Welcome to Wednesday! I’m Melissa, who hasn’t played a video game that isn’t for my phone in weeks (I’ll return to you someday soon, Final Fantasy XIV). I hope you’re ready for the usual onslaught of Activision Blizzard news, because boy howdy are they ever at it this week.
We Might as Well Just Call This Roundup “What’s Happening at Activision Blizzard?”
After six years (sorry to remind you), Overwatch is finally adding a single Black woman to its roster of hamsters, gorillas, time-traveling lesbians, and dads.
A fierce former Captain of Overwatch equipped with cybernetic abilities.
— Overwatch (@PlayOverwatch) April 13, 2022
Sojourn joins the damage roster for the game, and uses a mixture of straightforward gunfire a la Soldier 76, disruptive abilities like Sombra, and a railgun to aid her team. Back in 2019, Blizzard assured players that they did have a Black woman lined up for the game’s roster, but she wouldn’t be joining until Overwatch 2 for story reasons. Now, three years later, she’s finally be a playable character for the Overwatch 2 beta. Overwatch 2 currently has no release date.
Blizzard has said a lot about why they’ve chosen to hold back on Sojourn: that they didn’t want it to seem as though they were trying to hit a series of diversity checkboxes, that they were trying to avoid pandering, and that they were trying not to rush her development for the sake of pacifying the community.
“I tend to find that there’s always a community upset with us over something,” Kaplan told Kotaku in 2019. It’s not untrue, but there’s a stark difference between fans who want Mei’s ice wall nerfed and Black women who wonder why you can have two sentient animals, several robots, and two Wild West characters before one single Black woman. This all feels especially frustrating six years into Overwatch‘s lifespan, with the game’s popularity waning and ongoing lawsuits about sexual harassment and abuse at Activision Blizzard.
In fact, a mere half hour before Sojourn was announced as a playable character in the beta, Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier published a report that a lawyer working on the Activision Blizzard discrimination suit had claimed that California Governor Gavin Newsom interfered with the lawsuit by firing her boss. Newsom’s office has denied the accusation.
The timing has led many to believe that Sojourn’s announcement was intended to distract from Schreier’s scoop. While there is no way to know for certain—game development takes a long time and Blizzard has been in the news constantly over the past several months—it’s enough to say that Overwatch should have had a Black woman on its roster much sooner, and that Activision Blizzard is a company rife with issues. Both are true, and whether Activision Blizzard had any nefarious intent with the timing of this release is secondary to the fact that the company continues to be enmeshed in controversy because of their treatment of their employees.
We've officially merged with Blizzard Entertainment. Our development team will remain in Albany, NY and fully dedicated to Blizzard games. We invite you to follow us @Blizzard_Ent
— Vicarious Visions (@VvisionsStudio) April 12, 2022
There was some… “good” is perhaps not the word, but there was somewhat less damning news for Activision Blizzard this week. Vicarious Visions, the studio behind the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 remaster as well as a slew of licensed games, have merged with Blizzard after being purchased by Activision in 2005. The company is now known as Blizzard Albany and will work exclusively on Blizzard games.
Activision Blizzard also hired a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, Kristen Hines. Hines previously worked in DE&I for Accenture, a technology company. While Activision Blizzard certainly needs serious cultural shifts that a DE&I specialist could foster, it’s hard to say how much difference one person can make, especially against ABK’s longstanding “frat boy culture.”
Shoutout to the Kingdom Hearts 4 Fans
Kingdom Hearts 4 is coming! I haven’t played a KH game in many years and I have distinct Disney and multiverse fatigue (unless it’s Everything Everywhere All at Once), but damn if my heart doesn’t light up when I see news about Kingdom Hearts. I’m truly happy for y’all.
‼️KINGDOM HEARTS 4 HAS BEEN ANNOUNCED AT THE #KH20th EVENT‼️
What we know so far:
-Trailer has a very serious tone
-The game is shown to be set in Quadratum
-Strelitzia makes an appearance
HOLY SHIT EVERYONE!!!!!!!!! 😭😭😭 pic.twitter.com/ByZdfFP9dj
— ☆オードリーAudrey☆ (@aitaikimochi) April 10, 2022
You can watch the 20th anniversary celebration in its entirety below, with the Kingdom Hearts 4 trailer beginning roughly four minutes in:
Utada Hikaru also filled everyone with a wave of nostalgia at Coachella, performing “Simple and Clean” as part of their set—the first in the US in several years. Enjoy this moment with me and try not to get too weepy:
UTADA HIKARU OPENED WITH SIMPLE AND CLEAN AT COACHELLA AHHHHH!!!!!! I CRIED 😭😭 pic.twitter.com/FE4RCnM9er
— ☆オードリーAudrey☆ (@aitaikimochi) April 17, 2022
In other news…
Randy Pitchford, Gearbox CEO, purchased the Magic Castle. Yes, that one. Pitchford is a magician and has performed throughout his career in video games. The Magic Castle—a clubhouse for magicians located in Los Angeles—is not his first high-profile purchase in the world of magic; he also bought Genii, the top magazine for magic and magic enthusiasts, in 2016.
Dungeons & Dragons publisher Hasbro has purchased D&D Beyond, a digital storefront, character creator, and virtual tabletop specifically for D&D. Hasbro bought the company for $146.3 million in cash.
Digital copies of PlayStation 3 and PS Vita games have been unexpectedly marked “expired” for many players, making them unplayable. The expiration date for these games is set some 50 years in the past, with no explanation from Sony about why games purchased legitimately have suddenly stopped functioning. Last year, Sony attempted to shut down the PS3 and PS Vita storefronts, but opted instead for making credit cards and PayPal unusable. Emma Roth of the Verge suggested that this may be another attempt to force users to stop using these storefronts, but there is no clear answer yet.
Brian X. Chen, technology writer at the New York Times, released an article last week comparing the experience of playing Elden Ring to existing in the COVID-19 pandemic. The piece was, shall we say, not warmly received by gaming writers (as a known Soulslike disliker, I have no opinion), for reasons that included its seemingly strange choice to not use screenshots and instead use photographs of the screen throughout the story. Patrick Klepek, Senior Writer at Waypoint, reached out to the New York Times for comment, and found that the choice was intentional, meant to reflect Chen’s personal experience with the game rather than a polished one.
This week, The New York Times published an Elden Ring article with footage that appeared to be shot off a cell phone. It struck people as strange, because it's incredibly easy to capture footage from a game these days! Since then, I've wondered: uh, why?
I have (some) answers! pic.twitter.com/KSrHgwn2nu
— Patrick Klepek (@patrickklepek) April 15, 2022
Personally, I love this and think more games writing should be conscious of what images they use and how they use them. I was excited enough about this that I’ve already been hit by the “hm, sounds like a pitch” from one of my fellow editors, so I’m going to stop talking about it before one of them comes after me again. Still, read the thread, think about it, it’s neat.
Have a great rest of the week, gamers!
Melissa Brinks is Sidequest’s editor in chief, co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast, author of The Compendium of Magical Beasts, and an aspiring beekeeper. She once won an argument on the internet, and tweets at @MelissaBrinks.