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Bulletins

Microsoft bought ZeniMax for a slate of stellar first-party content

The deal is a huge boost for its Game Pass subscription service.

Microsoft bought ZeniMax for a slate of stellar first-party content

Microsoft gets an awful lot of prestige by buying ZeniMax, helping to boost its roster of first-party franchises.

Image: Bethesda

Microsoft announced that it bought video game giant ZeniMax on Monday for $7.5 billion. It's a lot of money, and it cements what we already knew: Microsoft is out to win the gaming industry.


ZeniMax is one of the most storied companies in gaming, counting some of the world's most beloved properties among its portfolio. It owns id Software, developer of such classics as Doom, Quake and Rage, as well as RPG-titan Bethesda, which makes The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. It also owns Arkane, developer of recent hit Dishonored.

In other words, Microsoft gets an awful lot of prestige by buying ZeniMax, helping to boost its roster of first-party franchises. Those have languished somewhat in recent years, most notably with delays to the upcoming Halo title. Heading into the next generation of consoles, Sony undoubtedly has the more attractive game lineup.

While Microsoft could make all of ZeniMax's games Xbox-exclusives in future, it seems to have bigger ambitions. It has said it will offer the Xbox versions as part of its Game Pass subscription. Microsoft is increasingly pushing the all-you-can-play subscription as the future of gaming, and one of the biggest struggles with that business model is licensing enough high-quality titles to keep users engaged. Buying ZeniMax provides an easy solution and is a clear shot at Sony — albeit one with huge upfront expense.

This is Microsoft's biggest gaming acquisition to date, dwarfing the $2.5 billion it paid for Minecraft developer Mojang back in 2014. And after Microsoft's failed TikTok bid, it can be viewed as a huge statement of intent: Though the company might have found its feet in enterprise, it hasn't forgotten about consumers, and it seems very happy to use its cash reserves to win at gaming.

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Protocol | China

Chinese web users are writing a new playbook for disaster response

Faced with horrific flooding, web users, companies and governments are using shared docs, social media and drones in clever new ways.

Chinese web users are employing novel methods to spread information amid severe flooding.

Photo: Barcroft Media/Getty Images

Severe floods caused by torrential rains in Central China's Henan province have killed dozens and displaced tens of thousands of residents since last weekend. In parallel with local and central governments' disaster relief and rescue efforts, Chinese web users have organized online, using technology in novel ways to mitigate risks and rescue those who were trapped in subway cars and neighborhoods submerged in floodwaters.

Chinese web users are no strangers to digital crowdsourcing efforts. During the COVID-19 outbreak, volunteers archived censored media reports and personal stories of suffering from disease or injustice that were scattered on social media, saving them on sharable files on GitHub and broadcasting them via Telegram. Despite pervasive censorship, in times of crisis, Chinese web users have managed to keep information and communications channels open among themselves, and with the rest of the world.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.


Larry Gadea

CEO and co-founder, Envoy

When it comes to hybrid work, let's be honest: People don't know what to think. Are two or three days a week in the office the sweet spot? Are five days a dealbreaker? We repeat what we hear others say or go with our gut, but how do any of us really know?

This is the first real national conversation we're having about work flexibility after one of the most catastrophic world events. Now companies are dealing with the pressure to come up with long-term plans and answers before they've had a chance to try things out and see what works. Leaders should be confessing, "We're not sure what the plan is yet," but no one wants to hear this. We need to be OK with some uncertainty and, at the same time, stay flexible for everyone.

As people return, each company should look at its data to see what's needed and what the people prefer. What I'm currently seeing based on Envoy customer usage data of around several hundred Desks-using companies is that companies are adapting their spaces, opting for open over permanent desks. They're giving folks options to book desks or meeting space when needed, and based on data of who's coming in, they're adjusting their policies.

Right now, work is getting done remotely and people are allegedly more productive than ever. But many aren't enjoying their jobs as much because they're missing a sense of community and inherent culture that'd have otherwise been automatic in an office. Proximity matters. It's important for teams to be together physically, and making that actually happen now takes intention. You need to organize people coming back into the office, in specific places and on one schedule. You need the right tools that simplify the mundane office tasks of hot desking, finding meeting rooms, managing office capacity and syncing schedules so teams can sit together, connect, get creative and, you know, bring some humanity to an otherwise day-to-day job.

Hybrid work has its logistical challenges and will look different for each company, but it keeps the culture alive and the community strong for people to do their best work.

Erin Figueroa

VP, Operations, Slack

During the pandemic, the way we work fundamentally changed — and there's no going back. Employees don't want to return to pre-pandemic office-based work culture, but they also don't want to remain fully remote. Instead, they want an entirely new working model that combines the best of both worlds. Research from Slack's Future Forum shows that 93% of knowledge workers want flexibility in when they work, while 76% want flexibility in where they work. But employees don't want flexibility at all costs. Instead, they want flexibility within a predictable framework. Two-thirds (65.6%) want a balance between full flexibility and a predictable framework.

Successfully making this transition depends on moving from office-centric infrastructure to digital-first infrastructure. Being digital-first is about meeting your employees' needs and helping them do their best work. It means empowering people to work when and where is best for them, with physical offices serving as just one of the tools available to support collaboration. For example, while Slack will always support the needs of those who require individual space, we'll be focusing the use of our physical offices on work that is team- and customer-centric.

