Category Archives: Gaming

Activision Blizzard Pays SEC $35 Million To Settle Probe



CNBC reported that video game developer Activision Blizzard agreed to pay a $35 million settlement over charges it failed to maintain “adequate” controls for collecting and assessing reports of workplace misconduct and that it violated federal whistleblower protection rules, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Friday.

The SEC claimed workplace misconduct complaints were neither collected nor analyzed as expected by public disclosure regulations, CNBC reported. “Moreover, taking action to impede former employees from communicating directly with the Commission staff about a possible security law violation is not only bad corporate governance, it is illegal,” SEC director Jason Burt said.

The settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing but concludes a probe that focused on Activision Blizzard’s standards from 2018 to 2021.

The SEC included the following paragraph in its press release:

“The SEC’s order finds that Activision Blizzard failed to implement necessary controls to collect and review employee complaints about workplace misconduct, which left it without the means to determine whether larger issues existed that needed to be disclosed to investors,” said Jason Burt, Director of the SEC’s Denver Regional Office. “Moreover, taking action to impede former employees from communicating directly with the Commission staff about a possible securities law violation is not only bad corporate governance, it is illegal.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that female employees at Activision complained for years about alleged sexual assaults and mistreatment. The SEC’s probe examined what Activision’s management knew about the alleged incidents and how it addressed them internally, the Journal reported.

Activision’s system wasn’t designed to collect and analyze complaints about workplace misconduct across its separate business units, the SEC said in a settlement order. As a result, Activision’s management and directors often didn’t have information about employee complaints or incidents involving harassment, the SEC order said.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the settlement also said that Activision’s separation agreements with employees from 2016 to 2021 included an improper clause requiring ex-workers to tell the company if agencies such as the SEC contacted them about reports of misconduct. The SEC said that requirement violated the SEC’s whistleblower-protection rules, which seek to ensure that company insiders aren’t prevented from informing regulators about wrongdoing.

It is interesting to note that The Wall Street Journal reported that the $35 million fine is a significant penalty for an enforcement case focused on a company’s disclosure procedures. The SEC under Chair Gary Gentler and Enforcement Director Gurbir S. Grewal has ratcheted up penalties, saying fines need to be higher to effectively deter wrongdoing.

My hope is that the SEC’s order will result in Activision Blizzard to actually listening to employees who have been harassed or abused in the workplace and enact a significant penalty upon the person(s) who engaged in harassment or abuse. If not, I suppose the SEC can take additional action on the company.


Epic Games Introduced Cabined Accounts For Kids



Epic Games posted information (on December 7) titled: “Introducing Cabined Accounts: A New Way for Kids to Join the Metaverse”. The goal appears to be to help keep kids safe when they are playing video games from Epic Games. Here are some key points from that post:

Announcing Cabined Accounts

Today we are announcing Cabined Accounts, a new type of Epic account that will provide a tailored experience that is safe and inclusive for younger players. We believe that creating a rich experience within the same overall game or products is the best way to empower younger players to meaningfully participate without compromising on safety or privacy.

Cabined Accounts will begin rolling out in Fortnite, Rocket League, and Fall Guys today.

Here’s How It Works

All players globally will be asked to provide their date of birth at log in. If someone indicates they are under 13 or their country’s age of digital consent, whichever is higher, their account will be a Cabined Account and they will be asked to provide a parent or guardian’s email address to begin the parental consent process. While waiting for consent, players will still be able to play Fortnite, Rocket League, or Fall Guys with full access to previously purchased or earned content in-game, but in a tailored Cabined Account environment where certain features, such as chat and purchasing, are disabled.

Parent Verification

The player’s parent or guardian will receive an email letting them know about their child’s Epic account. Following links in the email, parents can review information about Epic’s privacy practices, provide consent for additional features, set up Parental Controls, and will be asked to verify they are an adult via SuperAwesome’s Kids Web Services.

Engadget reported that several other features are disabled in cabined accounts, including any purchases with money, free text chat, making trades in Rocket League, buying or downloading Epic Games Store titles not owned by Epic, custom display names and SMS-based two-factor authentication.

