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"The epic intimacy of World War II" | This Week in Business

What people say and what they mean don't always match, especially when what they say doesn't mean anything

This Week in Business is our weekly recap column, a collection of stats and quotes from recent stories presented with a dash of opinion (sometimes more than a dash) and intended to shed light on various trends. Check back every Friday for a new entry.

Last month we ran a This Week in Business column about the metaverse, mostly having fun with Improbable CEO Herman Narula's techno-utopian promises about how the metaverse -- possibly one built on blockchain technology -- would finally fill that gap in our collective soul and make us whole again. (I am exaggerating, but only slightly.)

Improbable reached out a few hours after it ran looking to arrange for a call with Narula where he could explain his vision for the metaverse and I could explain why I don't buy into that vision. We published a recap of that call this week. I would normally quote bits of it here but Narula was a pretty good sport about the last time he was featured in this space so we'll take a pass on that.

Instead, to show Narula that I am not some knee-jerk technophobe who expects nothing but the worst from human advancement and the humans who pursue it, I am going to try out some bleeding edge technology that I hope can make This Week in Business even... well, "better" doesn't seem like the right word, so let's say it might make This Week in Business even more what it already is!

We've had the trusty Quotes n' Stats Machine churning out an assortment of the important bits of each week's news for over a decade now, but this week we're trying out an upgrade. Despite the semiconductor shortage and shipping delays on hardware of all kinds, I've obtained a super-rare Corporate-PR-to-English Translator module for the Quotes n' Stats Machine. You just plug in a quote like normal and it tells you the honest message underneath all the jargon.

I am itching to give this thing a spin, but let's start out with a calibration test.

QUOTE | "Sue us, Sony." - PS5 replacement faceplate maker Dbrand, in promoting its Darkplates for Sony's latest console knowing that Sony had already issued legal threats to one other third-party faceplate maker.

TRANSLATION | "Sue us, Sony."

Huh. Normally I'd say this thing wasn't working, but Sony issued a cease-and-desist order to Dbrand this week, giving the company a bunch of press coverage and free advertising for its products right as it unveiled new, non-patent-infringing faceplates for customers to preorder. Maybe they really did mean it, and Dbrand just found a clever way to turn the over-eager litigiousness of platform holders into a win for itself.

We'll have to try something else just to be sure.

QUOTE | "A curated selection out of millions of documents at Facebook can in no way be used to draw fair conclusions about us." - The official Facebook Communications Twitter account tries to get ahead of what it calls "a coordinated series of articles based on thousands of pages of leaked documents" it is expecting journalists to publish any day now.

TRANSLATION | "Sure, there may be a few emails confirming that we enabled genocide (or whatever these reporters found this time... oh gosh we hope hope hope it's not something worse), but it's super unfair to focus on that when there were so many more emails that didn't have anything to do with our role(s) in atrocities! There were dozens of messages and really nice sentiments in the sales team's email thread about what to get Pam for her retirement party. Why aren't those Negative Nellies in the media reporting on that? Dozens!"

OK... Seems like it's basically working but definitely needs a bit of fine-tuning. I'll just make a few adjustments and we'll try again...

QUOTE | "Internally, we share work in progress and debate options. Not every suggestion stands up to the scrutiny we must apply to decisions affecting so many people." - The Facebook Communications team again, later on in the same tweet quoted above.

TRANSLATION | "Yes, decision-makers at Facebook will at times suggest shockingly evil courses of action. But you know what? Sometimes -- just sometimes -- we don't actually follow through on them."

Ah, yes, much better. Now let's put this thing through its paces. Let's start with this Kotaku report where Ubisoft employees talked about the company not really improving its reporting procedures in the year since the publisher buried any goodwill it might have had under an avalanche of sexual harassment and misconduct stories.

QUOTE | "As you know, your experiences and the information you have access to while working in the studio are privileged and cannot be shared outside of the studio. Obviously, this does not prevent journalists from trying to contact you. If that happens, we ask that you forward the request to our Media Relations Officer. It's the right thing to do, but it's also a commitment you made under the Code of Conduct, the Anti-Leak Policy and your employment contract." - Ubisoft Montreal director Christophe Derennes, in an email to employees in June.

TRANSLATION | "Snitches get stitches."

Hm. I admit that one loses some of the nuance, and it's hopefully more metaphorical than literal, but it still seems pretty true to the message overall.

QUOTE | "A person may free himself from his liability for injury caused to another as a result of the disclosure of a trade secret by proving that considerations of general interest prevailed over keeping the secret and, particularly, that its disclosure was justified for reasons of public health or safety." - Section 1472 of the Civil Code of Quebec.

TRANSLATION | "Ubisoft employees should not trust Ubisoft to tell them what their legal rights are when it comes to alleged wrongdoing by Ubisoft."

Oh wow, this thing's translations are even context-sensitive! I love technology. Moving on...

QUOTE | "January's events gave us an opportunity to consider how we can further our efforts to make the equity markets as fair, orderly, and efficient as possible." - SEC chair Gary Gensler in a 45-page report assessing this year's meme stock frenzy and the GameStop price surge specifically and finding no evidence of fraud.

TRANSLATION | "There was no puppet master pulling the strings behind the meme stock stuff, so there's nobody to punish, and no way to be sure this won't happen in the future. That seems bad and somebody should probably do something, but don't ask us what that should be."

Let's see what else we can feed this thing. Ah, here's a tough one!

QUOTE | "Call of Duty: Vanguard captures the epic intimacy of World War II in an incredibly immersive manner." - Activision Blizzard chief marketing officer Fernando Machado in a press release for Call of Duty: Vanguard.

TRANSLATION | "...."

Just give it a minute. This one's clearly tricky, and it's unclear what they're even going for. Are they trying to defuse toxic masculinity in the Call of Duty community by making intimacy into a selling point? Will Call of Duty ads start touting the games' "next-gen empathy"? [Editor's note: "Next-gempathy"?] How about their "hardcore emotional availability," and "punishingly photorealistic self-esteem-building affirmations"?

Did Machado just have a Jerry Maguire moment and this is his bold manifesto decrying vapid AAA games marketing and the tendency to flatten real-world settings and events of significance into just another theme park shooting gallery?

Is Machado secretly an AI bot that just spews out random word salads and nobody cares because gamers will buy Call of Duty no matter what? (So long as you don't set it in the future, at least.)

TRANSLATION | "...."

Did this thing just crash? There's no like, spinning hourglass or anything on here.

TRANSLATION | [loud buzzing noise followed by smoke, sparks, and the faintest, fading robotic voice plaintively asking "Whyyyyyyyy"]

Ah, crud. Guess we pushed it too hard with that last one. We'll try and get it back online for next week.

Activision Blizzard gets its own section

Welp, Activision Blizzard broke my new translator, so it gets its own section this week.

QUOTE | "In connection with various resolved reports, more than 20 individuals have exited Activision Blizzard and more than 20 individuals faced other types of disciplinary action." - Activision Blizzard executive VP for corporate affairs Fran Townsend in a staff email that was also posted to the company's corporate website this week.

There are a few things I want to point out here. First, the language used leaves a lot of wiggle room. The suggestion that they "exited" the company would seem to suggest that this number includes not just people who were fired for transgressions, but people who agreed to -- and were allowed to -- resign (I will assume with severance packages and NDAs).

The statement is also notably vague about the relation between these departures and the resolved reports. The wording covers offenders, yes, and it also covers people who left because they were in a position of authority but ignored or mishandled reports of wrong-doing among their subordinates. But it would arguably also cover victims who left the company, or employees who departed in disgust after these allegations came to light, or perhaps in response to leadership's initial tone-deaf response to it all.

Second, there's no time frame given as to during which span of time these exits took place. Were these exits this week? This month? Since the California lawsuit was filed in August? Do they go back through all the years of incidents referenced in the suit? It could be a lifetime total for the company as far as jettisoning bad actors, phrased and presented like this to make it seem like more of an urgent house cleaning.

This may sound like I'm giving Activision Blizzard a needlessly hard time, reading every word with the worst faith interpretation possible and looking for the loopholes they could point to in the future to say they technically weren't lying when they made these statements. And yes, that's exactly what I'm doing, because that's what happens when you lose credibility.

And Activision Blizzard has undermined its credibility plenty. Like when its initial response to the California lawsuit was to vehemently deny the claims.

QUOTE | "A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories -- some from more than a decade ago. We cannot let egregious actions of others, and a truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit, damage our culture of respect and equal opportunity for all employees." - Activision Blizzard executive VP for corporate affairs Fran Townsend, in an internal email to company staff after California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed suit against the publisher.

Yes, a truly meritless lawsuit. There was so little merit it to it that it was quickly followed by numerous people corroborating allegations in the suit, by Blizzard Entertainment president J Allen Brack resigning in disgrace/to pursue new opportunities, by a second government lawsuit alleging much of the same discriminatory behavior, by 40 people -- under the best-faith reading of Townsend's statement this week -- being disciplined or jettisoned from the company over their involvement in the reported events, and by a drastic change in tone of Activision Blizzard communications now stressing how hard the company is trying to change and improve a culture that it won't admit had problems to begin with.

The rest of the week in review

STAT | 2050 - The year by which Bandai Namco has committed to become a carbon net-zero business. I have set a Google calendar reminder, and I will have a devastating Twitter burn ready to go in case the company doesn't meet that goal. Assuming of course that Bandai Namco, Google, Twitter, carbon emission-producing technologies, and I are all still around in nearly 30 years.

STAT | 37% - Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass subscriber base growth for the year ended June 30, 2021. The company had expected growth of 48%.

QUOTE | "This is the advice that I give to people, because you might have to sign a contract that's 60 pages, which is just ridiculous. But in the end, all that matters is: What you are getting paid? How are you getting paid? What are your royalties? How do you get your royalties? Not just the amount, but at what point do you get them? You've got to spreadsheet it out. You've got to understand your termination. You've got to understand what you own and don't own coming out of this." - Obsidian's Feargus Urquhart has advice for developers on working with publishers and weighing acquisition offers.

STAT | 12% - The percentage of IGDA Developer Satisfaction Survey respondents who were members of a union in the 2021 survey, doubling the 2019 survey's 6%.

QUOTE | "Epic Games Store will welcome games that make use of blockchain tech provided they follow the relevant laws, disclose their terms, and are age-rated by an appropriate group." - Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney says the publisher's digital storefront is open for blockchain business shortly after Valve banned NFT- and blockchain-based games from its storefront.

QUOTE | "We aren't touching NFTs as the whole field is currently tangled up with an intractable mix of scams, interesting decentralized tech foundations, and scams." - Sweeney last month explains why Epic has no interest in the emerging and highly disreputable field.

QUOTE | "So who wants to take on the regulatory risk and known unknowns to foster a new type of game where they won't get a cut of the transactions by default and all the proponents of this type of game are philosophically opposed to the level of control developers and publishers have come to expect over their games and their player experiences?" - Me, wondering just how blockchain games are supposed to find their audience if the industry standard storefronts on PC, console, and mobile all refuse to carry them.

STAT | 33 months - The Nintendo Switch's streak of months as the top-selling system in the US, in terms of units sold, according to the NPD Group. That streak was broken in September as the PS5 finally toppled the king. Given the relative prices of the systems, the October launch of the Switch OLED, and the holiday buying season around the corner, I would not be surprised to see Switch retake the mantle for a spell.

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