Hello! Maddi here to bring you the good, the bad, and the somewhere in between video game news from the last week. Lately, I’ve been playing (and enjoying) the cozy and whimsical One Day at a Thyme, a solo journaling game by Jei D. Marcade. If you’ve been playing anything good recently, tell us about it on Twitter, or, if you’re a member of our Patreon at the Sega Genesis tier or higher, in our Discord! Without further ado, let’s get to the gaming news.

Crypto Game Axie Infinity‘s Ronin Network Hacked

On March 29, developer Sky Mavis announced hackers had exploited Axie Infinity, a popular blockchain-based game, and stole 173,000 Ethereum and 25 million USDC—cryptocurrency tokens worth about $625 million USD—from the Ronin blockchain that powers the game. According to Ronin, the hack occurred on March 23.

About 55 percent of Axie Infinity players are located in the Philippines, and for some, playing the game allowed them to earn money during the pandemic. Axie Infinity‘s concept is similar to Pokemon, allowing players to collect and battle with monsters called Axies. Though it’s a “play to earn” game, Axie Infinity players must purchase Axies with real currency, meaning it comes with a significant startup cost. At the height of Axie Infinity’s popularity, the least expensive Axies cost about $100 USD. As the game grew more popular, a sponsorship market evolved, which allows players who couldn’t otherwise afford the startup cost to borrow a team of Axies in exchange for a cut of their profits.

While no Axies were stolen during the hack, journalist Molly White, who runs the website Web3 Is Going Great, likened the hack to a casino heist—players may hold casino chips (Axies), but chips hold little value if the vault (the Ronin Bridge) has been emptied. None of the stolen funds have been recovered, and Ethereum withdrawals in Axie Infinity remain unavailable. If you’re interested in a short but comprehensive overview of the situation, I highly recommend reading White’s blog post. If you’re interested in a longer explanation that contextualizes the hack, Ed Zitron wrote a lengthy post about it.

Indie Studio Funomena May Shut Down

Funomena, the indie studio behind games like Luna and Wattam, may be forced to shut down. Over the last few weeks, the studio has been mired in controversy as a number of game developers accused Funomena co-founder Robin Hunicke of abusing employees and creating a toxic workplace environment. On March 29, Funomena tweeted that it “was in the process of closing an investment round just before GDC” and was still attempting to do so, but without funding, the studio will be forced to close its doors.

Chris Bratt, who initially reported claims of abuse at Funomena, broke news of the closure, along with the news that contractors had already been laid off.

Yeah, Yeah, Here’s Your Activision Blizzard Update for the Week

Apologies to anyone who optimistically thought we wouldn’t have an update on Activision Blizzard’s ongoing struggles this week.

On March 31, Lead Server Engineer Kurtis McKathern tweeted that Activision Blizzard had made the decision to lift their vaccine mandate across the company. The same day, Jason Schreier wrote a Twitter thread providing more detail; Schreier said Chief Administrative Officer Brian Bulatao made the announcement in an email, which also suggested Activision Blizzard would soon return to in-office work. (Bulatao, who joined Activision Blizzard in 2021, previously served as Under Secretary of State for Management for the Trump administration.) The email, which was later leaked, was met with widespread condemnation from current and former employees.

According to Polygon, a representative for the ABK Workers’ Alliance said employees had agreed to return to the office on the condition that a vaccine mandate was in place, and were unaware of the change before it was announced. In response, workers planned a walkout for Monday, April 4.

Barely a day later, Activision Blizzard walked back the announcement… sort of. Bulatao sent another email stating Activision Blizzard will continue to operate on a voluntary return to office policy, and that each office could make its own decision regarding vaccine mandates. Blizzard, per president Mike Ybarra, will continue to require vaccines for at least the next few months.

Additionally, several senators have written to the FTC, requesting the FTC investigate Microsoft’s planned acquisition of Activision Blizzard. The letter notes Activision Blizzard’s lack of preventive and corrective measures against a toxic and discriminatory work environment, as well as its attempts to block unionization efforts. (Activision Blizzard will not voluntarily recognize the union, and Microsoft has said it will acknowledge the union if Activision Blizzard does.) The letter expresses concern that the merger will harm unionization efforts, further disenfranchise employees, and set a dangerous precedent.

