There’s no getting away from it: despite several other notable occurrences, April 2011 will be remembered as the month the PlayStation Network was hacked.
New in April 2011
Michael Jackson: The Experience
Operation Flashpoint: Red River
In early April, hacker group Anonymous issued a statement vowing revenge on Sony for its legal actions against hackers, most notoriously, George “GeoHot” Hotz. Things started off quietly enough with DDOS attacks, but while Sony was initially caught off guard, it quickly compensated. Representatives for the group reaffirmed its commitment to punishing Sony, but called off its anti-PSN activities after gamers expressed frustration with the downtime, stating it never intended to punish Sony’s customers. As the group launched an anti-climactic campaign of sit-ins at Sony Stores worldwide, GeoHot settled out of court. Analysts expected the move to deter hackers, but Anonymous wasn’t satisfied.
And stayed down.
Sony admitted the service had been closed down after an “external intrusion“. It issued emergency warnings to developers, but it wasn’t until April 26 that the company admitted users’ personal information might have been compromised.
Anonymous denied involvement in the attack. Press called for Sony to move quickly to update users. Politicians dismayed at Sony’s long delay in informing customers of the risk to their details – although Sony protested it needed time to investigate the matter. Despite promises of support, developers expressed concerns that the outage might financially impact them. The UK government launched an investigation into the matter. Hacker logs alleged the network suffered from astounding security holes. Class action suits were filed, despite Sony’s explicit terms of service agreement. Stocks dropped 5%.
Finally, some good news began flowing in: A Sony Online Entertainment spokesman said user’s financial details had probably not been compromised after all. Services like Hulu offered compensation for the down time. Users did not lose any data. We began to move on.
Gamers rally for Japan
In better news, throughout the month gamers and industry bodies continued to show support for Japan’s Tohoku disaster relief efforts. EVE Online players raised a whopping $400,000, and League of Legend players managed $160,000. BioWare ran a series of charity autcions, and Sony raised $1.3 million through its promotional efforts on PlayStation Store items. Although manufacturing was disrupted across the country as transport links shut down, Sony said the NGP’s release had not been affected – but Japanese industry analyst firm Enterbrain estimated the disaster cost the Japanese games industry $89 million.
US retail chain GameStop, part of the same family as EB Games and Micromania, announced its acquisition of Stardock’s digital distribution platform, Impulse; the company predicted it would achieve $1.5 billion in digital revenue by 2014. Some developers weren’t keen on the shift from indie distribution to retailer-owned platform, but Stardock itself said it had utmost confidence in GameStop and hadn’t made the decision lightly.
Rivalries between accomplished developers pay off for gamers, with David Cage reacting to praise for the upcoming L.A. Noire’s facial scanning tech by promising Quantic Dream’s would be even better. The new project was tipped for an E3 reveal, but didn’t make it.
EA’s Peter Moore tipped the publisher’s hand heavily this month by announcing the possibility of persistent, cross-title EA identities. In hindsight, the word “Origin” was likely hovering at the edge of his PR-guarded lips.
Sony continued pushing its PlayStation Suite and PlayStation Certified line of devices by announcing two new tablets, the Tablet P and Tablet S.
THQ announced a new business model, spearheaded by MX vs ATV Alive, in which agames would be released on the cheap but with massive DLC offerings. It didn’t take off.
CCP, perhaps a little tired of being told how inaccessible its mind-bending MMO EVE Online is, announced plans for something called Incarna, which would help newbies identify with the game more than the spreadsheets normally associated with it. If you missed this whole saga, pay attention over the next few instalments – shit’s about to get ugly.
The price cut helped fire speculation on Nintendo’s unannounced new hardware. Whispers came in so thick and http://www.vg247.com/2011/04/21/more-project-cafe-rumors-surface-stream-being-considered-as-a-name/> about the codenamed Project Cafe that it was hard to keep track of them all.
If we’re going by headline count alone, Valve took home the prize for top release this month. Portal 2, and more specifically, an AR game built to promote it, was never far from the front page. Launched as an indie bundle called the Potato Sack, the AR games as quickly uncovered by eager fans, and lovingly dissected over the next few days. A pile of Portal 2 assets was discovered, confirming suspicions, and shortly thereafter, excited gamers realised the whole Machiavellian creation could result in an early release for the highly-anticipated puzzler.
