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How The “Stray” Video Game Is Bringing Benefits To Real Life Felines

A new feline-centered video game has not only made waves in the gaming community but has helped to contribute towards real-life rescue cats.

Blizzard Workers Create First Union At A Big U.S. Video Game Company

19 quality assurance workers at Raven Software, a division of American video game publisher Activision Blizzard, have successfully voted to unionize, marking the first labor union at a major U.S. video game company. Backed by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), three of the 21 total workers voted against the union.

Much of Raven Software’s work primarily comes on the numerous chapters of the renowned first-person shooter franchise “Call of Duty,” which includes “Black Ops Cold War,” “Warzone,” “Black Ops 2,” “Modern Warfare 3,” and “WWII.” Over the course of its history, “Call of Duty” has made more than $17 billion.

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The workers previously announced their intent to unionize back in December, which came days after Microsoft announced the purchasing of Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, one of the largest acquisitions in tech history. The workers had been on strike protesting the layoff of 12 contractors.

Speaking to TechCrunch at the time, Raven Software quality assurance tester Onah Rongstad stated the layoffs came after a five-week stretch of “overtime, consistent work.” That period of work, referred to in the industry as a “crunch,” can cause burnout and stress.

With the creation of the union — now known as the Game Workers Alliance — workers can now bargain with their employer to circumvent those crunches of unexpected layoffs. While Activision Blizzard spokesperson Jessica Taylor told The Verge the company respected the employees’ right to unionize, her choice words showed Blizzard has undeniable issues with the procedure.

“We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union. We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 Raven employees.”

Meanwhile, the Game Workers Alliance stated it hopes the unionization will serve as an inspiration to the growing movement of video game workers to “create better games and build workplaces that reflect our values and empower all of us.”

Along from “Call of Duty,” Activision Blizzard’s collection of premiere video game franchises include Diablo, Crash Bandicoot, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft, which possesses around 4.8 million users. Of course, the long-running and well-established properties fail to hide Activision Blizzard’s less-than-stellar history of employee treatment.

In July of 2021, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed suit against the company for 10 violations of state employment law. According to the DFEH, Activision Blizzard “discriminated against female employees in terms and conditions of employment, including compensation, assignment, promotion, termination, constructive discharge, and retaliation.”

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The DFEH also found that Activision Blizzard’s female employees were subjected to sexual harassment, while the company’s leadership failed to take action against or prevent the unlawful discrimination and harassment.

According to the lawsuit, among the harassment female World of Warcraft workers were forced to endure included unwanted advances from fellow male workers, derogatory comments about rape, and overall demeaning behavior.

Since that time, Activision Blizzard has attempted to polish its reputation and work environment by hiring 1,000 game testers as full-time employees — increasing the company’s workforce by 25% — along with boosting the minimum salary of those workers to $20 an hour.

Tesla Logo on Trunk

Tesla Drivers Playing Video Games Raises Safety Questions

As cars become more advanced, they offer greater utilities and features. The catch is that some of these upgrades appear to be putting their drivers in harm’s way. According to the New York Times, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is looking into Tesla drivers being able to play video games while in motion after the matter was raised by a complaint.

Tesla drivers being able to play video games on their dashboard touch screen isn’t new. Previously, drivers could play video games if they were stationary. An over-the-air software update released last summer changed that restriction.

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According to The Verge, the Tesla 3 model allows users to play “Sky Force Reloaded,” “Solitaire,” and “The Battle of Polytopia.” The site noted that while the Tesla asks if the user is in motion before playing the game, it doesn’t take any measures to ensure their answer is the correct one. A driver can easily lie and play the game while on the road.

Speaking with the Associated Press, Vince Patton — a retired journalist and Tesla owner who filed the complaint — explained that even if a passenger is playing the game, it can still be distracting to the driver because the game takes up two-thirds of the screen. Patton also said that drivers frequently use the games while their cars are being recharged.

In an email, an NHTSA spokeswoman noted the administration is currently talking with Tesla — though the conversations were not discussed in depth — and that laws prohibit the selling of vehicles with design flaws that can put drivers in danger.

“We are aware of driver concerns and are discussing the feature with the manufacturer. The Vehicle Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from selling vehicles with design defects posing unreasonable risks to safety.”

In 2019, 3,142 people were killed due to distracted driving, which was 8.7% of all fatalities. That was a 9.9% increase from 2018.

When it comes to famous pairings, Tesla and safety might not quite be in that group. In June, the Models 3 and Y lost their IIHS “top safety picks plus” designations. Tesla released a “Safety Score” feature as part of its Full Self-Driving (FSD) software back in September, which in theory is a way to incentivize and gamify safe driving. The safety score monitors a driver’s braking, turning, how many times a collision warning is activated, and tailgating.

