Activision Blizzard execs respond to harassment and discrimination lawsuit

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard this week over alleged sexual harassment and discrimination against women. In a memo to staff obtained by Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier, Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack wrote that "the allegations and the hurt of current and former employees are extremely troubling."

Brack wrote that everyone should feel safe at Blizzard and that "it is completely unacceptable for anyone in the company to face discrimination or harassment." He noted it requires courage for people to come forward with their stories, and that all claims brought to the company are taken seriously and investigated.

"People with different backgrounds, views, and experiences are essential for Blizzard, our teams, and our player community," Brack wrote. "I disdain 'bro culture,' and have spent my career fighting against it."

In the suit, the DFEH made a string of accusations against former World of Warcraft senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi. The agency alleged that Afrasiabi was "permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions" and suggested that the activity was an open secret.

Brack is said to be among those who were aware of Afrasiabi's purported actions. The DFEH claimed Brack "allegedly had multiple conversations with Afrasiabi about his drinking and that he had been 'too friendly' towards female employees at company events but gave Afrasiabi a slap on the wrist (i.e. verbal counseling) in response to those incidents." After those supposed talks, Afrasiabi "continued to make unwanted advances towards female employees," including groping one of them, according to the suit.

The DFEH claimed a Blizzard employee informed Brack in early 2019 that people were leaving the company because of sexual harassment and sexism. The employee allegedly said that women on the Battle.net team were "subjected to disparaging comments," that "the environment was akin to working in a frat house" and that women who weren't "huge gamers" or "into the party scene" were "excluded and treated as outsiders."

Activision Blizzard has denied the allegations. It claimed the suit "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past." The company also accused the DFEH, which investigated Activision Blizzard for two years, of "disgraceful and unprofessional" conduct and claimed the agency didn't engage in a “good faith effort” to resolve complaints before resorting to legal action.

"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," Fran Townsend, executive vice president for corporate affairs at the publisher, wrote in a memo to employees. Some Blizzard employees are "fuming" over the note, according to Schreier.

Townsend, a former Homeland Security advisor to President George W. Bush who joined Activision Blizzard this year, said "the Activision companies of today, the Activision companies that I know, are great companies with good values." Townsend also claimed Activision Blizzard "takes a hardline approach to inappropriate or hostile work environments and sexual harassment issues" and that the company has "put tremendous effort into creating fair compensation policies that reflect our commitment to equal opportunity."

Microsoft offers discounts on hundreds of Xbox and PC games

Xbox's Ultimate Game Sale has returned. Microsoft is offering deals on hundreds of Xbox and PC games and accessories over the next two weeks. Among the console titles you can save on are FIFA 21 Ultimate Edition and NBA 2K21 (75 percent off at $25 and $15, respectively), Battlefield 1 Revolution ($8, down 80 percent) and Forza Horizon 4 Ultimate Edition ($45, 55 percent off).

MLB The Show 21's standard Xbox One edition and Series X/S bundle have both been discounted by 35 percent to $39 and $55.24 respectively. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is half off at $30, as is Assassin's Creed Valhalla. Other Xbox game deals include Mass Effect Legendary Edition (25 percent off, $45), Far Cry 5 (down 85 percent to $9), The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Game of the Year Edition (discounted from $50 to $10) and Watch Dogs: Legion ($20, usually $60).

There are discounts on dozens of PC games as well. Gears 5, for instance, is down from $40 to $16. You can also save on Yakuza: Like a Dragon ($36, 40 percent off), Control (half off at $15) and Halo: The Master Chief Collection (down from $40 to $20).

There are many more deals to check out on the Ultimate Game Sale pages for Xbox and PC. The sale runs until August 5th. Still, before you snap up any of the games on offer, it's worth checking whether you already have access to them through Xbox Game Pass or EA Play. There are details about that on each game's product page.

You'll also be able to save on PCs and accessories as part of the sale. Microsoft has cut the prices of several gaming PCs and laptops by up to $500. You can save up to $300 on the Razer Blade 15, which starts at a sale price of $2,700. There are solid deals on VR headsets too, including the HTC Vive Cosmos and Vive Cosmos Elite, which have been discounted by $250 to $449 and $649 respectively.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

The Google Pixel 4 is on sale for $380 at Woot

If you've been on the hunt for a capable Android phone that won't break the bank, there's a solid deal over at Woot that's worth checking out. Google's Pixel 4 is on sale for $380, down from the usual $800 for the 64GB model. It's the lowest price we've seen for the smartphone in quite some time. Woot's parent company Amazon and B&H Photo were both selling the Pixel 4 for $400 earlier this month.

Buy Pixel 4 (64GB) at Woot - $380

As you might expect from a Google smartphone, the Pixel 4 has great cameras. It has a "smooth" display system that can boost the refresh rate from the typical 60Hz to 90Hz. The device will also support Android 12 and it's quick enough for most use cases.

