Tag Archives: Gaming

Activision Blizzard® –

The lovechild of communism and capitalism?

Yes, it’s been a while and yes, I said I wanted to work on more reviews over the summer break. As per usual my plans came to a hold due to some family stuff. And just as I came back and started working on one of said reviews, I stumbled upon this gem of a disaster…

Part of the following topic would usually be something I don’t report on or write about: the ‘Revolution of our Times’ in Hong Kong – a movement started by students in protest to the supposedly non-democratic elections held in Hong Kong even though the people were promised fair elections. There is a reason as to why I would avoid a topic as this because I am usually not too interested in politics which has more to do with my disgust towards lobbyism more so than anything else. But this movement has crept into a topic I very much enjoy covering, which is gaming. So how does all of this connect? 

Back when I decided to write about gaming – long before my time at eMAG – I figured it would be mostly limited to a few reviews here and there about some indie games. But the more you get invested in a topic, the deeper you dig and not long before the whole cesspool of drama within the industry and scene would unfold – topics for articles for another time when I’m bored. But I have never quite lost my interest in the gaming scene, as you can probably tell from one of my last articles. I mentioned that one of my favourite companies there is Activision Blizzard. Years ago, when it was still only known as ‘Blizzard’, their major contributions to the gaming world consisted of the Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo series. The company was known to have high standards in regards to development; trying out new things but always keeping the consumer their first priority. A goal that was highly regarded by the community and has always been at the heart of the company so much so that outside the Blizzard headquarters you can see a statue and three plaques that read:

Think Globally; Lead Responsibly; Every Voice Matters.

Back in 2012, with the release of ‘Diablo 3’ the company probably hit the biggest controversy with the introduction of what they called the “Auction House“. A virtual place in-game where you could spend money to buy gear off of other players to help your own character – with a cut of the money going directly into the company’s pockets. In theory sounds like a really cool idea, right? It all depends on the implementation and that’s when Activision Blizzard first poked the bee hive that is their own community and comments on their greediness arose. The whole idea of directly buying power in-game with your hard earned cash seemed ridiculous because why would you even want to spend money to basically avoid playing the game as the whole point of Diablo was to find gear for your character. And that’s where the dilemma of being consumer or community-friendly and being a corporation at the same time first started to peek for Activision Blizzard. The chances of getting any sort of loot where so abysmal that if you wanted to complete the game many people felt like they were forced to buy gear.

A few years later a new hit struck the market: Hearthstone. And the trend continued. With Hearthstone being what it is, a digital card game, a lot of players voiced their unhappiness after a while as to why it was necessary to have so many unnecessarily bad cards in their – just inflating the pool of potential cards to draw from with each booster pack and in turn making it less likely to get the cards you want and need to play competitively. I’m not going into detail here about the monetisation system behind the games and how the booster packs are basically just loot boxes because that will be an entire article in and of itself. It shall serve simply as a showcase of how the consumers have directly been affected by the changes over the last 2 decades even by one of the companies known to be the most consumer friendly.

There have been more subtle changes as well over the years, though. Some of these changes more obvious than others to the players, the consumers and the critics. The most important little detail here is most likely that a Chinese gaming company called Tencent bought up 5% of Blizzard’s stock in 2007. Combine that with the ever growing business potential that is growing in China and you see why a largescale company would have a vested interest in keeping their Asian shareholders happy. And that is exactly what Activision Blizzard tried last week when during an interview with the professional gamer ‘Blitzchung’ who won in a tournament – ‘The Grandmasters Asia-Pacific’ of aforementioned Hearthstone. The games as well as the interview were streamed live over the internet. Blitzchung went on in his interview to ask if he could say some lines of his own. The interviewers very reluctantly agreed and Blitzchung went on to speak out for the Hong Kong movement:

Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our Times.

Something that I would assume strikes most of the Western audience as something totally relatable. And I get that there are cultural differences which is why the casters and interviewers probably saw it coming and were not too happy to be associated with said statement. The response by Activision Blizzard followed within minutes. The livestream went down and later on it was announced that the official winner Blitzchung would be stripped of his well-earned title, the prize money and the right to now on compete in the tournaments to come. The casters were struck with a similar fate in that their contracts were terminated immediately followed by a very clear statement to the public (taken from rockpapershotgun.com)

Hearthstone’s official Weibo wrote that they “express our strong indignation [or resentment] and condemnation of the events” and “will protect [or safeguard] our national dignity [or honour].”

