Microsoft signs another ‘Call of Duty’ deal with cloud gaming company Boosteroid

Microsoft announced another ten-year agreement to bring its Xbox game lineup to cloud gaming service Boosteroid. This is Microsoft’s third deal with other gaming platforms as the company is trying to convince regulators that they should approve the acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

Last year, Microsoft announced its intention to buy Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion. Activision Blizzard is one of the largest video game publishers in the world. The company and its internal studios are behind some very popular gaming franchises, such as ‘Call of Duty’, ‘Diablo’, ‘World of Warcraft’ and ‘Candy Crush Saga’.

But Microsoft has run into regulatory challenges in the U.K., the U.S. and the European Union. In particular, European regulators will take a decision on whether to clear or block the acquisition by April 11, 2023. In other words, it’s a matter of days before regulators say Microsoft can move forward.

That’s why Microsoft is announcing long-term commitments to bring ‘Call of Duty’ games and the rest of its catalog to other platforms — not just Xbox gaming consoles. Last month, Microsoft President Brad Smith announced a deal with Nintendo and another deal with Nvidia’s GeForce Now service.

Today, the company is adding a third partner and promises that Microsoft games will be available on Boosteroid for the next ten years. Boosteroid is a relatively small cloud gaming service that works more or less like Nvidia GeForce Now.

Instead of running games on your local device, games run on a gaming-optimized server in a data center near you. The video stream is then sent to your display. When you press a button on your controller, the action is relayed to the server.

Like on Nvidia’s cloud gaming service, the company isn’t a Netflix-like subscription. Instead, users have to buy individual games on online PC stores like Steam and the Epic Games Store. Boosteroid customers pay a monthly subscription fee to access the company’s servers. If they stop their subscription, users still own the games that they bought.

While Boosteroid doesn’t disclose the hardware specifications of its servers, the company promises a resolution of 1080p at 60 frames per second. The service costs €9.89 per month or €89.99 per year ($10.61 and $96.57 at today’s exchange rate respectively).

Originally from Ukraine, Boosteroid has servers in Europe (France, Italy, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and the U.K.) and the U.S. (Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas, Illinois, Florida and Washington). As latency is key for cloud gaming, living near a data center is very important.

Boosteroid says that it has 4 million registered users. The service works in a web browser and the company also has dedicated applications for Windows, macOS, Android, Android TV and Linux. As for Sony, Microsoft hasn’t reached an agreement to make future ‘Call of Duty’ games available on PlayStation consoles.

Microsoft signs another ‘Call of Duty’ deal with cloud gaming company Boosteroid by Romain Dillet originally published on TechCrunch

UK regulator says Microsoft’s proposed $68.7B Activision merger could create ‘higher prices, fewer choices’

Seven months after the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) confirmed it was launching an antitrust investigation into Microsoft’s $68.7 billion bid for video game giant Activision Blizzard, the U.K. regulator has provisionally concluded that the merger “could harm U.K. gamers” through higher prices, fewer choices, or less innovation.

Microsoft first revealed plans for its mega-bucks Activision acquisition last January, a deal that would make Microsoft the third-biggest gaming company in the world by revenue behind Tencent and Sony. More importantly, it would also give Microsoft direct control over well-known franchises such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft.


The deal has garnered significant scrutiny from the get-go, with various bodies around the globe noting that Microsoft could use its clout to limit the distribution of Activision Blizzard games to rival distributors and platforms. The European Union (EU) is currently engaged in an in-depth probe, and reportedly issued Microsoft with a formal warning last week, while the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the U.S is suing to block the deal. The U.K., meanwhile, announced its in-depth investigation back in September, noting at the time that the merger could result in a “substantial lessening of competition” in the U.K. gaming market.

Now, the U.K. has pretty much cemented that hypothesis in stone, saying that if the deal was greenlighted it may strengthen Microsoft’s cloud gaming credentials and stifle competition, leading to higher prices if Microsoft was to drive rival gaming companies out of the market.

Specifically, the CMA said that the deal could weaken Microsoft’s rivalry with Sony, with operates the competing PlayStation console. Call of Duty, for example, is presently available across Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation consoles, among other platforms. World of Warcraft, meanwhile, is currently only available on PCs and Macs. In a world where Microsoft pulls the strings, things could look a lot different.