Overall, the Pixel 4 might be better value than the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 right now. The Pixel 4a, meanwhile, costs $350 and arrived a year after the Pixel 4, but Google downgraded some of the specs — the display only has a 60Hz refresh rate and there's just a single rear camera, rather than two.

There are a few provisos to bear in mind with the Pixel 4. Google will provide Android and security updates for the Pixel 4 until October 2022, but there's no guarantee it will continue to do so after that time. Phone and online support might not be available after then either. Meanwhile, the device's screen brightness and battery life don't quite match up to equivalent flagships from Apple and Samsung.

It's worth noting Woot's return policy is more limited than that of Amazon. You can send back most goods within 30 days and Woot will reduce the refund amount by the cost of return shipping (as long as the product isn't defective or damaged). So, if you do snap up a Pixel 4 while it's on sale, it's probably best to decide quickly if you want to hang onto it.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

Rivian is planning to build a second EV factory in the US

Electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian is planning to build a second factory. The company may make battery cells as well as EVs at the plant, should it come to fruition. Rivian might make an announcement within the next couple of months and Reuters reports construction could start next year.

Rivian spokesperson Amy Mast confirmed to the organization that the company is "exploring locations for a second US manufacturing facility." Mast noted it's early in the process and didn't share additional details.

The company's first factory is in Normal, Illinois. Rivian employs around 7,000 people and a second plant would likely create hundreds of new jobs, which seems to be the reason why several states have reportedly made bids.

An additional factory would enable Rivian to increase capacity and have a 50 gigawatt-hour battery cell production line, according to the report. The location may also feature a product and technology center, and construction is likely to take place in phases. Meanwhile, Rivian reportedly has a goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions at the plant as swiftly as possible.

Last week, Rivian delayed initial shipments of the R1T pickup by a couple of months to September and the R1S SUV to the fall. It blamed the effects of COVID-19 as a major factor. The pandemic also resulted in a shift in the timeline for the second factory, according to Reuters.

The next Grid game uses the same virtual set tech as ‘The Mandalorian’

Codemasters offered the first look at the next Grid game during EA Play Live. Grid Legends features a story mode that mashes together live-action performances and in-game action. Senior gameplay designer Becky Crossdale said Codemasters harnessed the same extended reality tech that was used to create the world of The Mandalorian.

In the story mode, you'll be "front and center in a fly-on-the-wall documentary that captures every moment on and off the track" during the Grid World Series, according to EA. The cast includes Ncuti Gatwa (Netflix's Sex Education).

You'll be able to race in and upgrade more than 100 vehicles, including touring cars, big rigs, single seaters and stadium trucks. With the race creator, you can set up a showdown between a variety of mixed-class rides. There will also be more than 130 tracks to race on including real-life locations like Brands Hatch and Indianapolis and street routes in the likes of San Francisco, Paris, London and Moscow.

Grid Legends is coming to PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC in 2022. Codemasters plans to reveal more details in the coming months.

Jack Dorsey hopes bitcoin can bring about world peace

Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey has long been a bitcoin enthusiast. In fact, he's so optimistic about the cryptocurrency, he reckons it could bring about a more peaceful planet. The billionaire suggested bitcoin could help address financial inequalities and allow humanity to concentrate on bigger issues.

“My hope is that it creates world peace or helps create world peace,” Dorsey said. “We have all these monopolies off balance and the individual doesn’t have power and the amount of cost and distraction that comes from our monetary system today is real and it takes away attention from the bigger problems.”

“All these distractions that we have to deal with on a daily basis take away from those bigger goals that affect every single person on this planet and increasingly so," he said, as CNBC notes. "You fix that foundational level and everything above it improves in such a dramatic way. It’s going to be long-term but my hope is definitely peace."

He made the comments during a panel called "bitcoin as a tool for economic empowerment" at a virtual conference called The B Word. Tesla CEO and crypto market mover Elon Musk and Cathie Wood, chief executive of Square stakeholder ARK Invest, also took part in the discussion.

Dorsey spoke in 2018 of his belief that bitcoin would become the planet’s “single currency" within a decade. Earlier this month, Square confirmed plans to make a bitcoin hardware wallet. Dorsey also said last week the company is building a “decentralized financial services” business that aims to replicate monetary systems like banks and exchanges with cryptocurrency.

There are many hurdles standing between the current state of crypto and the potential for it leading to world peace, such as unreliable internet access in many regions. The power consumption required for bitcoin mining and to process transactions are also at odds with Dorsey’s vision, given the environmental impact of many cryptocurrencies. 