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However, according to Consumer Reports, attempting to avoid “hard brakes” could make drivers fail to make a complete stops for pedestrians or go right through intersections. Tesla stated that data shows the features improves driver safety.

The “self-driving” aspect also poses serious concerns. A Model Y driver filed a complaint with the NHTSA, stating that the vehicle took control, went into the wrong lane, and crashed on Nov. 3 while in FSD mode. Tesla also recalled 12,000 vehicles sold since 2017 last month because of a communication error could have caused an accidental activation of the emergency brakes.

In response to the possible accidents caused by software kinks, Tesla has asked drivers to accept that footage from both inside the car and outside can be used in the event of a crash. The footage collected will be associated with the owner’s vehicle. Electrek suggested that by asking for footage, Tesla is looking for evidence in accidents that would allow them to defend their FSD.

Sexism In Irvine Activision Blizzard Office Leads To Worker Walkout 

Workers at Activision Blizzard, one of the nation’s leading video game companies, staged a one-day walkout at the company’s Irvine office location over alleged sexism in the workplace. This walkout comes just one day after the company announced a number of steps to address this specific issues. 

“We are immediately evaluating managers and leaders across the company. Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated.”

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“We will continue to investigate each and every claim and will not hesitate to take decisive action. To strengthen our capabilities in this area we are adding additional senior staff and other resources to both the Compliance team and the Employee Relations team,” Activision continued in a letter addressed to all employees from company CEO Bobby Kotick. 

Activision Blizzard is responsible for launching games such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. The company is currently facing a lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which alleges a “frat boy workplace culture that includes sexual harassment of women by executives.”

Current and former employees published their own letter this week detailing the allegations, and calling for “official statements that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault.” 

Kotick responded to this letter with his own, as mentioned above, which outlined new policies that would be put in place to better protect all employees from harassment. 

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“I want to recognize and thank all those who have come forward in the past and in recent days. I so appreciate your courage. Every voice matters and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future,” Kotick said in a Twitter post.

“Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone-deaf. It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding,” he wrote.

“We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place anywhere at our company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind,” the letter said.

“We know many of you have inspired ideas on how to improve our culture. We will be creating safe spaces, moderated by third parties, for you to speak out and share areas for improvement.”

The letter also detailed how the company will be improving on the way they hire employees as well: “Earlier this year I sent an email requiring all hiring managers to ensure they have diverse candidate slates for all open positions. We will be adding compliance resources to ensure that our hiring managers are in fact adhering to this directive.”

Sealed Super Mario 64 Game Sells For Record-Breaking $1.5 Million 

Even though Super Mario 64 is not one of the rarest or oldest video games on the market, it does hold a certain level of icon status. So much so that a factory-sealed copy of the 1996 Super Mario 64 game recently sold for $1.5 million at an auction over the weekend. While vintage video game collecting has certainly been on the rise in recent years, this marks the highest amount of money paid for a single video game in auction history. 

The factory-sealed copy received a condition grading of 9.8 out of 10, which means the game was practically undamaged. In total, it sold for $1,560,000 at the Heritage Auctions House, breaking the record for highest-selling video game at an auction. 

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Again, Super Mario 64 is not that rare when compared to other vintage video games that have sold for high prices in the past, however, experts claim that collectors are more focused on getting their hands on collectables, rather than the rarest game or piece of memorabilia. 

Editorial director at Digital Eclipse, Chris Hohler, recently discussed this auction and the overall rise in vintage video game/science fiction collection.

“Well, I figured the first million dollar game was imminent, but I didn’t think it was gonna be today…or Super Mario 64.”

Video game rarity has many different forms in the eyes of a collector. Super Mario 64, for example, sold close to 12 million copies when it first dropped, however, the packaging was extremely prone to damage. So a pristine copy of the game in its original packaging is almost unheard of, hence its rarity and high price. 

“There are discussions of how many first-print sealed Mario 64’s may exist, but no matter what the number is, there are certainly only a tiny fraction with a 9.8 rating,” Deniz Kahn, the CEO of Wata Games, which rated this particular copy of Mario 64, said in a statement

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“We often receive factory ‘case-packs’ of N64 games where all six copies included have not been circulated. Even in these undistributed ‘case-fresh’ copies, most often the results end up with two or fewer 9.8s, and oftentimes none.”

Experts still think the $1.5 million price point is almost unheard of. Heritage Auctions recently sold a multitude of other vintage video games, all with a quality rating of 9 or above, and the highest that someone paid for them was $38,000.  Preservationist and director of the Video Game History Foundation, Frank Cifaldi, explained in a statement that the game sold barely hit five figures outside of Heritage: “I 100% agree it being a 9.8 puts it at a completely different level but a sudden jump from $30k to $1.5M feels wrong.”

“In other spaces such as Comics, Coins, or sports cards, the difference between the second highest grade and the highest grade can be a 2x+ multiple in value and sometimes much more,” Kahn explained. 

“Attaining the finest known example from a condition standpoint drives a certain type of collector’s behavior, specifically the collector who wants the absolute best.”

“All that being said, this price is still shocking but shows the level of emotion involved in how prices are realized in an auction scenario,” he said. “This was a case of several collectors, at least two, who fit the profile of wanting the absolute best of an iconic relic of pop culture that exists. This is the economics of a collectible market at play, and we get to see some incredible things happen,” Kahn said.

Microsoft

Microsoft To Potentially Buy Discord In $10 Billion Deal

Microsoft and Discord are currently in talks to reach an acquisition deal worth $10 billion. Jason Citron and Stan Vishnevskiy are the programmers and entrepreneurs who founded Discord back in 2015 as a platform for people to talk while they play video games. The service is free and offers voice, video, and text chat, and has become extremely popular especially within the past year since so many people were stuck at home and investing in more at-home entertainment.

“During the pandemic, with people stuck at home and playing more video games than ever and also looking for ways to safely socialize, Discord became a hub for communities interested in the Black Lives Matter movement, homework help, book clubs and more, pitching itself as a place to talk,” said new Chief Financial Officer Tomasz Marcinkowski.

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The site itself now has more than 140 million monthly users and has brought in over $100 million in revenue last year. Last December Discord also doubled its valuation to $7 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Users can create their own communities, or servers, on the platform which can range from having under 10 people, to hundreds of thousands. For Microsoft, the variation in communities on Discord is the biggest selling point. Microsoft in general has been looking for assets that would “provide access to thriving communities of users,” according to inside sources.

Discord’s popularity also stems from the fact that there’s no advertisements on it either. Instead, Discord offers a subscription service called Nitro that gives members the ability to customize tags next to their usernames, upload large files, and stream at a higher video quality; Nitro costs $10 a month and is how Discord makes its money.

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The platform has also allowed smaller video game creators to have their own space where they can chat with fans and discuss ideas. Megan Fox is the founder of the independent game development studio Glass Bottom Games, and she uses Discord to create communities for all the games her company develops.

“We really just wanted to build a low-key community that was nice to hang out in. Our first game, Skatebird, is about birds on skateboards and has a Discord community of about 900 users that mostly use the server to talk about birds, or skateboarding. Our studio also has a channel solely intended for users to share your attempt at a kickflip. Many Discord servers lean on humor and inside jokes, which is part of the appeal,” Fox explained.

Rod Breslau is an esports and gaming consultant who believes that “if Discord is going to sell, Microsoft may actually be one of the safest places for it to go without experiencing any major changes. Their recent acquisitions of LinkedIn and GitHub were both hands-off acquisitions, so this would likely be the same.”

The deal is still in the talking stages, and there’s no actual confirmation regarding if Discord plans to sell or not.

Pigs Can Play Video Games? Study Shows ‘Remarkable’ Level Of Mental Flexibility In Species

According to a new study published in ‘Frontiers In Psychology,’ pigs are proving to have a remarkable level of behavioral and mental flexibility after scientists tested the ability of four pigs to play a simple joystick-enabled video game. Each animal in the study showed some level of understanding how the device and game worked. 

The study specifically involved two Yorkshire pigs named Hamlet and Omelette, and two Panepinto micro pigs named Ebony and Ivory. All four animals were trained to approach and manipulate a joystick with their snouts in front of a computer monitor for the first phase of the study. They then transitioned into learning about playing the video game itself; the goal of the simple game was to move a cursor, using the joystick, towards up to four targets located on the sides of the screen. 

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Each pig performed the tasks much more efficiently than expected, leading the researchers to believe that the pigs knew their movements with the joystick impacted the movements on the screen as well. Dr. Candace Croney was the lead author of the study along with co-author Sarah T. Boysen. 

“It’s no small feat for an animal to grasp the concept that the behavior they’re performing is having an effect elsewhere. That pigs can do this to any degree should give us pause as to what else they are capable of learning and how such learning may impact them.”

Scientists were already aware that pigs had the capability to learn, as many farmers train their pigs like dogs to respond to commands like “come” and “sit,” but the complex behaviors that they showed with playing the video game is beyond what anyone has seen before. 

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According to Croney, the team used “food to teach and reinforce behaviors, but also found that social contact could strongly influence their persistence. For instance, when the machine dispensing treats failed to work, the pigs continued to make correct responses using only verbal and tactile cues. And only verbal encouragement seemed to help the animals during the most challenging tasks.”

“This sort of study is important because, as with any sentient beings, how we interact with pigs and what we do to them impacts and matters to them. We therefore have an ethical obligation to understand how pigs acquire information, and what they are capable of learning and remembering, because it ultimately has implications for how they perceive their interactions with us and their environments,” Croney explained. 

While the pigs may have not been able to match the same level of skill as say a chimpanzee when it comes to behavioral analysis, their demonstration of being able to learn a task with positive reinforcement is an amazing advancement in the scientific community. On a larger scale, the authors of the study say that now we can shift to seeing if computer programs can be used to better communicate with pigs directly on their wants and needs.

Nintendo

Nintendo Continues To Thrive, Announces Best Quarter Yet For Switch Devices 

Nintendo has been thriving even more than usual within the past year. The Covid-19 pandemic which has forced the world to stay home indefinitely has been amazing for the entertainment industry, and Nintendo is no different. Especially with the relatively recent release of their Switch and Switch Lite consoles, Nintendo has literally never been more popular. 

Nintendo sold 11.57 million Switch Consoles last quarter alone, bringing the total sales to 79.87 million since the release of the devices in 2017. That marks a 7% increase in sales when compared to this time last year, it also marks the Switch’s best quarter to date. Switch has now surpassed Nintendo 3DS and 2DS devices in terms of sales; 3DS and 2DS devices currently stand at around 75 million units. 

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If the Switch manages to have a normal spring quarter this year, which would mean selling at least 2.5 million units, the device will pass the Game Boy Advance in sales which peaked at 81.51 million. The Wii, Game Boy, and DS family are the only other Nintendo devices currently above the Switch in terms of overall sales when they were released.

Nintendo Switch sales for last quarter are relatively surprising as well due to the fact that Nintendo didn’t have that many big Switch launches last quarter outside of the Legend of Zelda spin-off game Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Beyond that Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit and Pikmin 3 Deluxe were the only other major launches; each game sold a little more than 1 million units. 

Older Nintendo Switch games have been continuously selling since their releases. Mario Kart Deluxe currently has over 33 million sales, and the extremely popular Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been thriving throughout the pandemic. The game is less than a year old and already has 31 million total sales. 

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According to their quarterly reports “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate takes the third spot with 22.85 million sales, followed by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (21.45 million) and Pokémon Sword and Shield (20.35 million). Rounding out the top 10 is Super Mario Odyssey, Super Mario Party, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!/Eevee!, Splatoon 2 and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe.”

Super Mario 3D World and Bowser’s Fury, which is an updated version of the 3DS game, will be coming out February 12th which is expected to give Nintendo an even larger boost in sales. Following that release Persona 5 Strikers and Bravely Default II will both be released on February 23rd and 26th. 

Nintendo also announces that later in the quarter the company Capcom will be releasing their Switch version of Monster Hunter: World, the widely popular PS4, Xbox One, and PC game, which will be titled Monster Hunter Rise. The company also announced that it would be releasing dozens of their other popular titles for the Switch this year; many of which were previously released for Nintendo 3DS devices.

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10 Of The Most Popular Games Of 2020 So Far

2020 has truly been one of the most unpredictable years in history. With a global health crisis keeping everyone indoors, many have turned to video games to keep themselves occupied while having the ability to enter a completely new reality. Here’s a list of some of the most popular games that people have been playing throughout the past year:

Animal Crossing: New Horizons: If you own a Nintendo Switch, you definitely already know what this game is. The desert-island alternate-reality game has been one of the most popular Nintendo Games for years now. With the most recent version, New Horizons, being released right as the pandemic began, gamers flooded the Nintendo Store to get their hands on it and start building their island. Players create their own custom avatar and island, while taking care of their 10 animal villagers of various species. 

Streets Of Rage 4: This game is available on a multitude of platforms such as PlayStation, Xbox, PC, Switch, and more. This is the fourth installment in Sega’s legendary Streets of Rage series, which hasn’t seen a reprise in nearly 25 years. Players enter Wook Oak City where they will join a slew of vigilante heroes and use a wide variety of weapons and battle moves to defeat massive waves of criminal masterminds trying to ruin the city. 

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Half Life: Alyx: Half_Life 3 has been widely anticipated from fans for over a decade now, so they were surprised when the virtual reality-exclusive prequel to the game was released instead. The game follows resistance leader Alyx Vance at the start of her fight against the alien Combine. This thrilling game is the exact type of VR excitement we all would want in the middle of a pandemic. 

Ori And The Will Of The Wisps: This is the sequel to indie platform adventure game Ori and the Blind Forest. This game follows its predecessor, and players will experience the beautiful quality of the rich, sylvan landscapes and magical elements woven throughout the plot. The game is said to be extremely calming and melancholic when compared to other fighting games. 

Kentucky Route Zero: After six long years, fans are finally getting their concluding chapter to this minimalist, and magical adventure game. The game has been regarded as one of the “defining games of the decade” thanks to its subtle and desolate painting of the universe. The atmosphere creates a calming atmosphere for the player through mystical characters and stories. 

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Coffee Talk: Basically, in this game players are hired as a barista working the night shift in a remote coffee shop located in Seattle. The twist? Your main customers are vampires and werewolves, all looking for a shoulder to cry on and someone to tell their story to. This leisure adventure game is regarded as being widely entertaining and quite funny. 

Lair Of The Clockwork God: In this game friends Ben and Dan must work together to prevent the apocalypse from occurring. This comedy-adventure game offers a more classic style of gaming with simple point-and-click techniques while maintaining a certain modern edge to it. 

Resident Evil 3 (Remake): After last year’s extremely successful launch of the remake of Resident Evil 2, creators knew they had to do the same for the third-installment of the game. The game itself keeps the same narrative and setting as the original Resident Evil 3, but this time certain controls and components have been tweaked to include a more entertaining experience. 

SnowRunner: The gist of this game involves driving huge trucks through mud and snow to make deliveries. While this may sound like one of the most mundane games on the market today, it’s been reviewed as having an “unexpectedly hypnotic” effect on the player. The navigation is slow and steady, and the detailed settings offer a relaxing game play experience. 

In Other Waters: In this exploration game about deep-sea diving on another planet, players become an AI robot installed in the explorers suit. The player is then reliant on the explorers text descriptions and sketches of alien life to map out what this planet actually looks like. The game is also regarded as being very relaxing and peaceful to play.

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Sony Gears Up For The Launch Of PlayStation Studios

The PlayStation Studios brand has been in the works for quite some time, and now that the massive gaming company is gearing up for the release of the PlayStation 5, they’re finally ready to launch their studio brand alongside it. 

Sony, which owns PlayStation, announced that they developed a “new umbrella brand to unite its first-party PlayStation titles,” as video game concepts begin to enter into America’s cinematic universe. The PlayStation Studios brand will be launched on the same day as the PlayStation 5 later this year. 

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“We are really excited about this, over the last few years — and even the last decade — the strength of the titles coming out from our studios has been stronger than ever. We have been thinking about how we unite all of these great games under one brand, and really the purpose of that is to make the consumer understand that, when they see this brand, they’re getting ready for a robust, innovative, deep experience that they’ve come to expect from games coming from PlayStation. So we came up with PlayStation Studios,” says Eric Lempel, senior vice president and head of global marketing at Sony Interactive Entertainment.

Those who purchase a PlayStation 5 later in the year will notice a brand new opening video sequence when they turn the device on. This video will feature classic PlayStation characters from games like Uncharted, LittleBigPlanet, God Of War, and more, all of which are games that will be used as inspiration for future films released by the studio. 

The goal is to have these animated assets/features that PlayStation relies on for advertising their new brand in a lot of other places outside of just the PlayStation console itself. Lempel went on to discuss how he plans on expanding the branding of the new Studio to animated shorts and other products such as packaging and game discs to spread the word. “We think this is a good way to let consumers know that, if they see it, then the quality games they’ve come to expect from us are here,” he claimed. 

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Sony’s PlayStation 4 games/title sequence will also begin to carry out PlayStation Studios branding, however, that transition will likely take place after the initial launch, especially considering that the studio has its hands full with the launch of PS4 games The Last Of Us: Part 2 and Ghosts of Tsushima, which Sony is planning to release this summer. 

Lempel also explained that he wants the PlayStation studio brand to reach new audiences in the gaming world besides just PlayStation gamers. Specifically, Sony wants to call on work-for-hire game developers to work under the companies guidance to bring their visions to life. 

“If our studios are managing the production of these games and working with an external developer, it will still come out under the PlayStation Studios brand. It doesn’t mean that we outright own the developer, but it just means we brought it up as a first-party. In a lot of cases we don’t own the developer,” Lempel said. 

The goal is to expand the brand to a place it’s never been before, and what better way to do so than by bringing in the gamers who have been experiencing what the company has been releasing since its launch.