The CMA’s report said:

The evidence available to the CMA, including data on how Microsoft measures the value of customers in the ordinary course of business, currently indicates that Microsoft would find it commercially beneficial to make Activision’s games exclusive to its own consoles (or only available on PlayStation under materially worse conditions).

The CMA’s provisional findings note that this strategy, of buying gaming studios and making their content exclusive to Microsoft’s platforms, has been used by Microsoft following several previous acquisitions of games studios.

Rima Alaily, Microsoft’s corporate vice president and deputy general counsel, said that the company is committed to giving “easily enforceable solutions” that address the CMA’s competition concerns.

“Our commitment to grant long term 100% equal access to Call of Duty to Sony, Nintendo, Steam and others preserves the deal’s benefits to gamers and developers and increases competition in the market,” she said.

When defining what it means by “100%,” the company clarified that it means parity across content, pricing, features, quality, and playability — but only for a 10-year period. This aligns with commitments the company recently announced regarding its competitors.

In terms of what happens next in the world of Microsoft and Activision, today’s announcement is essentially to solicit a final round of feedback from “interested parties.” This will of course include both Microsoft and Activision Blizzard, as well as competitors, which have until March 1, 2023, to respond, with the CMA sending the two companies a separate report explaining how its concerns can be addressed.

The CMA said it expects to file its final report by April 26, 2023.

In response to today’s announcement, an Activision spokesperson suggested that the CMA may not have fully understood the gaming industry, something it hopes to address in the coming months.

“We hope between now and April we will be able to help the CMA better understand our industry to ensure they can achieve their stated mandate to promote an environment where people can be confident they are getting great choices and fair deals, where competitive, fair-dealing business can innovate and thrive, and where the whole U.K. economy can grow productively and sustainably,” the spokesperson said.


The U.K.’s antitrust authority has raised a number of cases against “big tech” M&A activity in recent times, perhaps most notably against Facebook parent company Meta which was ordered to sell GIF platform Giphy. Facebook had acquired Giphy for $400 million back in 2020, but the CMA asserted that the deal would limit choice for U.K.-based social media users and reduce innovation in display advertising. Despite much protestation, Meta later agreed to divest Giphy.

Microsoft’s multi-billion dollar Activision pursuit is an entirely different proposition, of course, so it’s difficult to know at this juncture what Microsoft and Activision will do if they can’t make the CMA reverse course. But it’s also worth noting that there are multiple regulators looking closely at this transaction, and they may be comparing notes — so today’s verdict could be a sign of what’s to come elsewhere in Europe and the U.S.

“The CMA’s decision, whilst provisional, is notable in that it suggests structural commitments — e.g. divestiture — may be the only way for the merging parties to allay its competition concerns,” said Alex Haffner, competition partner at London-based law firm Fladgate. “This would obviously call into question the strategic rationale for the deal. It is also important because the CMA is one of several regulators considering the transaction, and those regulators will undoubtedly be in close contact with and sharing their competitive assessments one another.

It is clear therefore that Microsoft faces a stiff challenge to get the global regulatory green light for the transaction on terms which it will be able to live with commercially.”

UK regulator says Microsoft’s proposed $68.7B Activision merger could create ‘higher prices, fewer choices’ by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch

Bored Apes creator Yuga Labs appoints Activision’s Daniel Alegre as CEO

Activision Blizzard COO Daniel Alegre is leaving the gaming giant to take over as CEO of Yuga Labs, the company behind the Bored Ape Yacht Club. Yuga’s first and current CEO Nicole Muniz will stay on as a strategic advisor.

“Nicole, Greg, and I have been on the hunt for someone with Daniel’s skill set for some time,” said Yuga co-founder Wylie Aronow in a press release. The crypto company wanted to appoint a gaming veteran as CEO to help work on projects like Otherside, its metaverse gaming platform. As an executive who oversaw franchises like “Call of Duty,” “World of Warcraft” and “Candy Crush,” Alegre fits the bill. He also worked at Google for over sixteen years, in roles such as President of Global and Strategic Partnerships.

