#177: Empty handed
Making something happen when there's nothing going on.
Hullo! I trust today’s edition finds you well. I gather Microsoft Teams has been down all day, so I hope some of you have finally been able to get some work done.
Hit Points, I regret to admit, has developed a bit of a problem. I write about the latest goings-on in and around the game industry. What do I do when there’s nothing out there that I want to write about, or don’t think I can add anything of value to? What if I’ve already written far too much about something, and the thought of raking over the coals again bums me out? What if it’s been a busy day or two of news, but no single item is worth writing 900 words on? These are questions I have no good answers to. It has been bothering me for a while.
It is also becoming even more of a problem the older the newsletter gets. Games are a cyclical business, and often the main news of the day is something I’ve written about before. Take this week as an example. Publishers holding back review code from outlets they fear will be critical, as seen the other day with Forspoken? I wrote about that when Sonic Frontiers came out. Layoffs across the games media? Did that in September. Sure, Hit Points is growing all the time; since I wrote that piece about media layoffs, more than 1,600 new readers have signed up. (Thank you!) But thousands of you already know exactly what I think about these topics, and one of Hit Points’ founding principles is not to waste anyone’s time, mine included. Besides, once you get to my age you are increasingly conscious of repeating yourself too much. Ah, there goes your old dad, telling his stories again. No thank you.
Perhaps we can reframe this problem as an opportunity in disguise. If I abandoned the need for a top story every so often, I could write Hit Points more often. I would dearly like to get back to the thrice-weekly cadence of early 2022; there is stuff happening in this industry all the time and I want Hit Points to keep you abreast of it in a timely manner, even if there’s nothing about which I’ve got 850 words of insight to share. Besides, I know that for many of you it is MORE, not the top story, that is Hit Points’ main attraction. You want to know what matters on a given day without having to scour the modern web and I should be able to do that for you, anecdotes, insight and dad jokes be damned.
So! Let’s give this a go. I don’t intend to make a habit of it, and paid subs will always get a top story of some kind. But from time to time, as the news cycle demands, we will dispense with the essay and focus on everything else instead. Here’s a big MORE for you, then. Please enjoy.
Microsoft’s latest quarterly results were announced yesterday evening, which means we can finally see the logic, if we can call it that, behind last week’s layoffs. Profits fell by around $2bn year on year, a drop of about 12% — though $800m of that went on severance payouts to the 10,000 people the firm let go. The company beat analyst projections, shares were up 5% in after-hours trading, Xbox reached a new MAU high, and Microsoft made $16.4bn of pure profit in three months.
In ‘hey look, a squirrel!’ news, Microsoft will this evening turn the focus back to games with Xbox Developer_Direct — or, if you prefer, Xbox Developers_We_Haven’t_Fired_Yet_Direct. The broadcast kicks off at 8pm UK time and will bring updates, and hopefully release dates, for Redfall, Forza Motorsport, Minecraft Legends and some new Elder Scrolls Online stuff. You may watch it over here.
Riot Games insists it will not pay a ransom demand following the theft of source code for League Of Legends and Teamfight Tactics in a social-engineering attack last week. The studio has paused game updates while it investigates the intrusion, which it insists did not compromise any player data.
The Washington Post is shutting down its gaming division, Launcher, as part of a wider restructuring campaign that will eliminate 50 positions and put 20 people out of work. This is properly rubbish. Launcher did some excellent work and had some fine people, including a couple of Hit Points chums.
In brighter news, Simon Parkin — the New Yorker and Guardian game critic turned Hollywood-optioned author and longstanding Hit Points chum — has launched a podcast and it is very good indeed. Almost irritatingly so, in fact. Each episode of My Perfect Console asks “interesting people from video games, film, music and comedy” to pick five games they want to immortalise on their own fictional console. The first episode, featuring Wordle creator Josh Wardle, is an absolute treat. Go!
In sort-of-related news, Merriam-Webster has acquired Quordle, the Wordle-like that tasks you with solving four puzzles at the same time (and ups the number of guesses to nine). Never got on with it, personally, but YMMV.
There will be no virtual attendance for GDC in March, as organisers try to turn back the clock to the conference’s pre-pandemic days. Up to 24,000 attendees are expected to attend the shindig in San Francisco; an all-virtual event is planned for later in the year.
Speaking of which, the shortlists for this year’s GDC-adjacent IGF Awards have been announced. A reminder, if you needed it, that while 2022 was a bit of an odd year for big traditional blockbusters, it was an absolutely banging one for indies. Just look at that McNally shortlist, cripes.
GoldenEye finally lands on Switch and Xbox this Friday. Never thought I’d see the day. I hope it’s worth the wait, but I went back to it a few years ago for an Edge thing and oof.
Blizzard has fired an engineering lead on the WOW Classic team for refusing to abide by an employee stack-ranking system the studio introduced in 2021. Brian Birmingham told colleagues he intended to resign in protest at the insistence he rank 5% of his team as poor performers, which could hamper their remuneration and career prospects; when word reached Blizzard HR, they gave him his marching orders before he could quit. No words for this, honestly.
Meanwhile, staff at the recently acquired Blizzard subsidiary Proletariat have abandoned plans to unionise. The Communication Workers Of America laid the blame at the feet of CEO Seth Sivak, accusing him of having chosen “to follow Activision Blizzard’s lead and respond… with confrontational tactics. Like many founders, he took the workers’ concern as a personal attack and held a series of meetings that demoralised and disempowered the group.”
Former Verge editor, Monster Hunter expert and Hit Points chum Sam Byford has started a cool Substack. Multicore is a tech-focused newsletter that doesn’t tread on Hit Points’ toes in any way at all, which is nice, so do consider signing up. (If any journo pals reading are thinking about starting a newsletter and would like some advice, I am here for you.)
Right! That will do, I think. Was it okay? I think it was okay, but do let me know how you feel about it, and the very concept of receiving an occasional, slimmed-down version of Hit Points.
Before you go, a brief experiment! In last week’s subscriber edition I asked readers to hit the Like button at the end of the email. The Substack overlords are a bit sniffy about videogames, believing them undeserving of their own category within the platform’s closely controlled taxonomy. A sudden uptick in likes might convince them otherwise? Dunno, but I’d appreciate you doing it anyway, both on today’s edition and any others you enjoy from here on out. Thanking you kindly.
See you next time. Be well!
I enjoyed the slimmed down article - that being said, rather than always writing about the latest goings on, I'd definitely enjoy musings on the past while the present is a little quiet.
Some thoughts are things like:
- Games of yesteryear with mechanics still shine today is an easy one - so many gems are floating around that folks are just unfamiliar with.
- A dive into what the modding community are getting up to on a particular game that makes it worth a revisit
- Maybe the classic trend prediction of where you think the industry is heading next - especially now that NFTs appear to have busted out and a lot of live service games (think, Darktide et al), are whiffing on launch as they cannot keep up with the insatiable demand the modern gamer has.
On that last one in particular, I'm curious to see how the next wave of similar game tries to tackle that challenge - Epic basically just threw person-power at Fortnite to keep it relevant for a very long time, other games keep their basic loop simple enough to keep folks engaged, but the Destinys/Darktides of the world which are trying to marry a narrative based game with live service keep running into this problem and I've yet to see a compelling solution.
I liked it! On the Quordle point, I read a write-up from another site (forgive me) pointing out that there are alternatives to the game available, if you'd like to avoid "Big Dictionary", which gave me a chuckle.
There's a depressing joke about the big boss crushing the proletariat in your other point, too.