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Nintendo exec on E3, streaming and game delays – TechCrunch

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This year’s E3 was a bit of a mixed bag. Sony was completely absent, Microsoft was looking toward the future and Nintendo, as ever, was all about the games. The show came at an odd time in Nintendo’s release cycle.

The company recently spilled all the details about soon-to-be-released titles Mario Maker 2 and Pokémon Sword and Shield, making Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Luigi’s Mansion 3 the foundations of the company’s big Nintendo Direct unveil on Tuesday morning.

The long-awaited Animal Crossing title, sadly, came with the caveat that players are going to have to wait until even longer (2020), but the company had plenty of playable titles at the show, including the Link’s Awakening remaster and the aforementioned Luigi sequel. That featured arguably was the surprise hit of the show, Gooigi — which, as the portmanteau suggests, is indeed a gooey version of Luigi.

Absent during the event were any new hardware announcements and any new news on the fourth Metroid Prime. The company did, however, have a major surprise up its sleeve in the form of a teaser trailer for an unnamed sequel for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

We sat down with Nintendo’s Senior Director, Corporate Communications Charlie Scibetta following the big unveils to discuss the company’s take on streaming, mobile and what things look like following the departure of Reggie Fils-Aimé.

TC: I wanted to start off by talking about some broader trends. Microsoft, Sony and even Apple see streaming as being the future of gaming. Where does Nintendo come down on that, from both the point of potential hardware agnosticism and subscribing versus buying?

CS: Streaming is certainly interesting technology. Nintendo is keeping a close eye on it and we’re evaluating it. We don’t have anything to announce right now in terms of adopting that technology. For us, it’s still physical and it’s digital downloads through our eShop. Certainly a lot of downloadable content to keep the games fresh, but in terms of streaming as a way to run the games, we don’t have anything to announce on that front.

TC: Hardware’s always been a big differentiator for Nintendo. Do you think we’re moving toward a point of hardware agnosticism? Or is hardware going to be a major differentiator for Nintendo?

CS: Well, we think our games really come to life best on our hardware because our software and hardware developers work closely together to make the best performing game based off the way to bring that software to life. You go back to the Wii, for example, the way it brought tennis and bowling to life was with motion control. That really worked well for that, it was a launch title that came with every system that really sold the system because you understood the value proposition right away. Just even by walking by somebody that was playing that you understood it, and we think we caught lightening in a bottle the same way with Nintendo Switch because it’s a whole console you can play at home, enjoy on a big screen TV, and then you can take it with you.

And the market has responded. As of the end of our fiscal year which, ended in March 2019, we sold over 34 million units worldwide. Fourteen million in North America. People are buying the software. This past fiscal year extended over 70% more software than the previous year, over 23% more hardware. So, people are buying the games to play on the system. And a show like this, at E3, is all about showcasing the games that are going to power that system. So for us, it’s about unveiling games and getting people to interact with the games. They’re going to have a good time on the system.

TC: Obviously the line has softened a little bit on Nintendo’s stance when it comes to mobile. The company had taken a very hard line against that of only offering gaming experiences on first party hardware. How important is mobile? How important are iOS and Android, to Nintendo’s play going forward?

CS: Mobile is very important to Nintendo. You’re right that we did not participate with mobile gaming for a lot of years, but we have jumped in headfirst now and are bringing a lot of our most valuable IP to mobile — Mario Kart being the one that’s upcoming. And what we like about it is, as I was talking about with the combination of the hardware and the software, we only bring the software to mobile that we think you can really play well on a mobile device with the control speed that a phone offers, so not every single IP is appropriate. The ones that have come out are the ones that our developers have determined are appropriate for that. So people can have a good time with our IP on a mobile device.

TC: Sony’s absence looms large on the show. It’s shifted some focus and the spatial dynamic in this hall. Nintendo obviously made a shift into Direct and Treehouse, so all of the content is being fed to the general public, and us as well. How important are shows like this for Nintendo?

CS: We’ve been to many E3s. We’re a supporter of the show. We think it’s a great way for us to interact with people, like yourself, journalists, influencers who make YouTube videos, retail partners and, most importantly, most recently, with consumers. We like seeing the reactions of consumers to our games in the booth. We do interviews here and try to bring those game to life by explaining more; the Treehouse Live approach is nice because we do a Nintendo Direct the morning on the first day. Then, we go deeper on those games with people that are interested in those with our experts and with developers.

We think it’s a great way to showcase, not only our offerings and what the industry is as a whole. We’re part of the industry, so we support the show. Other companies have to make their own decisions based on what’s right for them, but for us, we like E3. We think it does a great job of helping connect us with the consumers and the people that cover the industry so they can learn about the products.

TC: Doug [Bowser] took over for Reggie [Fils-Aimé]. Any time that happens, even with a really large company, it tends to be a good opportunity to reassess things, rethink things, look at the broader context. Do you see there being any change in direction or a reassessment of the role that Nintendo is playing in the industry at the moment?

CS: Reggie was a great leader for us for a lot of years. We wish him well and he’s still a fan, in his own words. He said he’ll always be a Nintendo fan, so he’s always going to be with us. Doug is an industry veteran himself and he’d been with many companies and he’s been at Nintendo for over four years, so he’s well-grounded in the way that we do marketing. I would say that thing that hasn’t changed is that we’re a product-first company. We always like to bring our messages back to what is the game about, how does it make you feel, what is the emotion we want to generate with that game, and so Doug is really carrying on the legacy of Reggie and others that went before him.

TC: There have been a lot of rumors about a Switch Lite and Pro, having the devoted portable, and things of that nature. Does it make sense to have a Switch that is purely portable? How integral is that hybrid experience? And are we getting close to or approaching that point of the life cycle when it’s time to start thinking about new versions of the hardware?

CS: We have nothing to announce at this show in terms of new hardware. We do have over 2,000 games available right now. So we think as long as we have great games to power, the system is going to have a good life. Our developers will have to make the decision when they think that it’s time for new hardware to bring whatever their creative ideas are to life. That’s really what drives the decision on when it’s time for new hardware. Is there something that can’t be done for their creative vision with the current hardware?

Then they take it in a different direction. In the case of the Nintendo Switch, obviously we have the Wii U and our developers wanted to start thinking of gaming in a different direction where you can take it on the go, any time, or you can play at home. So, that’s why the Nintendo Switch was created. That’s why they married the software and the hardware that way. There’s nothing to announce in terms of where we want to go for the future, because right now, what we have on our hands is working really well.

TC: What happened specifically with Animal Crossing? Clearly no one’s really psyched when a game gets delayed. Is there any kind of info you can give, just in terms of why it’s being pushed back to 2020?

CS: We’re not going to put a game out before we think it’s ready to be enjoyed by fans. In the case of a franchise, like Animal Crossing, that has so many loyal fans, we’d be doing them a disservice if we put out a product that was rushed. So it’s a difficult decision for a company to make to move a ship date out. We think moving to March 20 of next year was the right decision, because we needed to give the development team enough time to make it the game we want to make. So, that’s been the Nintendo approach from the beginning and it’s something that we’re going to continue to do. We’re not going to rush a game out until it’s ready because we want to keep that quality bar high.

TC: Metroid [Prime 4] was kind of conspicuously absent. Is there any update on that end?

CS: It’s in the hands of Retro now; they certainly have a historic history with that franchise. They do a great job with it and we’re looking forward to what they do with this version of it. But there’s nothing new in terms of any ship date or any details about the game.

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My latest co-op multiplayer obsession is Raft, the game where you build a raft

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Enlarge / Raft is developed by Redbeet Interactive and published by Axolot Games.

Redbeet Interactive

My co-op gaming group has logged a few hundred extra hours in Deep Rock Galactic since I wrote about it a year and a half ago, but we’re always looking for another game to fall in love with.

We’ve tried a bunch of things in the last year, guided by a combination of positive reviews and “whatever is on sale in Steam at the time.” We’ve logged time in Back 4 BloodPayday 2Warhammer: Vermintide 2, Sea of Thieves, Diablo IIIRisk of Rain 2, and Borderlands 3, and each has had its charms. But the one that has stuck with me the most is called Raft, a game about building a raft.

Raft isn’t new—it went into Early Access in 2018—but its formal 1.0 release happened this past June. The pitch: You begin the game drifting across an endless ocean on a tiny wooden raft cobbled together from flotsam and jetsam. Armed with only a trusty throwable plastic hook, you must comb the ocean for planks, plastic, and other bits of scrap that you can use to expand your raft and stay alive. And once you’re no longer in constant danger of starving to death (and once you can steer your raft instead of just letting it drift), you can begin sailing to the world’s remaining islands to figure out what happened to everyone else.

Bits of trash dot the water around you—from these, your empire will be painstakingly constructed.
Enlarge / Bits of trash dot the water around you—from these, your empire will be painstakingly constructed.

Andrew Cunningham

The surest sign that you’ll like Raft is if you like Minecraft (or if you want to like Minecraft but find its general aimlessness frustrating instead of freeing). Building is all done on a grid system, you’re constantly combining and recombining materials to build and improve your tools, and the way the game gradually advances from an early survival-horror phase to a more free-form building-and-exploration phase is distinctly Minecraft-y. The game includes combat, and what is here feels fine (it flows a lot better than the clunky, boring combat in Sea of Thieves), but it’s all subordinate to building, exploring, and resource gathering.

The crafting UI and inventory management are dense and kind of clunky, in a (mostly) endearing, <em>Minecraft</em>-meets-<em>Animal Crossing</em> kind of way.
Enlarge / The crafting UI and inventory management are dense and kind of clunky, in a (mostly) endearing, Minecraft-meets-Animal Crossing kind of way.

Andrew Cunningham

In the early game, you’ll be driven almost exclusively by hunger and thirst. The two meters are ticking down all the time, and starving or dehydrating will slow you down and eventually sap your health until you die (you can always revive or respawn, but the former requires a teammate to haul you to a bed on your raft and the latter comes at the cost of 2/3 of your inventory at normal difficulty). Further complication circles you in the form of an aggressive and omnipresent shark, which is always ready to bite you if you hop in the water (or to take a bite out of your raft, if you’re out of its reach).

You can play solo, but the game is less intimidating with friends—it means more mouths to feed, but you also don’t need to stop collecting precious planks and palm leaves so you can take a break to fish or refill your water desalinization rig. There are no specific character classes, but there’s enough to do that you and up to three of your friends can find a distinct lane depending on what you like the most. I focus mostly on actual raft construction and caring for our steadily growing menagerie of domesticated animals, while others in our group prefer navigating, collecting food and materials, and advancing the game’s tech tree.

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Activision pays $35M SEC settlement over workplace misconduct disclosures

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Enlarge / Taking a close look…

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced Friday that Activision Blizzard has agreed to pay $35 million to settle a probe into the company’s handling of widespread workplace harassment and discrimination allegations.

In an administrative order, the SEC said that complaints of workplace misconduct at Activision Blizzard “were not collected or analyzed for disclosure purposes” since at least 2018. This left Activision Blizzard management “lacking sufficient information to understand the volume and substance of employee complaints of workplace misconduct,” and therefore unable to warn investors of any potential business risks those complaints entailed.

The SEC also found that Activision asked departing employees to enter into “separation agreements” that illegally asked those employees “to notify Activision Blizzard of any requests from an administrative agency in connection with a report or complaint.” That violates SEC rules designed to protect whistleblowers and prohibit employers from impeding employee complaints to government agencies.

The SEC says Activision started implementing “company-wide structural changes” on workplace misconduct complaints starting in May of 2020 and changed its separation agreement language in early 2022.

By settling these matters out of court, Activision avoids any formal admission of wrongdoing. “We are pleased to have amicably resolved this matter,” Activision Blizzard said in a statement provided to Ars Technica. “As the order recognizes, we have enhanced our disclosure processes with regard to workplace reporting and updated our separation contract language. We did so as part of our continuing commitment to operational excellence and transparency. Activision Blizzard is confident in its workplace disclosures.”

Despite the size of the settlement, the payment represents less than 0.4 percent of Activision Blizzard’s $8.8 billion in annual revenue (as of 2021) and, thus, will likely have a minimal impact on the company’s bottom line. Settling the matter out of court also means the complaint is no longer a potential complication for Microsoft’s planned $69 billion acquisition of Activision, which is facing its own government headwinds from the Federal Trade Commission.

Today’s settlement follows an $18 million settlement the company reached with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2021, just a day after that complaint was filed.

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Did Billy Mitchell use this illicit joystick to set a Donkey Kong high score?

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Mitchell (right) at the 2007 FAMB convention with former Twin Galaxies referee Todd Rogers and what appears to be a Donkey Kong cabinet with a modified joystick.

Over the years, King of Kong star Billy Mitchell has seen his world-record Donkey Kong scores stripped, partially reinstated, and endlessly litigated, both in actual court and the court of public opinion. Through it all, Mitchell has insisted that every one of his records was set on unmodified Donkey Kong arcade hardware, despite some convincing technical evidence to the contrary.

Now, new photos from a 2007 performance by Mitchell seem to show obvious modifications to the machine used to earn at least one of those scores, a fascinating new piece of evidence in the long, contentious battle over Mitchell’s place in Donkey Kong score-chasing history.

The telltale joystick

The photos in question were taken at the Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers (FAMB) Convention, which hosted Mitchell as part of its “80s Arcade Night” promotion in July 2007. Mitchell claims to have achieved a score of 1,050,200 points at that event, a performance that was recognized by adjudicator Twin Galaxies as a world record at the time (but which by now would barely crack the top 30).

In his defamation case against Twin Galaxies, Mitchell includes testimony from several purported witnesses to his FAMB performance. That includes former Twin Galaxies referee Todd Rogers (who was later also banned from Twin Galaxies), who testified that the machine used at the event was “an original Nintendo Donkey Kong Arcade machine as I have known since 1981.”

Another angle showing Mitchell, Rogers, and Ritch Workman in front of the seemingly modified <em>Donkey Kong</em> cabinet.

Another angle showing Mitchell, Rogers, and Ritch Workman in front of the seemingly modified Donkey Kong cabinet.

But the pictures from the FAMB convention, made public by fellow high-score-chaser David Race last month, raise additional questions about that claim, thanks to what Race calls a “glaringly non-original joystick” seen in the machine shown in those photos.

Original upright Donkey Kong arcade cabinets were shipped with a distinctive short joystick with a prominent black ball atop a silver metal stick (close-up available here). But the machine behind Mitchell in the recently released FAMB photos clearly shows a taller joystick with a red ball and stick.

The joystick shown in the FAMB photos (left, zoomed in for detail) vs. the joystick on an unmodified <em>Donkey Kong</em> cabinet (right).
Enlarge / The joystick shown in the FAMB photos (left, zoomed in for detail) vs. the joystick on an unmodified Donkey Kong cabinet (right).

Use of a non-original joystick would violate Twin Galaxies’ Donkey Kong rules, which require games be played with “an original stock 4-way Donkey Kong arcade joystick, or a replacement 4-way joystick of exact size and shape as the original Donkey Kong arcade game joystick.” Twin Galaxies’ also requires “a wide image of the game’s control panel” in any record recording to verify this. And archived rules discussions also suggest that players of that era knew cabinets with aftermarket joysticks were known to be unacceptable, even if the core arcade board had authentic Donkey Kong software.

A taller joystick might actually be a hindrance for high-level Donkey Kong play since it requires more physical movement to get the same in-game results. But that disadvantage could be worth it if the controls in question were an eight-way joystick rather than the standard four-way joystick Nintendo shipped on original cabinets. An eight-way joystick mod could give a player an advantage by letting them enter diagonal inputs (e.g., up and left simultaneously), which could speed up transitions after climbing ladders, for instance.

Mitchell also testified in court documents that his FAMB Donkey Kong performance was “visible on a TV above the cabinet to give the guests greater viewing capability.” But while a VCR can be seen above the cabinet in the photos—presumably to record the performance for later verification—no such external display can be seen (though it conceivably could have been brought in for added visibility when Mitchell was actually playing).

In that same testimony package, technician Robert Childs testified that the FAMB score was achieved using “my same Donkey Kong Arcade machine,” which was purportedly used by Mitchell to set a 2004 record of 1,047,200 points in Childs’ warehouse/showroom. Assuming that’s true, the non-standard joystick could also further jeopardize that performance’s place in the record books.

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