The Weekly Wrap: February 6-February 12

By Nathan Grayson, Saturday, 12 February 2011 09:00 GMT

The news never stops. You can’t keep up with it all. You’d go mad. Fortunately, we’re already insane, so we’ve done it for you.

Activision financials: Revenue at $4.8 billion, major franchise cuts include Guitar Hero and True Crime

What happened: Activision’s regrettably broken-in chopping block had quite the line formed behind it, with former juggernauts like Guitar Hero bracing themselves in horror as the guillotine dropped. With that dirty deed out of the way, Activision now plans to realign its business behind its central “core” franchises: Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and StarCraft.

What it means: For one, if you thought we weren’t already getting enough Call of Duty, prepare to have your expectations met and then knocked out of the park, straight into the sun. On the other side of that coin, however, is a disturbing indicator that Activision’s not learning from its mistakes. Whether it’ll admit it or not, Activision ran Guitar Hero so far into the ground that it ended up six feet under. And now, the publisher seems poised to do the same thing with Call of Duty. Yearly sequels, spin-offs, a whole potentially subscription-based infrastructure – the works. But instead of drawing up a plan B in case its star cash cow drops dead, the company’s trimming potential hits (see: True Crime) like so much excess fat and devoting all its development muscle to the same old breadwinners. Here’s hoping Bungie‘s got an Ace up its sleeve, because Activision’s unwillingness to change does not a sustainable business make.

Reggie: “One of the biggest risks today in our industry are these inexpensive games” on mobiles

What happened: Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime opened fire on new forms of game distribution like Apple’s App Store, saying that minuscule price tags create a perception that games are “candidly disposable from a consumer standpoint.”

What it means: We’re not sure if “disposable” is the right word, but we have to imagine that consistently low prices will affect some people’s perceptions of games. At the same time, though, mobile games are – by and large – shorter, more compact (notice, however, that we didn’t say “worse”) experiences, so they set a different standard. Someone’s not going to play Angry Birds and then decide Mass Effect 3’s worth whatever they can dig out from between their sofa cushions. Fact is, videogame prices are no longer standardized. There’s a broad, fluctuating range that mostly justifies itself in the type of experience you’re getting. It’s the difference between, say, paying for HBO versus tuning in to free public broadcast television. Or it’s the filet mignon versus cheeseburger argument, if you want an old classic. At the end of the day, more people than ever are playing games, new business models are emerging, and developers are still making money. Look up, Reggie. See that blue thing? That’s the sky. It isn’t falling.

The Darkness 2 to focus more on story, action, have a cel-shaded look

What happened: 2K finally shined some light on The Darkness 2, the sequel to Starbreeze Studios’ criminally underrated mob thriller/supernatural tale. The biggest change? Starbreeze isn’t pulling the strings (or terrifying shoulder-mounted Death Snakes, as it were) this time around. Instead, that honor goes to Digital Extremes, developer of titles like Dark Sector and Pariah.

What it means: If you were a Jedi, you’d be sensing much fear in us right now. More specifically, fear that The Darkness 2 will sully its predecessor’s good name by being profoundly serviceable. Digital Extremes isn’t a bad developer at all; its games simply haven’t had much life to them. It’s co-developed some classics, but its own handiwork has tended to lack the special something that separates “yeah, I’d rent it” from “hell yeah, I’d buy four of it.” Also, it’s all at once heartening and disheartening to hear lead designer Tom Galt mention [SPOILER] Jenny’s death with such reverence. Yes, that was a huge moment, but a smattering of smaller ones – chief among them, the simple act of kicking back and watching a movie with her – built up to it. Here’s hoping Digital Extremes realizes The Darkness worked so well precisely because it wasn’t always going full-speed ahead.

Carmack: 3DS and NGP may be the last “specialized handheld game consoles ever built”

What happened: The 3DS and NGP aren’t even out yet, but that didn’t stop id Software’s titan of tech from predicting their cold, lonely demises. And the one holding the smoking gun? Your good ol’ never-leave-home-without-it pal, the iPhone.

What it means: NGP and 3DS are far from DOA, but Carmack makes a good point: if smartphones are “80 percent as good at gaming,” then the average consumer probably won’t be able to tell the difference. Beyond that, it comes down to practicality; why lug a dedicated gaming device around when your smartphone can do all that and more? Granted, we doubt dedicated portable gaming or its star players will suddenly cease to exist. Initiatives like Sony’s PlayStation Suite will continue to emerge, providing “core” experiences for all who want them. Plus, we’re already seeing plenty of analog stick and button peripherals for touch screen interfaces, so your needs will almost certainly be provided for. Only difference is, it’ll all be tied up in one neat package. So yeah, like we told Reggie: Sky. Not falling. Etc.

EA responds to accusations from Fox News over Bulletstorm content

What happened: Oh boy, where to start? Fox News published a piece of utter rubbish wherein – among other things – a TV psychologist claimed that games are “largely” responsible for a fictional increase in rape crimes. Then the world cracked in two, and a colossal Anger Volcano emerged, signaling the end of human civilization as we know it.

What it means: A lot of things. Fox News is still a bastion of shameless sensationalism? Check. Gamers’ command of Amazon book reviews is indeed formidable? Check. Games cause rape? Bzzzzt. Wrong. Into the conveniently placed shark pit with you. Mostly, though, it’s a stern reminder that there are still some heavily misguided views about games out there, and that misinformation is a dangerous tool. As much poetic justice as there is in seeing Carole Lieberman’s book get blasted on Amazon, it’s incredibly counter-productive. Instead, as gamers – players of vile, M-rated games, no less – we ought to carry ourselves such that there’s no doubt about who’s right and who’s wrong. Attacking someone by comparing them to Hitler, unfortunately, isn’t the best way to do that. But also, there’s a kernel of truth to every lie. Games like Bulletstorm certainly don’t cause rape, but really, a game that so gleefully revels in ultra-violence for the sake of ultra-violence deserves reproach. Don’t get us wrong: Bulletstorm looks like a hell of a lot of fun. But maybe it’d be a worthwhile endeavor for us to take a step back and figure out where exactly the line is. How far is too far? And are we skirting dangerously close?

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