According to Engadget, without parental consent, younger players will not be able to link their Epic account to services such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitch. Developers with cabined accounts will also be prevented from accessing some Unreal Engine features. Epic will lift the restrictions when a parent or guardian provides consent or the player turns 13 or their region’s age of digital consent.

After a parent or guardian has verified a cabined account, they can set up parental controls. Among other things, they’ll be able to approve friend requests on the younger player’s account, grant access to voice and text chat and track their offspring’s Fortnite play any time.

Overall, Cabined Accounts sound like a good way to keep kids safe online while they are playing video games. Parents have the opportunity to allow their kids to have a cabined account and can use parental controls to limit what their child can do while playing a game.


Epic Claims Google Paid $360M To Stop Activision From Launching App Store



Activision Blizzard and Riot Games at one point told Google they might launch their own mobile app stores, according to new documents filed in Epic’s antitrust lawsuit against the search giant. The details came to light as part of allegations about major deals signed with the two companies. The Verge reported that Google allegedly agreed to pay Activision about $360 million over three years and Riot about $30 million for a one-year deal.

According to The Verge, in one document Google exec Karen Aviram Beatty is reported back from a conversation with Activision Blizzard’s now-CFO Admin Zerza one month before the two companies signed the huge deal.

“If this deal falls through [Zerza] claims that they will launch their own mobile distribution platform (partnering with another “major mobile company” – presume Epic), double down with Amazon / Twitch (or MSFT) for Cloud / eSports [sic], and pull away from Stadia,” Beatty wrote.

Also according to The Verge: While Zerza may have just been doing hardline negotiating Activision has not yet launched its own app store on mobile, so it seems the company was happy with how the deal eventually turned out.

The Verge also reported about another document from an unnamed witness who may have been involved with “Project Hug,” Google’s program designed to incentivize and support Play Store developers. In the deposition, the witness says that Riot Games told Google it was considering launching a competing Android app store. Later, the witness says that “Riot and Activision Blizzard King were the ones that were the most direct with us” about considering starting their own app stores.

Engadget reported that the financial details of Project Hug – later known as the Apps and Games Velocity Program – are at the center of the ongoing antitrust lawsuit between Epic Games and Google. In 2020, the studio alleged Google had spent millions of dollars in incentives to keep big app developers on the Play Store.

According to Engadget, this week, a newly unreacted version of Epic’s complaint was made public, providing previously unknown details about the scope of the Apps and Games Velocity Program.

According to court documents, Engadget reported, Google also signed deals with Nintendo, Ubisoft, and Riot games. In the case of Riot, Google paid about $30 million to “stop” the League of Legends studio from pushing forward with its own “in-house ‘app store’ efforts,” Epic alleges.

“Programs like Project Hug provide incentives for developers to give benefits and early access to Google Play users who they release new or updated content; it does not prevent developers from creating competing app stores, as Epic falsely alleges,” a Google spokesperson told Engadget. “In fact, the program is proof that Google Play competes fairly with numerous rivals for developers, who have a number of choices for distributing their apps and digital content.”

To me, this feels like yet another round of lawsuits in which Google and Epic try to fight each other in court about something that they probably could have worked out together. This situation also explains why Activision Blizzard King doesn’t have much of a mobile game platform, outside of Candy Crush and Diablo Immortal.


Activision Blizzard Require A Phone Number For Its Newest Games



Fortune reported that Activision Blizzard is removing an anti-cheat precaution from its newest games after players complained it discriminated against poor people.

According to Fortune, just over a week before the launch of Overwatch 2, Activision’s newest shooter, the developer announced that players would need to have a valid phone number to play the game. The system, called SMS Protect, would help the developer keep cheaters and abusive players out of the game. Banned players would be forced to get a new phone number if they wanted to play the game again.

Yet, players found that SMS Protect also excluded anyone on a prepaid phone plan, effectively locking them out of the game. Players with too little income to afford a phone service contract, or who just preferred using prepaid phones, complained that the developer was barring them from enjoying the game.

On Thursday, Blizzard posted “Overwatch 2 Launch Status Update” in its Overwatch Forums. From the post:

SMS Protect

We designed Overwatch 2 be a live service, which enables us to be responsive to a variety of player feedback. We have made the decision to remove phone number requirements for a majority of existing Overwatch players. Any Overwatch player with a connected battle.net account, which includes all players who have played since June 9, 2021, will not have to a provide phone number to play. We are working to make this change and expect it to go live Friday October 7. We will update players once it is in effect.

We remain committed to combating disruptive behavior in Overwatch 2 – accounts that were not connected to battle.net as well as new accounts will still have to meet SMS requirements, which helps to ensure we’re protecting our community against cheating. If a player is caught engaging in disruptive behavior, their account may be banned whether they have a new account or not…

Engadget reported that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, which arrives on October 28, will require players to connect a phone number to their battle.net account to play the game. “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, newly created Overwatch 2 accounts, and newly created Call of Duty Modern Warfare accounts require a phone number,” says a recently updated support page spotted by PC Gamer.

According to Engadget, the requirement comes following a week of controversy around SMS Protect, the phone-linking system in use by Overwatch 2 and soon Modern Warfare II. Where the studio previously said all players would need to link a phone number to their battle.net account, now that requisite only falls on new Overwatch players. At the moment, it’s unclear if all Warzone 2.0 players will need a mobile phone number to play that game once it arrives on November 16th.

Personally, I understand why Activision Blizzard wants to make an effort to remove players who are cheating, or who are mean to other players, from their games. Failing to remove those players could prevent honest players from returning to the game.

However, I don’t think the solution is to force players to give Activision Blizzard their phone number before they can start playing the newest games. That requirement feels invasive, and could make some players decide to avoid playing the video games that require SMS Protect. It also appears that SMS Protect will exclude players who have pre-paid phone plans, even if those players have never been a problem in other Activision Blizzard games.


Xbox Tests Xbox Game Pass In Ireland and Columbia



Xbox Insider announced today that in Columbia and Ireland, Xbox Insiders can begin to preview a plan that allows multiple people to share Game Pass Ultimate benefits. The post was written by Sr. Technical Program Manager, Tyler Mittleider.

According to Xbox Insider, this makes it even easier to play the best Game Pass games with friends and family across console, PC, and cloud by enabling you to add up to four people to your subscription, all with their own unique access to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate games, content, and benefits.

Those who want to participate in the preview need to purchase the “Xbox Game Pass – Insider Preview Game Pass plan in the Microsoft Store. Check out release notes here.

Things to know about this preview:

The people you share your membership do not have to be Insiders but must reside in the same country as you. Enrollment is limited and will remain open while the offer is available.

Joining the Game Pass – Insider Preview will convert the time remaining on your membership to time in the new plan, based upon the monetary value of the old membership. For example, a full month of Ultimate will be converted to18 days of membership for this plan. This way you won’t lose any of the remaining value on your existing subscription upon conversion. Conversion is final, and users must wait for their new membership to expire before returning to a remaining membership.

Conversion is not available for invited group members. Before joining a group, a group member can cancel their existing subscription or wait for it to expire. If they do not have a Microsoft account, invited friends and family will have to create a new Microsoft account and sign in with it to participate.

Members with Xbox All Access won’t be able to participate in this preview.

In Columbia, parts of the copy for the preview have not been localized and might be displayed in English.

GameSport reported that rumors of an Xbox Game Pass family plan surfaced earlier this year, and this test will determine how the service can be applied to a wider range of users.

The announcement by Xbox of its test of the Xbox Game Pass in Ireland and Columbia appears to be conformation of the rumor. Personally, I think it is a good idea for Xbox to test out a Game Pass that allows people to add others to their group (who live in the same country as the Games Pass holder does).

I also think this could be good for accessibility. As a person who has several disabilities, I tend to find that using a controller hurts less than gaming on a keyboard. Xbox requires a controller. If the test works out well, it might be incentive for gaming companies to put their games on Xbox.


Diablo Immortal’s China Release Has Been Delayed



Diablo Immortal is the newest game in Activision Blizzard’s Diablo franchise. It was officially released on June 2 for not only mobile devices but also PCs. CNBC reported that shares of the game fell nearly 7% in Hong Kong on Monday after it announced plans to delay the release of Diablo Immortal in China. According to CNBC, the game did not announce a new launch date.