Earlier this year, Musk said Tesla would stop taking bitcoin payments for vehicles because it was "concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for bitcoin mining and transactions." However, he noted during this week's conference that Tesla may resume such payments. "I wanted a little bit more due diligence to confirm that the percentage of renewable energy usage is most likely at or above 50%, and that there is a trend towards increasing that number, and if so Tesla would resume accepting bitcoin," he said.

‘Lost Judgment’ will let you team up with a dog detective

Lost Judgment, the sequel to detective adventure Judgment, arrives in a couple of months and Sony has given a deeper look at what to expect with a gameplay trailer. For one thing, there are a ton of mini-games for you to check out, including a Sonic the Hedgehog one.

You’ll be able to tail and chase suspects, once again adopt disguises, harness Takayuki Yagami’s parkour skills and use a bevy of gadgets. Perhaps most excitingly, you’ll have a companion dog who can help you find targets and assist in fights.

When it comes to combat, you can draw from a variety of martial arts forms, including the new counterattack-centric snake style. The trailer also shows off more of Yagami’s side-quests while he’s undercover as a high school advisor. You’ll be able to build and control a robot in the robotics club, for instance.

It’s not exactly surprising that there’ll be so much to see and do here, given the depth of the original and developer Ryu ga Gotoku Studio’s history with the Yakuza series. The trailer gives just a taste of what you’ll be able to do in Lost Judgment, which arrives on PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S on September 24th.

‘Ghost of Tsushima’ director’s cut trailer shows off the gorgeous Iki Island

Sony and developer Sucker Punch have revealed some more details about what's next for Jin Sakai in Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut, an expanded edition of the 2020 action-adventure game. They also released a gorgeous new trailer for the upcoming version, which hits PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 on August 20th.

You'll be able to explore an entirely new island called Iki. Jin learns that a Mongol tribe led by a shaman named Ankhsar Khatun has taken residence there. Khatun is "not only a conqueror of nations, but a shepherd of souls. And the danger she presents to Jin and his people is unlike any they have faced," Sucker Punch senior writer Patrick Downs wrote on the PlayStation blog.

Iki is a "lawless land of raiders and criminals" which has been out of samurai control for decades. Jin will run into pirates, smugglers and "mad monks" on the island. He'll explore haunted caves and learn new techniques.

The expanded story will also delve deeper into Jin's painful past. "With everything that has happened this past year, it’s no accident we also wanted to tell a story of healing," Downs wrote. "And we felt this would pose a unique and compelling challenge for Jin."

Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut is a $20 upgrade for owners of the original game. It costs an extra $10 to upgrade the PS5 version of either the base game or the director's cut. Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut will also be available as a direct purchase for $60 on PS4 and $70 on PS5.

Valve announces a $1 million ‘CS:GO’ art contest

Valve is on the lookout for new Counter-Strike: Global Offensive weapon skins, and it's hoping to entice creators to submit designs with a $1 million art contest. The company will select 10 original, dream-themed looks. The creators of the winning designs will each receive $100,000 and the skins will be added to the game.

You can send in as many designs as you like and create them either solo or as part of a team. You can also have multiple winning skins.

Artists will still own the rights to their creations — sending in an entry gives Valve a non-exclusive license to use it in CS:GO. You'll have until October 21st to submit your designs to the CS:GO Workshop. You'll need to use a Steam account that's in good standing (i.e. it hasn't been limited in any way) which has made at least $5 of Steam purchases. Valve will contact the winners by November 21st.

This is a neat contest with potentially life-changing prizes. The Steam Workshop has been around for a decade. It allows players to upload mods, maps and items for a variety of games — including weapon skins for CS:GO

"Over five million content creators have submitted and published over 20 million new items for a variety of games on Steam, making them available for purchase to millions of gamers around the world," Valve said. "And, as everyone who plays these games knows — including CS players — many of the most iconic in-game items, maps, and more have been authored by members of the community. The Dreams & Nightmares Content Contest is designed to help further support this community."

Clubhouse’s audio chat rooms are now open to everyone

Folks who want to check out Clubhouse no longer need to join a waitlist. Sixteen months after it debuted, the audio discussion app is moving out of beta. It’s now open to everyone. To commemorate the big milestone, the company is also unveiling a new logo today, which you can see above.

Clubhouse says users can share links with others and invite them to join. The company claims there are half a million audio chat rooms on the app each day, and that 10 million people have signed up since the Android app arrived in May. Clubhouse added a direct message system last week and it says the community has already sent 90 million messages. Meanwhile, on average, users are spending over an hour a day on Clubhouse.

Clubhouse plans to keep things fresh by rolling out big updates every week or two, a cadence that's similar to how often other social media apps are updated.

While many Clubhouse users certainly seem to be hooked on the app, it’s facing stern competition from elsewhere. The likes of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Discord and Spotify have all moved into audio chat rooms in recent months. Opening up the app to everyone is an important step for Clubhouse as it looks to keep growing.