Sat, Jun 18, 2011 | 19:26 BST
The Weekly Wrap – LulzSec hacks earth, Origin vs Steam
Duke Nukem? Ocarina of Time? Welcome back to 1998, everyone. We still want to stab this Furby in the eyes. First, though, the week’s biggest headlines.
What happened: Skies darkened. Rain poured. The entire gaming world collectively fell to its knees, raised its fists at the heavens, and cried “Luuuuuuulz Seeeeec!” Meanwhile, LulzSec chuckled silently to itself. Then it kicked a puppy and laughed at that too.
What it means: Epic, Bethesda, BioWare, Eve Online, Minecraft, and more have been hit-and-run hacked in the past week alone. On the upside, publishers have shied away from Sony’s ill-conceived post-hack communication strategy, which we’re guessing it learned from a frightened turtle who even other turtles declared “slow” and “adorable, because turtle metaphors are cute no matter what the context.” Even so, if this whole fiasco has proven anything, it’s that the gaming industry needs to – we don’t know – dig a moat or something. Fill it with acid and sharks and guns. Point is, so long as these hackers are able to get their hands on our personal info, videogame security simply isn’t good enough.
Moreoever, the worse this gets, the more dangerous of a precedent it sets. Various organizations have been trying to take away people’s online rights for years. Groups like LulzSec may as well be tossing them ammunition. Honestly, though, this has already gone too far. There’s an implicit expectation of trust in handing over your personal info. The gaming industry has proven almost unanimously that it’s not worthy of that responsibility. Get your act together, everyone. This is plain-out embarrassing.
What happened: Gamers sounded the Amber Alert after Crysis 2 went missing from Steam. The culprit? Shockingly, not EA or its brand new Origin download service. Instead, Valve cited a violation in its terms of service as reason for removal. Why? Valve hasn’t elaborated, but the timing seems to suggest that EA pulled some contractual no-no or another. More concretely, however, EA talked up its desire to be the “worldwide leader in digital publishing” – a goal it hopes to accomplish partially through use of its own charge-leading “platform exclusives.”
What it means: EA, as always, is talking big (and – if E3 was any indication – probably painting the goddamn moon with a giant “Download nighttime DLC on Origin!” logo). The question, of course, is whether the publisher – now finally cannon-balling into the deep end of the digital space – can keep pace with Valve, who’s been the figurative Poseidon of those waters since time immemorial. On the upside, EA could certainly be more obnoxious about it. Sure, Star Wars: TOR is an Origin-exclusive, but it doesn’t require that you download the standalone Origin client.
But – on the whole – EA’s current strategy still leaves a lot to be desired. The publisher’s rushing in guns-a-blazing, sure, but it’s missing out on the little things. Originally, Steam got in on the ground floor of the digital movement with a rather large platform exclusive (Half-Life 2), but that was hardly the end of its rise to power. Steam’s great because it’s a complete package – not just a glorified storefront. It’s loaded with community features, stats, and the like, and it’s constantly evolving. EA’s got an uphill battle ahead of it, to be sure. Hopefully Valve and EA can keep things civil. Otherwise, Crysis 2 might become the rule – not the exception.
What happened: After an eternity of perfection-seeking and countless restarts, Duke Nukem Forever finally emerged from the depths of development hell. Or maybe a time machine. But, you know, a time machine to horrible land. Reviews, understandably, were not-so-kind. This led review copy distributor Redner PR to respond in, well, not-so-kind, lashing out on Twitter with enraged threats of blacklisting. To be sure, 2K will always bet on Duke, but it’s finished giving Redner PR the same treatment.
What it means: Blacklisting is bullshit. It’s a practice that’s pervaded the gaming industry for far too long, and – while it’s not nearly as prevalent as it once was – it’s still sadly alive and kicking. At the very least, gaming websites aren’t keen on playing silent victim anymore, with firms like TopWare getting their just desserts for dodgy PR manipulation. 2K’s firing of Redner may have been harsh, but it was necessary.
Even so, many commonplace gaming PR practices are just as bad – if not worse than – blacklisting. For instance, how about only being allowed to run a review early if you serve it a nice, meaty score on a silver platter? And then there was that Call of Duty: Elite embargo nonsense, which led to all sorts of WSJ misinformation spreading like wildfire, with embargoed publications sadly unable to stamp it out. In many such cases, everyone’s at fault. PR, obviously, for pulling the strings and the wool over gamers’ eyes, and journalists for going along with it. The system’s not entirely broken, per se, but there are some pretty damn gaping holes in it.
What happened: His face has been known to inspire all sorts of emotions – from apathy to we don’t care enough to finish this sentence. His voice can cease the cries of a thousand babies – by putting them all to sleep. He is… the least interesting man alive. He is male Shepard. It’s a shame, too: most people end up playing Mass Effect in Inferior Mode. This time around, though, BioWare’s setting the record straight. Female Shepard for president. Or something.
What it means: Getting a single trailer and an appearance on the collector’s edition packaging isn’t exactly stealing the spotlight, but it’s a start. It’s refreshing, too, to see a franchise make large strides toward diversity in a relatively short amount of time. Granted, male-male romance options and marketing that doesn’t assume its entire audience idolizes Marcus Fenix should be the rule, not the exception. Even so, the gaming industry’s making baby steps in the right direction, and that beats the space-pants off going nowhere at all.
In addition, this just makes sense. Mass Effect is a role-playing game. The more players are able to insert themselves into their character, the more sucked into the universe they’ll become.
What happened: Nintendo president Satoru Iwata told investors of his grand plan to bait hardcore gamers with HD graphics and reel them in with online functionality that, well, exists. Apparently, we’re not invisible anymore – which is a shame, because now we have to put on clothes again.
What it means: Nintendo appears to have realized that fickle casual customers will only take you so far – especially where sustained software sales are concerned. From where we’re standing, however, that seems to be all the console-maker’s doing right. First up, “flexible” online system sounds like executive-ese for “We’re not entirely sure what a good online plan entails, but our relentless focus-testing with two dudes who may have seen Call of Duty in a GameStop once shows that we need one.”
Speaking of Call of Duty, there’s this utterly misguided perception that shooters are all hardcore gamers care about nowadays. Just put a gun in their hands and they’ll soon be eating out of yours, etc. But that’s only a small piece of the puzzle, and the folks who while away time between Call of Duties by playing Call of Duty and wearing their Call of Duty branded apparel can be just as fickle and one-dimensional as casual gamers.
Really, it’s just more wood for the “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none” fire. Nintendo’s created hardware that kinda, sorta, maybe, not really plays to both casual and hardcore sensibilities, and it’s hoping all the other pieces will just fall right into place. That’s not a good approach to anything – let alone a balancing act as tricky as this one.