In March, prior to crypto meltdowns like the implosion of FTX and Terra’s UST, Yuga Labs raised $450 million from Andreessen Horowitz at a $4 billion valuation. After last month’s FTX bombshell dropped, the price to buy your way into the Bored Ape Yacht Club had decreased by 82% since its peak in April, according to Decrypt. But the greater industry concerns haven’t seemed to stall Alegre.

“Since exploding onto the scene with Bored Ape Yacht Club in 2021, Yuga Labs has quickly made a name for itself through a powerful combination of storytelling and community-building,” said Alegre in a statement. “The company’s pipeline of products, partnerships, and IP represents a massive opportunity to define the metaverse in a way that empowers creators and provides users with true ownership of their identity and digital assets.”

Alegre is not the first major gaming executive to jump over to crypto. In January, Ryan Wyatt left his role as head of YouTube Gaming to become CEO of Polygon Studios.

The jump from an established executive role into a volatile industry might seem risky, but Activision Blizzard has been riddled with conflict itself. A report from the Wall Street Journal last year found that Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick knew for years about rampant sexual harassment at the company, but failed to act. For over a year, Activision Blizzard employees have protested against the company’s poor handling of ongoing sexual harassment allegations, which in part inspired an historic union movement for the gaming industry. But on employees’ way to establishing two formally recognized unions, Alegre was caught in the crossfire.

In October, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Activision Blizzard illegally withheld wages from workers who were in the process of unionizing. In testimony, the NLRB learned that Alegre offered to fly to Wisconsin to speak with unionizing QA testers at subsidiary Raven Software. This practice would be barred by the National Labor Relations Act, though, since it can lead to coercion. At the time, Activision Blizzard told TechCrunch that the company denied the accuracy of the complaint, since Alegre’s proposed meeting would not be mandatory and not address grievances. Furthermore, the meeting never took place.

Activision Blizzard’s future ownership is also up in the air. Microsoft has an agreement with the gaming company to acquire it for $68.7 billion, one of the most expensive tech acquisitions in history. But now, the Federal Trade Commission is suing to block the deal, claiming that it would stifle competition.

Alegre’s term at Activision Blizzard concludes at the end of March, per an SEC filing. Yuga says that Alegre will take the helm in the first half of 2023.

Bored Apes creator Yuga Labs appoints Activision’s Daniel Alegre as CEO by Amanda Silberling originally published on TechCrunch

The FTC is suing to block Microsoft from buying Activision

The FTC announced Thursday that it would sue to block Microsoft’s acquisition of gaming giant Activision Blizzard. Microsoft announced plans to buy the company, which has been plagued by sexual harassment and discrimination allegations and labor disputes, back in January for $68.7 billion.

The deal would be mark a seismic shift in the gaming industry — Activision Blizzard owns hugely popular games like the Call of Duty franchise and World of Warcraft — but the massive size of the deal and the prevailing anti-consolidation sentiment meant that it was due for some intense regulatory scrutiny from day one.

In its statement, the FTC cites concerns that the deal would “enable Microsoft to suppress competitors” to Xbox, including its paid Game Pass subscription service and cloud gaming services.

“Microsoft has already shown that it can and will withhold content from its gaming rivals,” FTC’s Bureau of Competition Director Holly Vedova said. “Today we seek to stop Microsoft from gaining control over a leading independent game studio and using it to harm competition in multiple dynamic and fast-growing gaming markets.”

PlayStation maker Sony, Microsoft’s console rival, has loudly objected to the proposed merger, which would consolidate some of the world’s most popular games under the Xbox’s banner. In recent weeks, Microsoft has been attempting to stave off the regulatory threat by promising to give Call of Duty equal treatment on the PlayStation and even agreeing to bring the franchise to Nintendo if the deal goes through.

The FTC is suing to block Microsoft from buying Activision by Taylor Hatmaker originally published on TechCrunch

Activision Blizzard workers in Albany vote to form the company’s second union

Activision Blizzard QA testers who work on “Diablo” in Albany, New York have formed the gaming giant’s second union in an unanimous 14-0 vote. Just seven months ago, QA testers at Activision Blizzard division Raven Software won a historic vote to form the first ever union at a major U.S. gaming company.

Activision Blizzard initially tried to block the union vote, arguing that developers at the Albany studio should be included in the unit. But the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the vote could go ahead as planned.

“With this victory, we’re advocating for ourselves and each other because we care deeply about our work and the games we make. Organizing has empowered all of us to fight hard for the dignity and respect every worker deserves on the job,” said Amanda Deep, an Associate Test Analyst at Blizzard Albany in a statement.

The “Diablo” QA testers will be unionized under the Communication Workers of America, which also represents the Raven Software union.

“Our colleagues at Raven inspired us when they announced the formation of the Game Workers Alliance/CWA. We can only hope that our win will continue to grow the labor movement at other video game studios across the country,” Deep said.

Labor organizers in the gaming industry are organizing to “to reject burn out culture, crunch, wage discrepancies and more,” the CWA said. But union activity at Activision Blizzard has been met with much pushback from management. In May, the NLRB found merit to a complaint that Activision Blizzard allegedly threatened employees for discussing their working conditions and wages.

Activision Blizzard workers in Albany vote to form the company’s second union by Amanda Silberling originally published on TechCrunch

Blizzard ends 14-year licensing deal with NetEase in China

In a somewhat surprising turn, Blizzard Activision, the California-based gaming publisher behind global hits like World of Warcraft and Overwatch, will be suspending most of its games in China due to the expiration of licensing agreements with NetEase, the second-largest gaming company in the country.

Blizzard’s announcement is set to end a 14-year licensing partnership between the two gaming giants. All told, Blizzard has been providing gaming services in China through various partners, including Electronic Arts-backed The9, for 20 years.

From January 2023, most of Blizzard’s titles will stop operating in China. That includes the likes of World of Warcraft, Warcraft III: Reforged, Overwatch, the StarCraft series, and Diablo III.

Diablo Immortal co-development and publishing is covered under a separate agreement between the two companies, Blizzard said.

The companies each released their own response explaining the end of the marriage.

”The two parties have not reached a deal to renew the agreements that is consistent with Blizzard’s operating principles and commitments to players and employees, and the agreements are set to expire in January 2023,” said Blizzard.

The decision came at a time when a silver lining appears in China’s gaming industry, which has been hit with heavy handed regulations over the last few years. China’s state media outlet People’s Daily published an op-ed this week titled “the opportunity in the gaming industry cannot be missed,” sending Chinese game stocks surging.

But Blizzard isn’t giving up on China. “We’re immensely grateful for the passion our Chinese community has shown throughout the nearly 20 years we’ve been bringing our games to China through NetEase and other partners,” said Mike Ybarra, president of Blizzard Entertainment.

“Their enthusiasm and creativity inspire us, and we are looking for alternatives to bring our games back to players in the future.”

The termination of the partnership seems to have limited impact on NetEase’s bottom line. The firm said in a statement that “the net revenues and net income contribution from these licensed Blizzard games represented low single digits asa percentage of NetEase’s totalnet revenues and net income in 2021 and in the first nine months of 2022.”

Interestingly, NetEase also had this to say: “We hold high regard in our product and operational standards and abide by our commitments to Chinese players.”

Is NetEase hinting at its dissatisfaction with how Blizzard operates in China? In any case, the divorce doesn’t sound like an amicable one.

Blizzard ends 14-year licensing deal with NetEase in China by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch

Physical ‘copies’ of the new Call of Duty are just empty discs

Cartridges and discs used to be how you got the latest games, but that’s been changing as downloads have become more convenient and reliable. But some people prefer the sure thing: a physical copy, so they can play offline or with a bad connection. To them, Activision says “qq”: the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II disc is basically just a link to a 150-gigabyte download.

Now, to be fair, games that size don’t fit neatly on even high capacity Blu-ray discs, which for distribution purposes max out at around 50 gigs. Not that we haven’t seen multi-disc games before (I never finished Final Fantasy VIII because the final disc was scratched… someday, Edea), but clearly Activision decided it wasn’t worth the bother in this case.

That’s something of a shame, because there are people all over the world who, for one reason or another, would prefer a physical copy of the game. There’s the ever-present fear that one’s digital access might disappear for whatever reason, or perhaps one has a spotty connection — a common issue in the military, I understand. Even those with decent internet might find themselves uncomfortably close to transfer caps if they start their month with a 150-gig spree (even more once Warzone gets added).

It’s been getting tougher for people making that choice — still a perfectly valid one for TV and movies, if you’re willing to wait a bit, by the way — but generally they have been able to get a working, if not fully updated and optimized version of the game that just works when you put the disc in.

That’s not the case with CoD:MWII, as discovered by players who pre-ordered the game and received the disc slightly early. Far from having the full game on it, the disc is almost completely empty.

This 72-megabyte app is basically just an authenticator and shell that initiates the enormous download process. I’d be willing to bet that most of those 72 megabytes are 4K video files of logos.

There’s even a pre-order steelbook bonus (that’s a metal case for the disc and anything else it comes with). Players may be disappointed to find that this fancy reinforced packaging protects nothing of value.

Obviously there is great waste entailed in the production of perhaps millions of discs (though the numbers are likely much lower than they used to) for no reason. But waste is endemic in consumerism. The bait and switch of it is the galling thing — that Activision is taking the worst of both worlds.

There’s literally no point in even providing a physical version of the software if none of the reasons for doing so are fulfilled by it. It’s the equivalent of the next season of Stranger Things coming on a disc that just loads up Netflix and starts streaming. Why bother?

It’s worth asking whether Activision could have built a version of the game that fit on a disc at all. Considering how proudly they’ve been advertising the realism of the graphics, probably not. A single 4K texture unit, say for a building front or character model, may be scores of megabytes, and any AAA game will have countless such textures. Meanwhile the audio and video assets also have to fit on there, and they can only be compressed so far before they degrade.

Chances are the team thought that while a functional disc version would be theoretically possible, it would not be an adequate representation of the game they’d worked so hard on. One sympathizes: imagine spending all that time doing high-resolution photogrammetry of an Amsterdam street only to have it look like a level from Quake.

Would the outcry if they announced no physical edition at all be worse than them shipping a fake one? Hard to say. At least the former takes “courage,” as Apple would no doubt put it, while the latter is just misleading and wasteful. We may be entering an era where digital delivery is the standard, but there are good and bad ways of doing it. This was a bad way.

Physical ‘copies’ of the new Call of Duty are just empty discs by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

Overwatch 2 Review: Can you teach an old game new tricks?

Blizzard has a lot going on. The company’s leadership is a toxic trash heap nightmare (hi Bobby Kotick!) and it’s only partially cleaned house. Its failure to deliver on the lofty promises of the Overwatch League makes the game’s scene, both competitive and casual, even less of a sure thing. And Microsoft is currently in the process of trying to buy parent company Activision Blizzard, an outcome that would further consolidate the gaming industry but might ultimately help save Blizzard from itself. In the midst of all of this, Blizzard released Overwatch 2, making a risky bet that lightly modernizing the aging multiplayer hit would be enough to keep it relevant in a new era of ubiquitous online gaming.

Overwatch 2 is technically a “sequel” to the cartoon hero-based team shooter, but you’d be forgiven for thinking you were playing the same game that launched back in 2016. Some things are new. The core gameplay is now 5v5 instead of 6v6. There are three new heroes at launch (Kiriko, Junker Queen and Sojourn) with more on the way in later seasons. You can take these new heroes out for a spin on a handful of new maps — Toronto, New York City and Monte Carlo among them — and in a new reverse tug-of-war game mode where you fight it out to move a large jogging robot the furthest. There are also graphical improvements that will probably stand out more to people playing Overwatch 2 on PC and not to folks like me, playing casually on last-gen consoles (I know) or to anyone so overwhelmed by Blizzard’s telltale particle effects that they can’t even tell what’s happening half the time (also me).

The big question: Is it enough?

From lootboxes to a battle pass

Arguably the biggest change here, and the reason why, controversially, you can’t play on old Overwatch servers, is Overwatch 2’s shift to free-to-play. When the original Overwatch launched, Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode — and slightly later, Epic’s Battle Pass — hadn’t taken the world by storm yet. In the original Overwatch you’d play and level up, earning randomized loot boxes along the way or buying them if you really felt like it. Overwatch 2 adopts the seasonal battle pass model that competitors like Fortnite, Valorant and Apex Legends use, selling players a subscription for unlockable perks like skins and voice lines.

Controversially, I actually like the battle pass model in theory. Going free-to-play is great for casual players that dip in and out for a few months here and there or for anyone trying to convince friends to check out yet another new game. And the seasonal progression gives people who play casually a sense of progress, though arguable the loot boxes did this just as well.

So far in Overwatch 2, the battle pass doesn’t offer a ton to look forward to. One problem is that unlike a game like Fortnite where everyone can use every skin, there are 35 playable characters in Overwatch. With each stage of the battle pass only offering one skin and many players specializing in a single hero or a small rotation of them, the odds aren’t great that there’s even something juicy in there for everyone. The non-skin unlockables aren’t very exciting either and it’s weird that in the course of launching a brand new game (supposedly!) Blizzard didn’t think of cooler ways for players to visually customize their characters beyond souvenirs, which after playing for hours I still haven’t even noticed. Maybe some players are excited about the battle pass — and that’s great — but it’s clear Blizzard is just trying to drive everyone to buy skins in the shop. So far the broader player base doesn’t seem very happy about it, actively campaigning to persuade people to save their money so the company learns a lesson.

Overwatch 2’s shop offers a rotating selection of skins, but many of these once came for free through loot boxes, which were, all around, a much more fun experience. I only played Overwatch regularly for a handful of months years ago and I was surprised just how many skins I collected back then that now regularly retail for $20, which feels like way too much. Especially for stuff that you used to be able to earn by playing the game. The first Overwatch 2 Halloween event even has a special skin you can earn by watching streamers on Twitch, but the skin is… the same Winston werewolf Halloween skin that was in the game in late 2016. There’s obviously a lot of chaos at Activision Blizzard these days, but a lot of this comes across as phoned in, considering that the game is brand new. That said, the skin is very cute (werewolves!) and although I am truly awful at Winston I’ll be streaming Overwatch 2 because I don’t have it.

Overwatch 2 Sojourn

Image Credits: Blizzard

Three new heroes offer new ways to play

Overwatch’s characters have always been the heart of the game and the new game is no exception, introducing three new heroes: Sojourn, Junker Queen, and Kiriko.

The three female heroes — one tank, one DPS and one support — round out the cast in a nice way. It feels like a lot of thought went into Kiriko in particular, and she plays like a mix of Moira and Genji (or arguably Zenyatta), bringing some nice mobility options to the support position with the ability to fly across the map on cooldown to follow other players. The skill ceiling is obviously high here (she can heal and throw little daggers at the same time!) so there’s a lot of depth to what will be possible with Kiriko. Sojourn and Junker Queen also have fun kits and seem promising, with the former offering a very mobile power slide and Soldier 76-ish DPS and the latter introducing a damage-over-time tank with a cool Mortal Kombat-esque knife throw that pulls enemies right to you.

Necessary aside: As a longtime WoW player, Blizzard’s approach to non-western cultures, particularly Asian cultures, has always felt a bit weird. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kiriko, the new Japanese support hero — she’s a young woman, a badass, and a literal ninja. Her short animated movie is extremely good. But it’s all expressed in a way that’s a bit over the top, culturally speaking: Kiriko’s ultimate channels a fox spirit that makes a path out of Torii gates and her healing takes the form of those little paper fortunes you get at shrines. Beyond Kiriko, the new Black female DPS hero is named “Sojourn” and it’s hard to imagine this doesn’t have something to do with American abolitionist Sojourner Truth, but she’s Canadian I guess?

Maybe this kind of representation is all okay in a game that for lack of a more nuanced theme is about “cartoon characters from various countries” but it’s worth talking about. Ultimately as a queer person I’m glad there are gay characters in the game, even if they’re revealed as an afterthought. Probably a lot of people feel a lot of different ways about this!

5v5 and other gameplay changes

The other biggest change and the most substantial one is that while Overwatch pitted teams of six against each other, the game is now 5v5: two supports, two DPS and a tank. If you’re queueing for certain roles in competitive mode and don’t senselessly embrace the chaos of open queue like me then that means you’ll be down a tank from what you’re used to.

