simulator The Invincible from Starward Industries.

Hacking, Potential Gacha Regulation and Video Games helping with Depression

GTA6 Hacker Sentenced

 

Arion Kurtaj, a member of the international hacker group Lapsus$ has been sentenced after a cyber attack on Rockstar Games in 2022 which led to the leaking of about 90 videos of footage from the unreleased GTA6.

 

The hack in question was made while Kurtaj was on bail in police custody for prior hacking using an Amazon Firestick, his hotel TV and a mobile phone as his laptop was confiscated at the time.

 

Due to his continued intent to return to hacking as soon as he is able and the high risk to the public because of this he will be confined to a secure hospital for life, unless regarded by doctors to be no longer a threat.

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-67663128

 

China Cracking Down on Gacha Mechanics?

 

New laws have been proposed by the Chinese Government to reduce consumer spending in online games and to combat predatory practices.  This would include implementing a spending limit and prohibiting incentives such as daily log-in bonuses or rewards for using real money for the first time.  In addition the laws would require studios to have “reasonable” drop rates in lootbox and gacha mechanics.

 

After this proposal was announced the share prices of Tencent and NetEase (two of the largest gaming companies in China) fell 16% and 25% respectively.

 

In response to this the regulator said that “it will study the industry’s reaction and improve the draft rules,”  so it remains to be seen what changes to the regulations will be made and how they will be implemented.

 

https://videogames.si.com/news/china-gacha-game-crackdown

 

Video Games Help with Depression?

 

A study undertaken in Germany and published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, titled Effects of a video game intervention on symptoms, training motivation, and visuo-spatial memory in depression has shown that, using Super Mario Odyssey as an intervention for a period of the 6 week trial resulted in more significant reduction of depression symptoms than of those participants who underwent standard treatment or used a cognitive training computer program.

 

The study aimed to investigate whether playing video games could help people with the cognitive deficits associated with Major Depressive Disorder, specifically mood, training motivation and visuo-spatial memory functions (that is, the ability to retain and process an object’s identity and spatial location).

 

The participants of the study were 46 individuals who have been diagnosed with depression and who do not frequently play video games in their leisure time.  The participants in the video game group were shown to have a significant decrease of depressive symptoms as well as higher levels of motivation to perform the training.

 

This is following a study published in 2020, Trauma, treatment and Tetris: video gaming increases hippocampal volume in male patients with combat-related post traumatic stress disorder, where in addition to therapy participants played Tetris for 60 minutes a day resulting in reductions of the symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety.

 

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2023.1173652/full