The letter also called out the proposed deal for protecting Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who, under the deal, would stay on as CEO until 2023 (at least). Upon his exit, Kotick could net a frankly incomprehensible amount of money: around $388 million for his shares of the company and an extra $293 million if he is terminated. Between his salary and stock options, Kotick earned (“earned”) $154.6 million in 2021. Nearly two thousand employees have signed a letter calling for Kotick’s removal.

Pour One Out for E3 2022

It’s official: there will be no E3 in 2022. The event is usually held in June, but E3 2022 has been in question for some time now given a distinct lack of buzz. During the pandemic, the Electronic Software Association (ESA) has put on a digital version of E3, though that too has been canceled for this year. The ESA gave the reason for E3’s cancellation, as “ongoing health risks surrounding COVID-19” but told fans to look forward to E3’s return in 2023.

In other news…

On March 31, Kotaku published a lengthy report detailing a culture of sexism at Undead Labs (known for State of Decay) that worsened after Microsoft acquired the company in 2018. One of the developers interviewed recalled a lack of support from Microsoft, while another called the culture a “lower-key death by a thousand papercuts version of sexism.”

Sony has finally announced an Xbox Game Pass competitor in the form of a new PlayStation Plus subscription model. Instead of separate PS Plus and PS now subscriptions, Sony announced a tiered PlayStation Plus pricing structure. PS Plus Essential ($9.99/month) will provide the same benefits as the current service, which includes two downloadable games per month, discounts, and online multiplayer access. PS Plus Extra ($14.99/month) will allow players access to an additional catalog of 400 downloadable PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 games. PS Plus Premium (17.99/month) will give subscribers access to previous rewards, and an additional 340 streamable games from earlier console generations. Notably, the new PS Plus structure does not include first-party games that simultaneously launch at retail and on PS Plus. The new subscription tiers will be available beginning in June.

Bungie filed lawsuits against ten unnamed defendants after they allegedly sent out a number of fraudulent DCMA takedown notices against Destiny content creators on YouTube. Bungie said the videos weren’t actually infringing any of its content policies, and that restoring the videos and addressing the issue took significant resources. Bungie’s allegations in the lawsuit include fraud, copyright infringement, and business defamation, among others.

Writer Sam Maggs called out an IGN article on a GDC talk by Insomniac lead designer Mark Stuart, in which Stuart discussed Rivet’s origins in Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, but erased the team members who made Rivet possible. Maggs, Rivet’s lead writer, went on to detail the process of creating Rivet, including the struggle of even getting Rivet into the final cut of the game. The IGN article has since been updated.

The sequel to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be delayed until Spring 2023, Nintendo announced on March 29. This is perhaps not entirely surprising, given the lack of information around the game as well as the lack of official title.

Four Quarters, the Russian indie developer behind hit RPG Loop Hero, told users to pirate the game if they cannot find a way to legally purchase it. Developers and players are both bearing the brunt of sanctions against Russia in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Because of the sanctions, many players in Russia are unable to buy games, and developers in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine are unable to receive payouts from Steam.

Epic Games launched Fortnite Zero Build, a version of Fortnite that includes all of the battle royale and none of the building.

Manga publisher Shueisha has launched Shueisha Games. Shueisha is the publisher behind Shonen Jump, which serializes many of the most popular manga series, including One PieceMy Hero Academia, and Jujutsu Kaisen.

Brandon Sanderson, known for his Mistborn and Stormlight Archive novels, may be the next fantasy author to work with publisher Bandai Namco.

And lastly, in news that was for me, lover of fitness video games, specifically, Koch Media announced Let’s Get Fit, in which players can enjoy pre-made and custom workouts. Let’s Get Fit will release on May 13.

If you made it this far, please enjoy my two favorite Elden Ring memes from last week.