Having employees working outside of central offices for extended periods or on hybrid schedules may be difficult because we can lose those organic, spontaneous connections that occur in passing and help foster a sense of community. But by prioritizing digital infrastructure as much as physical — leaning into digital tools like Slack and asynchronous communication to ensure workers have flexibility they need to do their best work — we can create meaningful connections and foster community for employees regardless of how or when they work.

Nellie Hayat

Head of Workplace Transformation, VergeSense

The abrupt shift to work-from-home globally in early 2020 has forced most organizations to adopt remote work. It meant providing laptops, offering allowances to set up a home office and allowing people to self-manage their schedule (to accommodate caregiving obligations and other COVID-related challenges). But what companies did not anticipate is that employees would not want to revert back to the pre-pandemic model.

Indeed, after more than 18 months, employees have adapted to the change, they have adopted new habits and they have developed a greater liking for flexibility. They've also started to voice their dissatisfaction with the rigid 9-to-5, five days a week work mode as lacking inclusion, diversity and trust.

In April 2021 alone, more than 4 million Americans quit their job. So what can companies do to retain their top performers and attract the best talent?

  1. Adopt distributed work, offer greater flexibility to teams and provide trust to individuals. According to a recent survey of 10,000 knowledge workers, Future Forum reports that flexibility is now a core benefit and it ranks second to compensation among the factors that employees value most about their jobs.
  2. Build a framework to identify signs of disengagement, burnout, health-related issues, turnover and dissatisfaction. It will allow you to make changes internally to keep employees motivated, happy and healthy.
  3. Invest in renovating existing offices to allocate more space for team work, social gatherings, company celebrations and innovation hubs. Pre-pandemic workplaces were overly designed for individualized work according to VergeSense's report on workplace usage.

Sal Mani

Global Director of Technical Security, Ripple

Remote work has increased swiftly and brought about new ways to structure organizations and workplaces. We see that people want to work from varying working environments and prefer a hybrid approach.

That said, when some people are remote and some are on-site, it becomes harder for hybrid teams to collaborate. Knowing this, companies need to prioritize changing their physical environment and defining remote work guidelines to provide the best team experience.

Now that there are fewer "water cooler" talks and informal walkovers to desks, employees need the ability to create virtual team environments easily. Companies will need to create spaces that allow for quick collaboration and decision-making. We can foster casual conversation by having more video conferencing pop-in rooms or areas that are non-bookable and first come, first served.

Companies may also need to reconfigure existing spaces based on how often they're used and changing foot traffic. Understanding space utilization and taking a data-driven approach will be essential. There may be a shift to desk hoteling or having open collaboration spaces for team gatherings. Regardless, companies will need to focus on making it easy for employees to say that they're coming into the office versus working remotely so workplace teams can plan ahead. Various tools have come to market that can help companies understand who's coming in and space usage while providing a great experience for employees.

We also need to provide learning and training on remote-friendly best practices. Companies should create a playbook and provide training to ensure successful collaboration between remote and in-office employees.

Protocol | Workplace

Uber has more Black employees, but still only 3.8% in leadership roles

Uber's latest diversity report showed progress in the representation of Black people at the company.

Last year, after committing to being an anti-racist company, Uber reported that its Black employee base decreased from 9.3% in 2019 to 7.5%.

Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty

Diversity report season is upon us. Uber, which saw a decrease in its overall Black population last year, has made up for the loss.

Last year, after committing to being an anti-racist company, Uber reported that its Black employee base decreased from 9.3% in 2019 to 7.5%. Uber attributed the loss in Black representation to pandemic-related layoffs. This year, as of March 2021, Uber is 10.3% Black.

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Megan Rose Dickey
Megan Rose Dickey is a senior reporter at Protocol covering labor and diversity in tech. Prior to joining Protocol, she was a senior reporter at TechCrunch and a reporter at Business Insider.
Protocol | Fintech

Here’s how GameStop turned Public into the anti-Robinhood

Dropping payment for order flow "was a big decision for us, but a very sensible one," said co-CEO Jannick Malling.

Public.com co-founders Jannick Malling (left) and Leif Abraham decided to abandon payment for order flow.

Photo: Public.com

The GameStop trading frenzy in January gave Public.com a huge lift.

Leif Abraham, the social investing site's co-founder and co-CEO, described it as "a moment of big growth." The startup saw a big spike in users, including refugees from rival Robinhood, which was sharply criticized for its handling of the controversial trades.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Protocol | Enterprise

'It’s almost like software equals AI': Inside a tech funding craze

To date in 2021, investors have poured $29.5 billion into AI startups, topping 2020's $27.8 billion.

Protocol

There's a funding bonanza in Silicon Valley right now for technology that has seemed on the verge of a breakthrough for decades.

The stories are everywhere: Blockbuster seed or series A funding rounds. Established venture capital firms like Scale Venture Partners losing out to bids as much as 10x higher than their own. Easy access to capital, along with an expanded pool of investors, is fueling a massive surge in funding for startups of all types and sizes. That's very clear in the artificial intelligence market.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

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