The result is that the games feel faster and more like a team deathmatch in spite of the objectives. It’s very early days for a live service game that will last for years, but support players in particular seem to be more frustrated with the new style of play — there’s no second tank to help soak up damage and protect against flankers — and the short wait time for support reflects that.

Whether you’re a new player or a seasoned pro, you’ll be starting over in Overwatch 2’s competitive rankings. All players start at the bottom in bronze and can work their way up the skill tiers through some mysterious combination of wins and individual performance. Overwatch 2 now reevaluates your skill rating every 7 wins or 20 losses, instead of providing immediate feedback as you play. Personally, the every-seven-games system has helped me focus on going in with fresh eyes and a good mindset to quickly get my seven wins instead of overanalyzing what went wrong with each loss. As a casual player who didn’t even really play competitive mode back in the game’s dark ages, this feels fine to me, but I could see why making the system even more opaque would be frustrating to people focused on climbing up.

The post-game now experience consists of the play of the game (whatever the computer decides is a hero’s best moment), endorsements for players that you liked and a new stat block breaking down deaths, eliminations, damage and healing done. The scorecards highlighting individual play are gone and the new stat breakdown doesn’t single anyone out, for better or worse.

Blizzard also added a new ping system that lets you alert teammates about things like enemy players and your next moves and it’s generally a good option for people who don’t want to suffer through in-game chat with a mic, even if it seems like a lot of people haven’t quite figured it out yet. The icon showing players “on fire” after good runs is also MIA, though it sounds like that might be coming back.

Ultimately, the game is still fun. There’s still plenty of depth here but most of it is mechanical — getting comfortable with new heroes, learning their playstyles and tricks. But it’s not clear that Overwatch can survive another six years without going back to the drawing board with something totally fresh. I’m finding plenty to do but I haven’t played Overwatch in five years — five years that dedicated Overwatch players spent pushing the game to its full potential.

Overwatch 2 comp screen

Image Credits: Blizzard

Where do we go from here?

Blizzard can make up some ground with Overwatch 2, but it shouldn’t even be in this position. Seasonal releases and a forthcoming PVE mode that absolutely should have been in the game at launch will soften the blow of selling people the same game over again as a subscription, but for now people are just waiting around.

There’s such a thing as playing it too safe. Blizzard has a competitive scene to balance, but being stuck in the past isn’t going to help Overwatch 2 stay relevant against ascending competitors like Apex Legends, which people seem generally much more excited about these days. Can a game that’s barely changed since in six years last for another six? Personally, I’m playing a lot right now but I’m far from confident that will be the case in six or even three months. A few weeks from launch, the outlook isn’t great.

Even with concerns about balancing a game that hinges on calibrating 35 totally distinct playstyles across objective-based maps, it still feels like Blizzard could have done a lot more here. Fortnite only has weapons to worry about, but the game often changes on a visual level from season to season completely, making my experience of logging off for five years and hopping back into an identical experience impossible. Getting curious about fresh content in a game like Fortnite always inspires me to buy a battle pass, which is reliably full of fun stuff that feels rewarding.

There are plenty of cosmetic flourishes that could make Overwatch 2’s seasons feel more “seasonal” beyond the rote holiday stuff that’s been in the game since day one. Themed seasons à la Fortnite or even Destiny would at least give the game a little more variation for the casual players that Blizzard seems so keen on luring in with its free-to-play model. Even the refreshed menu is a soulless dull gray, a far cry from the colorful cast of characters at the heart of the game.

At the end of the day, if you want to cash in on players after you’ve said “aha here is our new game!” and given them the old game, you at least need to give people something to get excited about.

Overwatch 2 Review: Can you teach an old game new tricks? by Taylor Hatmaker originally published on TechCrunch

Microsoft looks to build an Xbox mobile gaming store with Activision and King content

As the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigates Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, Microsoft recently revealed in its filings with the CMA that it plans to create a new “Xbox Mobile Platform” that will include mobile games by Activision and King.

“The transaction will improve Microsoft’s ability to create a next-generation game store that operates across a range of devices, including mobile, as a result of the addition of Activision Blizzard’s content. Building on Activision Blizzard’s existing communities of gamers, Xbox will seek to scale the Xbox Store to mobile, attracting gamers to a new Xbox Mobile Platform,” the company wrote in its filings.

