Let the fireworks fly, gaming lovelies! It’s summertime and Fourth of July week here in the States. What better way to celebrate than to cool off with your favorite games? It’s tempting to spend all the monies during the Steam summer sale and I certainly won’t judge you if you do. What’s being a gamer if you don’t have the stress to PLAY ALL THE GAMES! Before you do—play all the games, that is—grab yourself some iced tea and kick back with the latest games news.

Female Game Designers Fight Back on Abortion Rights

If the latest round of news on reproductive rights has got you terrified, add another tool to your truth-to-power toolkit: games. From a five-hour LARP about 1970s feminist abortion activism (The Abortionists) to the randomized visual novel focused on the restrictions of TRAP laws (Trapped) and even a VR game where you play as a pregnant woman (The Choice), these games give people, who have never been pregnant or had an unexpected pregnancy a window into the experience. Using a combination of fact, real-world experiences, and play, these game designers are challenging the conversation around access to abortion.

A screenshot showing a woman in a chair at a doctor's office. Text on the screen reads, "Days pregnant: 50. Cost: $440. You're frustrated that you waited 3 days for this appointment for nothing, and you'll have to start all over again."

Getting confirmation of pregnancy in Trapped.

Cyberpunk 2077 Gets a Prequel That’s Tabletop-Bound

As a child of all things cyberpunk, I’m not ready to give up on the Cyberpunk 2077 dream, so the idea of a tabletop game might just do the trick. Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit releases this summer at GenCon and is touted as a beginner-friendly set-up. This tabletop Cyberpunk prequel includes character templates, maps, custom dice, and a lore book; you know, all the things of nerdy sci-fi gaming dreams. One caveat to my stamp of approval: this game better come with a “you’re breathtaking” card.

Budweiser Dreams of Being the “Official Beer of Esports” 

When I think of gaming drinks, I rarely think of beer. I think fizzy, bubbly, sugary sweet caffeine or hard alcohol to help me through the boss defeats. Even when I’m watching esports on the big screen, beer is not my first thought. The fine folks at Budweiser want us to feel otherwise. The company has applied for trademarks such as “the official beer of esports,” “the official beer of gaming,” and “the official beer of gamers.” The applications are still in the early stages of the process.

This Week In Crunch

As games and the gaming industry get larger and more ambitious, developers and studios have taken to forcing mandatory overtime on their workers to meet deadlines and demand. This controversial and exploitative workplace culture—where employees are overworked, underpaid, and burnt out, followed frequently by mass layoffs and ever-increasing wage inequality between workers and high-paid executives—is known as “crunch.” TWIC is a column within a column where Emily Durham brings you news about this week’s world of crunch.

The saga of legal action at Riot Games continues. Two weeks ago, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) announced that it would be investigating Riot Games for gender and pay discrimination. DFEH announced that it would be demanding Riot Games give up pay data for its employees, after, they claimed, Riot had not produced the requested documents. Riot Games has, in turn, responded with its own announcement, claiming that it has “been cooperative with the DFEH, acted in good faith responding to their requests, and provided them with substantial amounts of information,” and that they “do not have widespread pay disparity at Riot.” I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m highly skeptical of big companies’ “good intentions,” so we’ll just have to see how this plays out in court.

Kotaku recently reported that quality assurance testers at Treyarch, the developer of the Call of Duty: Black Ops games, are effectively treated like second-class citizens by the company. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 released in 2018, resulting (for many reasons) in a “‘perpetual crunch’ that perhaps hit the QA team the hardest.” Here’s the thing: QA testers are often contract employees rather than full-time staff, and it is much harder for contract employees to organize, which in turn leads to their inevitable exploitation. The definition of who qualifies as an “independent contractor” was recently broadened, so fewer workers are now covered under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. (Because capitalism.) As a result, QA testers and other contract employees in the games industry are often treated worse than their full-time staff counterparts. I highly recommend reading the Kotaku report in full for a more detailed explanation of the Treyarch situation.

Japanese mobile game publisher and developer gumi has shut down its Paris-based European studio along with mobile game Brave Frontier: The Last Summoner which launched in late 2018. The 32 employees laid off have published a list of grievances about their management, asked gumi to reconsider and reevaluate their severance package, and stated they are considering legal action if gumi doesn’t meet their demands. The especially bizarre part (to me) is that gumi has recently very publicly invested in blockchain technology, launching a $30 million global blockchain venture fund called gumi Cryptos. They also in June acquired shares of blockchain game developer double jump.tokyo, and in February gumi Cryptos received an investment from blockchain company Remixpoint, Inc. So gumi has money invested by blockchain companies, which is then used to invest in blockchain… but not to keep a 32-employee branch of the company going. Okay.

With the recent increase in backlash against crunch, a few video game companies have publicly stated that they are making delays to production schedules so that their employees can start having a healthier work-life balance. On the surface, that’s great news; but as Games Industry contributing editor Rob Fahey points out in a recent article, some major games studios are managing to avoid crunch by simply pushing out work to work-for-hire studios, where there can be less rigid employee protections, or using more independent contractors who won’t receive the same treatment and benefits as a full-time employee. Outsourcing this work might be a way to treat in-house full-time employees better, but it’s just another means to exploit workers who don’t have as many protections. Things are getting better, as we keep acknowledging and demanding solutions to the problem of crunch, but it’s necessary that we keep an eye out for companies using unethical loopholes to continue their cycles of worker abuse.

Other News You Can Use