Another week, another Wednesday! I’ve been holed up in my room recovering from a mild brush with covid that has led to me playing 17 entire hours of Age of Mythology: Extended Edition. I used to love this game growing up, and was surprised to learn that I actually suck at it. I’m struggling on moderate difficulty. Now that I think about it, I spent a lot of time spamming cheats for armies of Canadian laser bears and flying rainbow hippos (if you know, you know), which is probably why I was always successful.

Anyway, let’s talk about the news!

BioWare Layoffs and Other Union News

My trepidation about Dragon Age: Dreadwolf—not to mention my ever-increasing fury about the volatility of employment in the games industry—has increased this week with the news that BioWare is laying off around 50 employees. Studio manager Gary McKay stated in a blog post that the move is intended to “preserve the health of the studio and better enable us to do what we do best: create exceptional story-driven single-player experiences filled with vast worlds and rich characters.”

That’s interesting, given that the layoffs include multiple high-profile writers at the company, and a number of others have left in recent memory, including senior creative director Matt Goldman, who had been with the studio for 23 years, and production director Mac Walters, who had been with the studio for 19 years.

Shortly following the layoff announcement, former lead writer and setting creator for the Dragon Age series David Gaider tweeted that Lukas Kristjanson was one of the laid off employees. Kristjanson had been with the company since the original Baldur’s Gate, and is credited with writing beloved characters like Mass Effect‘s Joker.

Likewise, Mary Kirby, who had been with the company since 2006 and is credited with the writing behind fan-favorite Dragon Age character Varric, has also been laid off. According to Eurogamer, this has led to speculation that mid- and senior-level employees were targeted in the layoffs, potentially because they are likely to be paid more than lower-level employees.

Whatever the reality is, it’s not filling me with hope about the future of Dreadwolf, nor BioWare as a whole. The studio’s games have never been perfect, but they’ve always captured my attention on the strength of their writing. With so many people leaving—and referring to the infamous “BioWare magic” of crunch as bullshit—and now even more being fired, that reputation for strong writing may be in jeopardy.

In better news, workers at Workinman Interactive, which has worked on a number of children’s and media tie-in games with companies like Nickelodeon, Disney, and Universal, have voted to unionize as part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). This historic vote makes Workinman the first union for video game workers associated with IATSE. The union has filed a petition for recognition with the National Labor Relations Board.

And Dropout.TV, the independent media network behind hits like Game Changer and Dimension 20, is back in production. The studio went on hold during the early stages of the writers and SAG-AFTRA strikes, but are now back to work after discussions with lawyers and SAG-AFTRA revealed that the omission of their specific contract—the New Media Agreement for Non-Dramatic Programming—from a list of non-struck contracts did not mean that they were in fact struck.

As Dropout studio owner and CEO Sam Reich points out in the above Twitter thread, the fact that smaller streaming services like theirs are able to continue working during these strikes is testament to the fact that larger companies like Netflix are able to product content that fits within the demands of the striking workers, but choose not to. In fact, in a previous thread about the ongoing strikes, Reich included an Instagram post from a Dropout performer who stated that they were paid more by the independent company than they were by Netflix, which had a gross profit of around $12.5 billion in 2022.

Because Dropout, an independent network supported by $60/year subscriptions, is able to pay higher than SAG minimums, the logic goes that Netflix and other big players in the media industry should be able to as well. That they don’t is evidence of corporate greed.

Local Gaming Store Loses $300,000 in Magic: The Gathering Cards to Theft at Gen Con

Days before Gen Con was set to begin, Pastimes Comics & Games, a retailer and tabletop tournament organizer, had a pallet full of some $300,000 in Magic: the Gathering cards stolen from their booth. The theft took place when exhibitors were setting up and before doors were open to the public, leading to suspicion that another exhibitor may have been behind the theft. Indianapolis police released images of the alleged thieves, asking for public help in identifying them.

On August 14, the police department identified and named two persons of interest: Andrew Pearson Giaume and Thomas J. Dunbar, and released several more photos. Giaume and Dunbar are designers on Castle Assault, a strategy card game that raised almost $34,000 on Kickstarter in 2015. One of the men in the photos appears to be wearing a t-shirt with the game’s logo.

As of August 18, Indianapolis police stated that they were in contact with Dunbar and Giaume’s attorneys and that charges could be brought against them.

Overwatch‘s Steam Release Is Not Going Well

This headline kind of says it all: Overwatch 2 is now Steam’s “worst game of all time.”

As with many user-reviewed games, that’s not necessarily because of the game’s quality. Overwatch 2 is being review-bombed for complaints ranging from the lack of content to balance issues and expensive skins, especially as the free-to-play sequel entirely replaced the paid original.

Daniel Ahmad, director of research and insights at a video game market intelligence research company, pointed out on Twitter that over half of these reviews are written in S. Chinese (i.e., Chinese using simplified characters), and just shy of 100% of those reviews are negative. Ahmad suggests that while many of these complaints align with those from other regions of the world, there’s an additional wrinkle—earlier this year, Blizzard’s partnership with NetEase ended, and Blizzard games can no longer be distributed in China. With the Steam release, players in China can now access the game again, but many of the complaints in Chinese discuss the lack of a national server and poor connection. According to Ahmad, the nature of these complaints suggests irritation with Blizzard and the company’s failure to make a deal to keep their games available in China.

In other news…

Charles Martinet, beloved voice actor behind Mario, has given us his last “It’s-a me!” Martinet is retiring from the role he has voiced in various appearances since 1991. His last appearance as Mario is in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope. We can only cross our fingers that Nintendo is not planning to replace him with AI or Chris Pratt.

Ed. note: Ben Starr, voice of Clive in Final Fantasy XVI, has made a pretty convincing case to become the voice of the next Mario.

 

Fortnite‘s new promotion features art that looks… familiar… as ATLUS West pointed out on Twitter.

In yet another blow to the gaming press, G/O Media has fired Kotaku editor in chief Patricia Hernandez. Hernandez stated in an interview with Shannon Liao that she will focus on freelance writing. As editor in chief of Kotaku, Hernandez was likely not part of the GMG Union, which covers many non-executive employees at G/O Media. As the GMG Union noted on Twitter, Hernandez is just one of many former editors in chief who have left G/O Media recently.

Dmitry Glukhovsky, author of the Metro series that inspired Metro 2033, has been sentenced to eight years in prison for violating a Russian law passed after the country’s invasion of Ukraine that would punish anybody spreading “misinformation” that goes against Russia’s narrative on the war. Glukhovsky, who is not currently in Russia and was tried in absentia, has been publicly critical of the war and Russian president Vladimir Putin, calling him “terrible and inhuman.”

Larian, the developer of Baldur’s Gate 3, is updating the game to include the full list of localization staff who worked on it. According to the studio, they were provided with an incomplete list of staff by the localization firm.

In “surprise bitch, bet you’d seen the last of me,” news, Hamilton—yes, the musical—is coming to Roblox. Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? Roblox‘s 66.1 million daily users, apparently.

(I will never be over seeing Alexander Hamilton [Mythical] with my own two eyes.)