Mobile games are some of the most popular downloads on app stores, so it’s no surprise that Microsoft wants to get in on the action. A graph on Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard acquisition site showed that the mobile gaming market was worth $85 billion in 2020.

Microsoft added in its filings with the CMA, “Mobile gaming revenues from the King division and titles such as ‘Call of Duty: Mobile,’ as well as ancillary revenue, represented more than half of Activision Blizzard’s revenues and in the first half of 2022.”

The deal with Activision Blizzard seems to be Microsoft’s answer for building out its mobile gaming presence and competing with rivals Google and Apple.

However, it’s not going to be easy to compete against the tech giants. A gaming study by and IDC found that, in the first quarter of 2022, consumers spent more than $1.6 billion per week on mobile games on both the App Store and Google Play store.

“Shifting consumers away from the Google Play Store and App Store on mobile devices will, however, require a major shift in consumer behavior. Microsoft hopes that by offering well-known and popular content, gamers will be more inclined to try something new,” Microsoft added.

In August, Sony’s PlayStation announced the acquisition of Savage Game Studios. Xbox’s competitor said that the mobile game developer would join its new PlayStation Studios Mobile Division to help with its mobile gaming efforts.

Another — admittedly smaller — competitor in the mobile gaming space is streaming giant Netflix. The company recently announced two new game studios in California and Finland. However, it’s struggling to attract gamers. A recent report showed that fewer than 1% of its subscribers play Netflix mobile games.

Microsoft looks to build an Xbox mobile gaming store with Activision and King content by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch

Activision Blizzard’s Johanna Faries highlights the company’s emerging ‘anti-tox’ strategy

At TechCrunch Disrupt today, Activision Blizzard General Manager Johanna Faries elaborated on the company’s plans to clean up some of the worst behavior in the franchise’s community, even as new lawsuits and allegations about its own culture continue to emerge.

Last month, Activision Blizzard released a formal code of conduct for the Call of Duty community, which encompasses its broad consumer player base and the competitive scene. While the policy is pretty basic — no harassment, hate or cheating — it’s something the company can point to when it enforces the rules.

“I’m happy to say, especially since you know the time that I’ve been in the chair, we’ve really raised the bar in terms of paying attention to ‘what does an anti-tox strategy need to look like? What does creating fair play environments, safe play environments look like?’” Faries said. “We just released for example — and it started in the beta — a first-ever franchise-wide code of conduct, which I know may sound like table stakes, and in many ways it probably is — but it’s here now.

Faries noted that Activision Blizzard has teams “focused 24/7” on anti-toxicity, weaving together automated machine learning solutions with human moderation. The goal is to make it easier for players to quickly report bad behavior but also to incentivize the kind of good behavior that should serve as a model for the community.

The crackdown on toxic behavior — which often disproportionately impacts marginalized players who still struggle for representation in streaming and gaming — goes hand in hand with weeding out players who cheat, according to Faries.

“So there’s more to come on this, but I was really proud to see in addition to Ricochet [anti-cheating tech] and a lot of our anti-cheat anti-hacking initiatives that we’ve rolled out as well… our anti-toxicity focus is one that is a masthead going into this upcoming launch and for years to come,” Faries said. “We’re putting the best systems in place to make sure that players have the tools, but also have again the incentives, to continue to raise the bar of what it means to play fair to play with respect for everyone to play with integrity.”

Over the weekend, Activision seemed to put its money where its mouth was, allegedly banning top competitor Doug “Censor” Martin from competing in the Fortune’s Keep tournament, citing his interactions with Call of Duty streamer Nadia Amine. Martin previously filmed a joke marriage proposal to the female player, who has faced a firestorm of sexism and baseless accusations that she’s somehow cheating at the game.

In a tweet, Martin said that Activision “blocked him from competing” in the tournament over harassing Amine, though Activision Blizzard hasn’t yet confirmed the claim. If the company did indeed dole out an event ban over directing unwanted attention at a fellow player, it would track with its new emphasis on cleaning up behavior in the notoriously toxic Call of Duty scene.

Activision Blizzard’s Johanna Faries highlights the company’s emerging ‘anti-tox’ strategy by Taylor Hatmaker originally published on TechCrunch