We’re half way there, and you know what that means? Revisiting E3 2011; a surprisingly crowded summer release schedule; and the continuing saga of Hackers vs The World.
New in June 2011
Red Faction: Armageddon
Child of Eden
Alice: Madness Returns
Duke Nukem Forever
Ocarina of Time 3DS
Dungeon Siege III
Shadows of the Damned
Although it’s one of the biggest shows of the year, 2011’s E3 brought few of the mega-ton reveals and announces we’ve come to expect. Nevertheless, there was plenty of excitement, and most of the major players had strong shows.
Sony focused again on Move and 3D, with CCP’s Eve Online tie-in shooter Dust 514 and BioShock: Infinite both confirmed to use the motion control system; this last one allowed Sony to do one of its famous celebrity retractions. Ken Levine also confirmed a BioShock game would be coming to Vita.
The Vita’s reasonable-sounding pricing was well-received – although its choice of mobile partner wasn’t – and when we grabbed Andrew House for a chat about the company’s future, everyone was quite cheerful. Quite apart from first and third-party streams, Sony’s E3 presence drew a huge crowd – 500,000 checked out the company’s display inside virtual world, Home.
Although Halo 4 and Halo: Combat evolved – Anniversary Edition were not surprises, they naturally went down well. The hardcore was a little dubious about the Kinect focus – Peter Molyneux spent hours with press trying to convince them that Fable: The Journey isn’t on rails; footage of StarWars Kinect in action was greeted with what is politely described as “doubt”. Xbox UK boss Stephen McGill swore the company would never leave the core behind, pointing to mass Effect 3’s optional Kinect features as an example of the the tech’s appeal.
One offering about which there was very little debate was Microsoft’s presentation of the first Tomb Raider footage; Crystal Dynamics’ reboot went on to be named game of the show by numerous outlets, and Nathan was suitably impressed by what he saw.
Square Enix also brought the first Hitman: Absolution trailer as part of its western-heavy line-up, although Final Fantasy XIII-2 was on show, and the company has expressed regret at the weakness of its Japanese catalog.
Konami, whose 2010 show was notoriously awkward, made its major announces and reveals during a pre-E3 show. PlayStation 3 HD collections for Metal Gear Solid; Zone of the Enders; and Silent Hill were announced, complete with a feature called “transfarring”, which allows included PSP titles to be played on either console with seamless save transfers. No details of Kojima Productions’ new games were given, disappointing those with outside bets on a Metal Gear Solid 5 reveal.
Ubisoft secured itself a warm and fuzzy spot in pat’s heart by showing of Far Cry 3 during its own event, and an interview with the developer only increased our adoration. The publisher’s other big reveal, the less-than-serious Brothers in Arms: Furious 4, proved too great a departure from the franchise’s solemn past for hardcore fans – but we’ll see if that changes when marketing ramps up.
Activision Blizzard was largely a no-show, sending a small number of games, but making no presentations or announces. Rival EA was out in force, with Battlefield 3 headlining. The game’s Battlelog network was revealed, along with EA Sports Football Club. We also got out first information on Insomniac’s new IP, Overstrike.
But it was Nintendo who arguably took E3 2011’s star billing – not because it universally pleased, but because it got people talking. After months of rumours, we finally learned something of the company’s new hardware: a suitably ridiculous name, and a suitably bold technological leap.
The system’s media debut was plagued by confusion – the presentation didn’t make it clear whether we were looking at an entirely new console or just an add-on for the Wii, as Nintendo elected not to show the prototype hardware. Nintendo’s stock fell to its lowest point in five years as a result, with president Satoru Iwata later admitting he could have done better.
A number of multi-platform third party titles were shown in a sizzle reel, although none was actual Wii U footage, and system exclusives – like a new Assassin’s Creed – were announced. Pat wasn’t very impressed.
2011 brought an unusually strong summer line up, with quite a few core titles debuting, including InFamous 2; Red Faction: Armageddon; Operation Flashpoint: Red River; Alice: Madness Returns; Dungeon Siege III; and Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3DS proved nostalgia is still a winner with hot reviews and demand-driven street date breaks. Shadows of the Damned, Grasshopper Manufacture’s latest, also reviewed strongly – although failed to catch on at retail.
But let’s not ignore that elephant in the room; after more than a decade, Duke Nukem Forever released, resurrected by Gearbox after 3D Realms shuttered.
The game sold, but the reviews were dire, and as critics vented their bile on an easy target, one PR manager vented his frustration in public, suggesting he would blacklist those who gave poor reviews.
Duke Nukem Forever’s launch had generated so much public and media interest that the story was siezed upon and immediately blew up; Eurogamer claimed blacklisting is “standard practice” for publisher 2K, and the PR firm struggled to assuage its own poor publicity, greatly embarrassed. We argued that blacklisting is part of our business.
As for Gearbox, it didn’t give two hoots about the poor reviews. Although he said some were a little zealous, Randy Pitchford said Duke’s sales speak for themselves – sometimes we want junk food, knowing full well how bad it is for us.
In the NPD group’s June report, L.A. Noire took top spot again, with Duke Nukem Forever in second; Infamous 2 in third; and Ocarina of Time 3DS in sixth.
Otherwise, the US industry saw slumps across the board, although the NPD Group again emphasised that its reports lack digital data.
PSNgate Part Three
An astounding three months on from the initial attack, the PlayStation Network hack was still generating a significant number of headlines. Some of them were even positive, as Sony made its Welcome Back package available to users early in the month.
Others? Not so much. Experts said the network still wasn’t adequately protected, and that we might never know what – if anything – the hackers had made off with. Sony was accused of having laid off its security team prior to the attack, too.
Sony’s executives weighed in, with Kaz Hirai calling out hacking as a threat to the fabric of society, while Jack Tretton described the whole shebang as a wake up call, and Sir Howard Stringer said Sony had been attacked for daring to protect its IP. Andrew House said the company was now in a state of vigilance against attack, but at least one Anonymous cell decided to call off its activities and complained of “butthurt” PSN members.
Hackety hack, don’t come back
Meanwhile, hackers embroiled in Sony’s anti-hacking lawsuits suffered wildly different fates. One expected to serve jail time, lacking the funds to defend himself or meet fines, while George “GeoHot” Hotz, the poster boy of device hacking whose cause had been cited in defence of attacks on Sony, has secured a job at Facebook.
Nintendo of America was hacked, and Nintendo Europe closed down a handful of services to stave off phishing attacks. Codemasters and Epic both suffered attacks on their web presences, and Bethesda announced the compromise of user data during its own besiegement.
Hatched, Matched and Dispatched
For the second month in a row, THQ got its hatchet out. Kaos, the team behind the under-performing Homefront, got the axe, along with Digital Warrington, the UK-based team which had produced a number of spin-offs for major releases. The media felt the edge a bit, too, with Future US and IGN both making a number of staff cuts.
But on the positive side, a number of suddenly unemployed Blackrock staffers launched Roundcube.
Reports outed EA Sports’ plans to open a new studio housing a new team in Texas, and peripheral manufacturer Mad Catz finally leapt into development, after years of flirtation with publishing and distribution.
In the executive realm, Sony shuffled its higher-ups. SCE Europe head Andrew House was promoted to SCE International boss, with former incumbent Kaz Hirai suddenly in a brand new role as head of Sony’s consumer electronics division, uniting the PlayStation division with the rest of the company’s products. The importance of this game of musical chairs to Sony’s long term strategy should not be underestimated.
Vagrant Story designer and senior Final Fantasy staffer Yasumi Matsuno left Square Enix, and in Australia, a number of uncredited L.A. Noire staff came forward to describe Team Bondi’s crunch conditions, which sounded even worse than usual.
Finally, we heard an interesting rumour that someone was going to buy PopCap for the astronomical sum of $1 billion. We scoffed, and then we scoffed some more – but luckily, we’d also just purchased a number of nacho hats.
Marketing and PR
Gameloft announced that Order & Chaos, its iOS, subscription-based MMORPG, had pulled $1 million in its first three weeks – pretty astounding money for an untried marriage of business model and platform.
THQ made good on a promise to reward players of the Red Faction: Armageddon demo was downloaded often enough, by unlocking a new weapon in the game’s campaign. Mr Toots is a unicorn with deadly laser farts.