Portal themed updates started appearing in games included in the Potato sack, and a mysterious countdown clock appeared on the Aperture Science website. The combined efforts of gamers managed to bring Portal 2 to life on Steam a few hours before its planned launch.
The game went down a treat with fans and critics alike, with particular attention paid to its signature humour and embedded narrative. It sold well, too – hitting nearly 4 million in just a few days – excluding Steam.
Mortal Kombat was the month’s other strong contender, and was quite well received among the franchise’s diehard fanbase. On the other end of the spectrum, Battlefield Play4Free finally made itself a proper official thing, much to the dismay of anti-freemium DICE fans. It’s pretty popular regardless.
PlayStation 3 exclusive SOCOM 4 launched but failed to generate many waves with is rather inconsistent reviews, while Ubisoft’s intriguing platformer Outland caused a stir among sch’mup aficionados.
A new report noted that games were outselling other forms of media in the UK, and the NPD Group’s April report was equally positive, noting year on year increase in hardware, software and accessory sales. Things weren’t so positive when it came to the 3DS, and sales reports continued to trickle in, we were by turns elated and deeply concerned. Mortal Kombat topped the charts, with Portal 2 close behind, but otherwise software charts remained mostly static.
Ball’s in your court
EA landed in court after the original creator of the Madden series claimed the publisher owed him squillions of unpaid royalties.
Former Infinity Ward leaders Jason West and Vince Zampella contined their legal battle with Activision, adding fraud to their list of complaints. There was some loose talk of the pair perhaps winning back the rights to the series they helmed to success, but analyst Michael Pachter pooh-poohed the notion.
Back in Australia, one of the country’s attorneys-general called for greater scrutiny and public engagement with the troubled question of video game ratings. South Australia hatched a mad plan to re-label MA15+ games a sR18+ to help keep mature games out of the hands of kids, while completely failing to address the lack of a ratings category suitable for adult games. Fed up, the ACT announced it would bloody well introduce R18+ regardless of what the rest of the nation did.
True or False?
resident Remedy fanboy Johnny nearly choked when a job listing hinted at a new Alan Wake game on the way.
Square Enix was caught in something called “Project X” – a new game from an external developer. Unless certain off-the-record comments were a little misleading, we’re still waiting on its reveal.
We got wind that the upcoming sequel to Metro 2033 would be called Metro: Last Light, and Warner continued dropping hints about the then-unrevealed Gotham City Impostors like they were going out of fashion.
The Last Guardian and Team Ico HD Collection were both pushed back, triggering rumours that all was not well at the Japanese developer.
PR and marketing
Trion Worlds dazzled us with numbers by announcing that RIFT, which launched over the end of February and beginning of March, had already amassed 4,000 years worth of combined play time. The MMORPG has been troubled by server issues, but extended special events so players could still have a crack at them.
As both publishers started to up the ante in the Battlefield 3 versus Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 PR conflict, EA’s Frank Gibeau admitted he thought it was likely to be fun, which was pretty endearing.
Bethesda flew Johnny to Utah to look at Skyrim, just one aspect of its pre-E3 2011 marketing blitz. We also got out first proper look at Prey 2 since its announce, and looking over the year ahead, it seemed the publisher was poised for big things. That said, Namco Bandai, Ubisoft and Take Two fielded strong line-ups.
Nintendo of America registered a domain name for Mistwalker’s The Last Story. The company was yet to commit to localising at this time, and likely made the registration as a defensive measure.
Riot announced a $100,000 prize pool for its first official League of Legends season, which actually looks remarkably modest at the end of a year in which eSports blossomed, but at the time we said things like “woah” and made extravagant gestures.
Hatched, Matched and Dispatched
PopCap launched a sub-label called 4th & Battery, to allow its team to blow of steam and exercise creativity with smaller games. Its first release, Unpleasant Horse, had some trouble with the App Store, because it was deemed too unpleasant.
Following the resignation of a number of key EA Tiburon staff, a new studio called Row Sham Bow turned up, mysteriously staffed by the same people.
And on the homefront, we got to chat with some of our favourite developers – American Mc Gee, Ken Levine and Yoshinori Ono, as well as getting an insider perspective on the then-mysterious Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning