UPDATE: A United States Senator from New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan, has sent a letter to the ESRB asking them to reconsider their position about loot boxes in video games. Back in October, ESRB released a statement that they do not believe loot boxes and microtransactions are a form of gambling and stated that they do not have any plans to actually change any of their rating policy.
Senator Hassan sent a letter to ESRB today asking them to reconsider and analyze how loot boxes are placed and marketed for games and see if it’s ethical or not. She says, at minimum, ESRB should consider putting identifying markers on physical boxes to inform customers that games have randomized loot boxes.
Here’s the letter Senator Hassan sent to ESRB’s President today:
Entertainment Software Ratings Board
Dear Ms. Vance:
I write to today regarding an important gaming issue that was recently brought to my attention by a constituent.
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has an important mission in both providing parents with the necessary information to make decisions about the suitability of games, and their content, for children, as well as ensuring that the industry is following responsible marketing practices.
The ESRB rating system is of great value to parents across the country, empowering parents to make informed decisions on behalf of their children. As technology advances, ESRB must work to keep pace with new gaming trends, including the in-game micro-transactions and predatory gaming tactics, particularly as they are deployed on minors.
The prevalence of in-game micro-transactions, often referred to as ‘loot boxes,’ raises several concerns surrounding the use of psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance. The potential for harm is real. Recently the World Health Organization classified “gaming disorder” as a unique condition in its recent draft revision of the 11th International Classification of Diseases. While there is robust debate over whether loot boxes should be considered gambling, the fact that they are both expensive habits and use similar psychological principles suggest loot boxes should be treated with extra scrutiny. At minimum, the rating system should denote when loot boxes are utilized in physical copies of electronic games.
To that end, I respectfully urge the ESRB to review the completeness of the board’s ratings process and policies as they relate to loot boxes, and to take into account the potential harm these types of micro-transactions may have on children. I also urge the board to examine whether the design and marketing approach to loot boxes in games geared toward children is being conducted in an ethical and transparent way that adequately protects the developing minds of young children from predatory practices.
Further, I urge the ESRB to consider working with the relevant stakeholders – including parents – to collect and publish data on how developers are using loot boxes, how widespread their use is, and how much money players spend on them.
Finally, I ask that you develop best practices for developers, such as ethical design, tools for parents to disable these mechanisms, or making them less essential to core gameplay.
During a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing, Senator Hassan asked four potential FTC nominees if they would consider investigating best practices for developers and loot boxes to prevent children from being addicted to them in video games. The four nominees said they would consider investigating if their nominee to the FTC was approved. She also stated that if ESRB fails to act, the FTC should do something about loot boxes in video games.
Hawaii lawmakers have been adamant on having loot boxes removed from major video games after the debacle of Star Wars Battlefront II. When the debacle started, Hawaii lawmaker called Star Wars Battlefront II “a Star Wars-themed online casino.”
Lawmakers have introduced a pair of new bills in both the state-House and state-Senate (House Bill 2686 and Senate Bill 3024) to ban the sales of video games with loot boxes to anyone under the age of 21. Currently, many of the games with randomized loot boxes are rated Teen or Mature. This ban would impose the games to be rated similarly, but not sold to anyone under 21.
The next set of bills introduced, House Bill 2727 and Senate Bill 3025, would require all game makers to prominently label boxes for games that have randomized loot boxes and show the probability rates of receiving items in loot boxes.
These bills have not been adopted into state law yet, but if done, would set a precedent in how game makers can use loot boxes. There would have to be separate packaging of games for all titles with randomized loot boxes sold in Hawaii if the laws are implemented.
“I grew up playing games my whole life,” said state Rep. Chris Lee of Oahu, who spearheaded the bills. “I’ve watched firsthand the evolution of the industry from one that seeks to create new things to one that’s begun to exploit people, especially children, to maximize profit.”
Rep. Lee stated that he’s been communicating with legislators in other states about possibly implementing such laws in their states, but no bills have been proposed in any other state in America as of now.
SOURCE: Hawaii Herald
Sledgehammer Games open new UK Studio to support CoD: Vanguard seasons
Sledgehammer Games have announced they are opening a new studio in the United Kingdom to support Vanguard’s live seasons.
The developers of the upcoming Call of Duty: Vanguard, Sledgehammer Games, have announced they will be expanding with a new studio in Guildford, UK.
Sledgehammer Games has grown drastically over the past couple of years, opening a new studio in Melbourne, Australia in 2019, hiring 150 new people to the team in 2020, and opening another new studio in Toronto in May.
With only a few weeks until Call of Duty: Vanguard’s launch, Sledgehammer Games has now announced they’re opening another studio in Guildford, England, to support Vanguard’s live seasons and “future projects.
Sledgehammer Games announced on October 14 that they’re growing yet again with a new studio in Guildford, which will support the existing studios in the Bay Area, Melbourne, and Toronto.
“I’m just really excited to bring our studio brand to the UK, along with the incredible franchise we get to work on,” said Andy Wilson, COO of Sledgehammer Games.
“It’s another opportunity to do our own small part to grow the industry, in a place where there’s a huge number of talented developers. As we have done in our other locations, we will be looking to build partnerships with schools and universities to help nurture and grow the next generation of talent. It’s not just about finding people who already work in the industry, it’s about providing pathways for those who are looking to get in. I remember that daunting feeling very well and it makes me happy to be providing opportunity, especially as we emerge from a historic pandemic.”
Sledgehammer is looking for team members in various roles, including Technical Artists, Senior Level Designers, and VFX Artists.
They said they are looking for “various levels of seniority” but will also be “prepared to create roles when great talent comes along.”
Expect more Operators, maps, weapons, and more from each season of Call of Duty: Vanguard, with the first bringing a new Pacific-themed Warzone map.