Battlefield 3’s E3 2011 reveal won rave write-ups from press and an incredible amount of buzz; Activision wasn’t impressed, with Bobby Kotick saying the game didn’t stand a chance against Modern Warfare 3, and casting doubt on the success of the game’s console ports.
Valve, oblivious to shooter wars, released a new episode in its popular Team Fortress 2 videos – Meet the Medic. In other popular marketing, BioWare decided to include the female version of Commander Shepard on Mass Effect 3’s collector’s edition packaging, acknowledging her existence at long last.
Less winningly, CCP launched its Incarna expansion, which included a number of virtual vanity items far more expensive than their real-world equivalents. EVE Online’s enormous and vastly complicated economic system was thrown into disarray, and protests by disgusted players were estimated to cost the company $1 million.
Nintendo hardened a few hearts by once again refusing to commit to localising the trio of JRPGs much requested by Wii fans.
True or false?
Namco Bandai surprised the hell out of everyone by announcing a new Ridge Racer game, Unbounded, which is not only not set to accompany a console launch, but destined for PC. THQ surprised approximately minus five people by announcing Darksiders II.
Unusually for an European publisher, CD Projekt managed to grab some pre-E3 spotlight from its summer conference; an Xbox 360 release for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was announced (and leaked) at last. THQ was announced as the game’s western publisher, much to Namco Bandai’s surprise; a lawsuit later resulted. We got hold of Tomasz Gop and heard all about the port, the company’s first console effort.
An interesting rumour started up around E3 that Metal Gear Rising – notable for its absence – had been handed off to another developer – although the studio so-named was quick to deny it. That was a fib.
Recruiting at Sucker Punch outed the company’s next project as another PlayStation 3 exclusive; a few months on, it’s clear this little hint foreshadowed a major announcement.
It was an exciting month for digital distribution fans -especially those who’d rushed out to buy Nintendo’s best ever connected console, the 3DS, only to find it shipped with an eShop. Three months on, a firmware update delivered the virtual shopfront, although it still lacked support for demos and DLC.
EA launched its own distribution platform, Origin, replacing the existing online store and download manager and claiming an exclusive on Star Wars: The Old Republic. Interestingly, the publisher was perfectly happy to continue delivering its PC games through established services like Direct2Drive and Impulse, but a number of titles disappeared from Steam for unspecified reasons – although EA did stress it wasn’t happy about it.
On Steam’s side, the platform was opened to free-to-play games, with Valve admitting it had a couple of its own in the works. The import of this would slowly dawn over the next few months, but free-to-play was already a huge talking point, as World of Warcraft essentially went freemium up to 20 levels.
Capcom was in the doghouse this month, as news broke that save files for Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D can not be erased. Conspiracy theorists instantly pointed to a crackdown on used game sales, and although Capcom denied it, some retailers responded by refusing trade-ins.
Bungie revealed its Aerospace initiative – not a new game, as speculation had it, but a publishing arm, bringing smaller indies to market.
Ball’s in your court
Although many gamers have forgotten about it already, June was an important month for the US games industry on the legal and political front: The US Supreme Court ruled against a Californian law which sought to ban violent video game sales to minors, judging it unconstitutional.
In Australia, press got wind of Dead or Alive: Dimension’s Nordic territory ban, and started a delightful circus which saw the game pulled from store shelves – although it was later returned with a higher age rating. One of the most entertaining aspects of this kerfuffle was the national news service’s use of a ridiculous stolen image; apparently the ABC thinks Photoshop-enabled, pterodactyl-headed, PS2-era bikini girls is a representative screenshot of a 3DS game.
One of the industry’s most protracted copyright cases was put to bed – again; probably not forever – with a UK court ruling in favour of Future over Tim Langdell’s claim to ownership of the trademark Edge. Zynga also initiated a copyright suit, taking South American social games publisher Vostu to court.
In the ongoing battle between Activision and former Infinty Ward leaders jason West and Vince Zampella, a judge greenlit the pair’s suit, setting them on the road to trial.
And on the homefront, we bid sad farewell to Keza MacDonald, a prolific and justly celebrated freelancer whose services we were proud to engage, as she took off to become IGN UK’s games editor.
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