NetEase and Activision Blizzard worked together on Diablo Immortal. The game was set to release in China on June 23, but that has been delayed. The reason for the delay requires some explanation.

Financial Times reported that shares in NetEase dropped on Monday morning after the Chinese company fell foul of China’s censors over a social media post that was suspected of alluding to Winnie the Pooh, a popular way to derisively refer to President Xi Jinping.

According to The Financial Times, the delay came as a screenshot circulated online of a post published by the game’s official account on Weibo, the popular Chinese microblogging site, dated May 22, that read: “Why hasn’t the bear stepped down.”

The remark was interpreted as a reference to China’s President Xi Jinping, who is often illustrated as Disney’s Winnie the Pooh. The cartoon bear has been blacklisted by censors in China for years.

This isn’t the first time that China has cracked down on gaming. In August of 2021, South China Morning Post reported that gamers in China who are under the age of 18 would have their playing time limited to one hour on regular days and two hours on public holidays. That same month, the BBC reported that Tencent announced it was rolling out facial recognition to stop children from playing video games between 10pm and 8am.

Kotaku reported that the postponement of Diablo Immortal in China comes three days before the game’s intended Chinese release and just a few days after the game’s official Weibo account was suspended from being allowed to post.

According to Kotaku, a contact translated what was written on Weibo as “What do you think about the bear?”, but says it was written to be idiomatic. Kotaku notes that either way, if real, it seems an extraordinary thing to have posted on an official account in China.

Kotaku also pointed out that there is a press release that was posted on Blizzard’s Chinese website, stating that the reason for this very last-minute delay is a need to make “a number of optimization adjustments to the game”. (Kotaku appears to have translated this via Google.) The press release also said that the adjustments included improving model rendering, support for a wider range of devices, and “network and performance optimizations”.


Play Fortnite For Free With Xbox Cloud Gaming



Catherine Gluckstein, Vice President and Head of Product, Xbox Cloud Gaming posted a blog titled: “Play Fortnite on iOS, iPadOs, Android Phones and Tablets, and Windows PC with Xbox Cloud Gaming for Free”. To me, this sounds like a great way to make Fortnite accessible to players who have disabilities by allowing them to play Fortnite on the platform of their choice.

“As part of our mission to bring the joy and community of gaming to players wherever they are and to make gaming more accessible to people around the world, I’m excited to announce that we’ve partnered with Epic Games to make Fortnite available on supported browser-enabled devices for free with Xbox Cloud Gaming (beta) in 26 countries”, Catherine Gluckstein wrote.

If you love Fortnite you only need two things to play in cloud-supported markets:

  • A Microsoft account
  • An iOS, iPadOS, Android phone or tablet, or Windows PC with internet access.

With no installation or memberships required, all you need to do is go to Xbox.com/play on your web browser and sign-in with your Microsoft Account to party-up with friends or earn your next Victory Royale in Fortnite. Players have the option of playing Fortnite with native touch controls or a supported controller, and it is easy to jump into Fortnite with Xbox Cloud Gaming.

This is the first free-to-play title that has been added to the cloud gaming catalog. Microsoft looks forward to bringing more free-to-play games people love in the future. This means there will be more games in the cloud gaming catalog – and we just have to wait and see which ones get added.

CNET reported that Microsoft struck a deal with Epic Games to offer Epic’s hit title Fortnite for free through Xbox Cloud Gaming. The move will effectively let people play Fortnite in a way similar to how they stream videos from companies like Netflix, regardless of how beefy their gaming device is.

CNET posted a statement from Microsoft. “This is just the beginning for us — we’re going to learn, implement feedback, and in time look to bring even more free-to-play titles to players through the cloud”. According to CNET, Microsoft’s Xbox team said it believes streaming will be a key way for people to play but has also tempered expectations for how quickly it will catch on.

For me, there is a lot to like about Microsoft’s decisions. First, it offers accessibility in gaming, where people with disabilities can play Fortnite (and, eventually, other games) on the system of their choice. Some will prefer Windows PC, while others may feel more physically comfortable to play on a phone or tablet. And secondly, the free-to-play games make it much easier for people on a tight budget to play Fortnite with their friends.