Source: Sledgehammer Games
Image Credit: Sledgehammer Games
Blizzard Chief Legal Officer resigns as Activision Blizzard lawsuit controversy continues
Turmoil at Activision Blizzard continues as new investigations & details surface on the harassment lawsuit.
The turmoil over the lawsuit for Activision Blizzard continues as a high profile executive of the company has announced their departure.
Blizzard Entertainment’s Chief Legal Officer, Claire Hart, has shared on her LinkedIn that she’s left the company on Friday, September 17.
Hart said in her message on LinkedIn that “the past three years have been full of unexpected twists and turns, but I feel honored to have worked with and met so many great people at Blizzard and across the Activision Blizzard businesses.”
She did not comment on whether her departure was related to what was happening at the company currently. Activision Blizzard also declined to comment beyond confirming her departure.
The news of her departure comes as this week the company confirmed new investigations by the SEC over the company’s handling of the lawsuit scandal.
This week, the situation heated up as Activision Blizzard is now under investigation by the SEC for potentially misleading investors over the brevity of the lawsuit and harassment that occurred at the company.
Activision Blizzard confirmed that they are cooperating with the SEC as part of their investigation into the company.
The lawsuit from California State, which surfaced in July, primarily focused on Blizzard Entertainment’s harassment and scandal issues, including sexual harassment, inequality amongst staff pay, and more issues.
Blizzard’s President of J. Allen Brack was the first executive to leave the company, resigning at the end of July. He was replaced by Mike Ybarra and Jen Oneal as the new co-leaders of Blizzard Entertainment.
So far, Activision Blizzard has refused to met employee’s demands to chart a better future for the company. An employee group, A Better ABK, has been formed to provide their feedback to the executive team.
In other news in regards to Blizzard, the Executive Producer of Overwatch 2 is departing Blizzard this week.
Chacko Sonny, who was highly respected at Blizzard and seen as the person to chart Overwatch’s future following Jeff Kaplan’s departure, told staff in an email that he’s leaving, per Bloomberg. Sonny was perviously one the masterminds behind Call of Duty ELITE service back in 2011.
We’ll continue to update as the situation unfolds.
Activision Blizzard provides update on workplace initiatives as US government opens investigation
Activision Blizzard is now being investigated by the SEC over sexual misconduct and discrimination allegations, as fallout from initial lawsuit continues.
The fallout on Activision Blizzard over the initial revelations of workplace harassment at the company continues as the company is now facing new legal challenges from U.S government agencies.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has issued a report stating that the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Committee, opened an investigation into Activision Blizzard recently over the workplace harassment and pay inequality issues.
The SEC has also subpoenaed Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick to appear in court, along with several other Activision Blizzard senior executives. Specific names beyond Kotick were not shared.
The SEC is investigating whether Activision Blizzard’s failure to provide proper information in regards to the harassment and inequality situation prior to it becoming public via the California state lawsuit on July 21, 2021 caused investors to lose money over a drop in the company’s stock prices.
The WSJ states that, per documents and files they’ve reviewed, the SEC is asking for information dating back to 2019.
The agency is specifically inquiring about the communications of senior executives over the harassment and diversity situation and what decisions were made at that time.
Activision Blizzard’s Chief Communications Officer, Helaine Klasky, confirmed to WSJ that the SEC is investigating the company and confirmed they are cooperating with the SEC.
In addition to the SEC, the WSJ reports that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been investigating Activision Blizzard separately since May 2020 over workplace misconduct and discrimination.
Per reports, Activision Blizzard and the agency are in talks over a settlement agreement which would see the company pay millions of dollars in fines.
Activision Blizzard has been under fire since the California DEFH lawsuit came to light on July 21, 2021.
Employees of the company formed a group, known as A Better ABK, to list their demands and how they want to proceed forward with the company, following a company wide walkout in July. So far, the company’s executives have not met their demands.
Activision Blizzard provides update
Since these new investigations have come to light, Activision Blizzard has issued a statement revealing some progress that the company claims to have made over the last two months.
Bobby Kotick, Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard, said, “We are deeply committed to making Activision Blizzard one of the best, most inclusive places to work anywhere. There is absolutely no place anywhere in our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind. While we continue to work in good faith with regulators to address and resolve past workplace issues, we also continue to move ahead with our own initiatives to ensure that we are the very best place to work. We remain committed to addressing all workplace issues in a forthright and prompt manner.”
Activision Blizzard confirmed investigations are underway by the SEC and the EEOC, which were reported by the WSJ. The company says that they are “cooperating” with the investigations.
Kotick also said that the Company continues to productively engage with regulators, including the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) with the goal of improving its workplace policies and procedures and ensuring compliance.
The Company is actively engaged in continued discussions with the EEOC and has cooperated with the EEOC’s investigation concerning certain employment practices. It also confirmed that it is complying with a recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) subpoena issued to the Company and several current and former employees and executives regarding disclosures on employment matters and related issues. The Company is confident in its prior disclosures and is cooperating with the SEC’s investigation.
In addition, Activision Blizzard states that they have made several changes to the company and the company’s culture. They state that there have been many exits from the company and have “refreshed” their HR team.
Activision Blizzard recently announced the hiring of Julie Hodges as their new Chief People Officer, who will be responsible for HR. Hodges begins her role on Sept. 21. She replaces the current head of HR, who has left the company.
Activision Blizzard has made a number of important improvements including significant changes to personnel, exiting a number of employees, and expanding compliance resources. In addition, the Company has refreshed its HR organization and, this week, will welcome a new Chief People Officer, Julie Hodges, who joins the Company from The Walt Disney Company. The Company has also expanded training, performance management, and anti-harassment resources.
We’ll continue to provide updates on the situation with Activision Blizzard.
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