While the Western audiences got the bare minimum excuse of a legal statement within the rules of conduct for the tournament in which Blizzard hinted at a paragraph that explains they kept the right to remove any player that damages the company’s image (taken from blizzard.com)

“Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.

There is no doubt what image could potentially have been damaged here. The image in the eyes of the Communist Party of China. I guess it is important to know here that the Communist Party is known to censor content they might dislike on a whim. Don’t believe me? They banned Winnie the Pooh because of comparisons made to their president Xi. Banning an entire video is the least of their problems. There is an entire procedure for gaming companies that they have to undergo before their product will be listed for the Chinese market as far as I know. So a company as Blizzard that tries to make as much cash as humanly possible with Asian shareholders on their board has no other interest here than trying to please the Chinese market that is just such a lucrative opportunity for any company nowadays.

So I definitely have to give Activision Blizzard credit where credit is due. They certainly still uphold their value of „Thinking globally“ albeit maybe oriented a bit too far to the east currently. But they seemed to have censored their own ideas of Leading Responsibly or making Every Voice Matter anymore.

This article should really only serve as a quick introduction to what is happening here with the American corporations and the Chinese censorship that is creeping into all sorts of media. If I somehow managed to get you interested in what’s going on here, have a look at some of the professionals’ works like
– Jim Sterling’s Jimquisition on this topic on YouTube

– RockPaperShotgun
– IGN

for more news on the gaming related side of things and basically all big news outlets for the Hong Kong protests directly or Amnesty International. The organisation focusing solely on Human Rights worldwide.

Addendum: After I had been done writing this piece and had everything set up to post it, there had been more news on the whole topic which I thought would be worthwhile including. In particular, the US congress agreed on writing a letter to the CEO of Activision Blizzard, Bobby Kotick, in which it stated:
“We write to express our deep concern about Activision Blizzard’s decision to make player Ng Way Chung forfeit prize money and ban him from participating in tournaments for a year after he voiced support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The decision is particularly concerning in light of the Chinese government’s growing appetite for pressuring American businesses to help stifle free speech.”
Seeing how the US congress or any government have never really showed any concern for what happened in the gaming industry (with a slight movement in the right direction towards loot boxes, to be fair) it came quite surprising to see quite a few members of the congress speak out and sign this letter; namely: Ron Wyden, Marco Rubio, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Gallagher, and Tom Malinowski.

Text by Tobias Lorenz
Picture by Kevin Muto from Pixabay

GamesCom

The Heart of Gaming

Muslims have Mecca. Metalheads have Wacken. Gamers have GamesCom. Yes, it was this time of year again. Gamers from all around the world have flooded the exhibition halls of the Koelnmesse in Cologne for the 11th time now. But not only them but also developers, publishers, cosplayers and so many more that hold gaming dear to their hearts. On an area of 218,000 m² – roughly 30 football fields in size – 373,000 nerds have come together. Me being one of them…

Anime, Cosplay1 and Gaming

This year has been my third year in a row to attend GamesCom and seeing how my favourite games publisher, Activsion Blizzard, did not have a stage or booth I decided to go there rather unprepared. I had no list of things I desperately wanted to see. (I’ll admit, I would have sold my soul in a heartbeat to get to play Cyberpunk but alas, the queue was so quickly filled up every day that I decided it wouldn’t be worth the wait.) So my first day pretty much consisted only of strolling through the exhibition area, admiring some of the work developers have put into their stage presence and was blown away by some of the amazing cosplays – albeit a lot of it from League of Legends. The sheer time energy and dedication people must have put into some of these outfits is stunning. So I sat there in front of the ‘Cosplay stage’ until the cosplay dance off started which was hilarious to watch. But in a good way. Major props to everyone who took part in this event and so gladly embarrassed themselves!

Statue of Sylvana. Character in World of Warcraft by Blizzard Entertainment.

But this was only a really small part of what has been shown. There have been entire halls filled just with merchandise for all sorts of games, mangas, comics and even gaming soundtracks. Another hall was dedicated entirely to indie games where smaller studios or sometimes even one-man-projects showcased their games on a single computer. Ironically enough, I got stuck on Nanotale, the successor to Epistory. A game that is entirely about typing words which will then appear in the game world so you can continue onward on your journey. I guess writing is following me even into my video games. But there has been one thing I low-key had been excited for: the advancement on VR. Seeing how Valve released their latest headset just a few weeks ago with some major improvements on tracking, I was curious about its competition. At the GamesCom in 2017, there was an entire hall dedicated to VR, headsets, games and programs to be showcased to the masses. Queues so long you had to sign up a day before for a mere 5 minutes of playtime. Fast forward to 2019 and you would only find a few indie developers or universities that specialize in game development with some neat little VR features. Walking on a plank with a simulated abyss beneath you, for example. Back then I already got into some heated debates with my fellow gaming friends about whether VR is the future of gaming and I always saw it just as a gimmick but nothing more. I’m a bit sad now that I might have been right but who knows. Maybe it’s just the calm before the storm.

But that’s not what most of the people have been there for. Apart from Cyberpunk by CD Projekt Red, the other major titles represented there have been Monster Hunter: Iceborne – the upcoming expansion to Monster Hunter World – as well as Borderlands 3. Impossible for a regular mortal to get into any of these exhibition booths unless you’d want to wait for 10 hours straight.

Statue of the Elder Dragon “Teostra”. Monster in Monster Hunter by Bandai Namco.

eSports

I had some time to kill on my second day to see some presentations by ‘THQ Nordic’ which I mostly watched because they have fantastic stage presence and really showed their games and interacted with the crowd. So in the meantime, I had dropped by a Super Smash² eSports-tournament by Nintendo. Damn, these people are good. For all the uninitiated: eSports is the term given to tournaments and the scene surrounding sporting events that take place entirely on virtual playgrounds. While still being chuckled about by most people, there are reports within the industry that by 2022 eSports will have grown to the size of the NFL in terms of people following it and money spent on the events by sponsors. The comparison is quite apt in my opinion. There are already tournaments like ‘The International‘ that can be compared to something like the Super Bowl. Back in 2011, the first ‘International’ was being held by Valve for the game DotA 2³ with – for that time – an astounding amount of 1 million dollars in price money. This was groundbreaking news for the scene as for the first time ever such an amount of money was thrown at a tournament and from there on it only continued to grow. In 2019, the price money reached a staggering 34 million dollars. And within the fanbase, it already has reached the status of something like the Super Bowl. A lot of viewers and supporters don’t actually play the game anymore themselves but still are excited as ever for that one week every year to cheer for their team. Yes, I’m talking from experience here.

Statue of Solaire, praising the sun. Character from Dark Souls 1 by From Software.

Gaming and politics

As we are already on the note of America here, I want to tackle a more serious topic. Video games are constantly under fire by mass media after killing sprees. Usually criticized by politicians, Donald Trump has been the most infamous recently to do so after the attacks in El Paso in which 22 innocent people have been killed; several more injured. In a response, Trump gave a speech in which he blamed video games as a reason for domestic terrorism.“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this.”, so Trump in his speech 5th August. I am sick of this nonsensical rhetoric that has been proven wrong so many times now and neither will I let a talking orange with a wig destroy part of my gaming culture. In a country where video games are as easily obtained as real weapons of war, you can not go around spouting these idiotic paroles just to defend the biggest lobby in your country. Lobby-ism is all that Trumps politic has been about for the past years and he shows no different face in this matter.

But let me tell you: It’s not the pixel-guns on a screen that kill people. It’s the actual guns sold in American stores that do. So start policing that shit maybe?

Should I give you an example on how ludicrous this has gotten? After the aforementioned shooting that happened in a Walmart, the chain decided to remove “all signs, displays or videos that depict violence in an internal memo.” This decision led to all video games, consoles and movies above a certain age rating to be removed from the stores while happily continuing to sell guns. (Source: https://www.npr.org/)
This whole discussion that is being stirred up by politicians so eagerly has only one purpose: To move attention away from the actual problem. The guns.

Fuck redneck rhetoric! Fuck white supremacy!
All hail to my fellow nerds!

Annotations

1: Cosplay = a showcase of an anime, manga or video game character in costume and behaviour.
2: Super Smash = A popular fighting game by Nintendo with playable characters from many different games. Very popular as a casual party game with a massive professional scene behind it for years now.
3: DotA 2 = short for Defence of the Ancients 2. A videogame by Valve Entertainment that belongs to the genre of Mobas in which you take on the role of a character together with your team and try to defeat the base structure of the enemy team.

Text and pictures by Tobias Lorenz