The US industry hit a serious low; Sony stumbled through the new, hacktastic dawn; one of the year’s biggest games was finally revealed; and E3 excitement started to build. Let’s remember May 2011.
New in May 2011
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Mount & Blade: With Fire and Sword
Section 8: Prejudice
MX vs ATV Alive
Dead or Alive: Dimensions
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge
A generous two weeks on, the PlayStation Network was still down, as Sony scurried to determine the extent of the Mid-April hack and repair the holes in its security. Top executive Kaz Hirai addressed the world in a live-streamed broadcast, apologising deeply, and the company’s troubled stocks recovered slightly.
12,700 credit cards were said to have been compromised, and Sony has put on the defence in denying sticky rumours that passwords had been stored in unencrypted form and that lists of PSN users credit card details were being sold, as well as persistant criticism of its delay in informing the public.
The US Congress started asking hard questions, and a Canadian lawsuit targeted a $1 billion pay out. One expert claimed the company had ignored his warnings of the PSN’s vulnerability, and developers admitted the down time had hurt.
Sony Online Entertainment was back up and running less than two weeks after its own attack, but the PSN remained down. In early May, we were told the newly secure PSN was in the final stages of testing, and by half way through the month, we expected it back at any moment. But in Japan, Sony was barred from going back online until it could meet new security requirements, after credit companies expressed concerns. Sony predicted full restoration by the last week of May, but as the month closed, we were still waiting.
Hacking as Headlines
Anonymous, widely blamed for the attack, issued another denial, this time specifically stating it had not snaffled anyone’s credit card details. A small group of long-time members, however, admitted that a splinter group or cell could have been responsible. Another statement expressed the group’s disappointment in Sony’s actions. Rumour had it another attack was on the way, and certainly a number of Sony’s satellites were troubled by cybercrime over the next few months. “This is the beginning of the end for Sony,” hackers warned.
In fact, it was the beginning of an ordeal, as gaming websites and networks fell victim to a barrage of hacking incidents. The Deus Ex website was one of the first to be hit, with personal data pillaged.
Wii U Join The Dance?
When we weren’t having kittens over Sony, we found the time to be excited about Nintendo’s upcoming hardware. At the end of April, the Big N had confirmed an E3 2011 debut, so speculation and sleuthing went wild – along with a bit of trolling.
“Let’s just say, there’s room for a unique console,” was Miyamoto’s irresponsibly paraphrased response to these varyingly accurate predictions.
The headline release this month was undoubtedly Team Bondi’s loving – if glaringly inaccurate – tribute to the Los Angeles that was. L.A. Noire seemed an entirely new kind of game, with the open-world Rockstar touch, and the world went mad for it.
Both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 players reporting various system issues, but otherwise, the game drew good reviews and became the UK’s fastest-selling new IP. Team Bondi leader Brendan McNamara chortled happily that the game’s sequel wouldn’t take anywhere near as long to make.
Ha. Ha. Haaaaa. Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion to that.
CD Projekt also scored a win this month with The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. The action RPG sequel hit a couple of bumps in Australia. A quick bit of editing leaped the refused classification hurdle, while an adjustment to local pricing was quickly circumnavigated.
A week before release, the company hit its upper limit on pre-orders in its home territory of Poland, and achieved 111,842 worldwide. Critical reception was equally positive, and before the dust had settled, the first reputable hints of an Xbox 360 version arrived.
We caught up with Splash Damage in time for the release of the shooter-focussed company’s first new IP, Brink. Reviews really were a mixed bag, with some outlets refusing to give a verdict until online play could be assessed. In its launch-day form, Brink drew a lot of fire for its bugs, but Splash Damage was quick to respond with patches and even freebies.
Dead or Alive Dimensions was added to the 3DS’s limited fighter roster – but not in Nordic territories. This molehill-turned-mountain would later spread to Australia, too. THQ went a bit experimental with its budget-priced, DLC-supported MX vs ATV Alive. Dirt 3 hit stores, but its multiplayer was out of reach for disgruntled PS3 players. InXile’s action title Hunted: The Demon’s Forge also dropped, but it failed to make waves.
On the indie side, sci-fi shooter Section 8 received a digital-only sequel in the form of Prejudice, while popular medieval multiplayer title Mount & Blade jumped forward a few centuries to With Fire and Sword. Frozen Synapse, the turn-based tactical title, hit Steam, and its buy-on-get-one-free policy helped countless players find friends to test their skills on.
The NPD Group’s report on US sales for May, L.A. Noire topped, with Brink in second place. Otherwise, the chart was largely dominated by April’s big releases and the same old Just Call of Zumba Dance Duty perennials.
Depressing? Indeed. May saw the US industry slump to its lowest point in five years, with total sales dropping a whopping 14% year-on-year to $743.1 million. The NPD blamed consumer disinterest on a lower number of releases than in previous years – but also pointed out that Black Ops DLC probably diverted more than a few dollars into the digital sphere.
DC Universe Online, barely five months old, started merging servers, which some interpreted as a danger sign.
Sony announced a new, Japan-only range of PS3 titles under the banner of PSP Remasters. Monster Hunter Portable Third was the flagship of the scheme, which updates visuals and adds in DualShock support, as well as sharing saves between PSP and PS3. The company also showed off some new AR technology which would later appear in Vita launch titles.
Money, Money, Money
End of financial year results started coming in during May, with Sony’s PlayStation division boasting a $535 billion profit, with over 14 million PS3 consoles shipped over the year.
Ubisoft reported a poor final quarter but a positive result over the whole year. EA put a bit of spin on its own efforts, highlighting static sales and reduced spending rather than another annual loss.
Marketing and PR
Proving it has rather more sense than many credit a multi-national corporation with possessing, Sony kicked David O Russell off the Uncharted movie adaptation, apparently unimpressed with the director’s strange, family-art-heist-Mark-Wahlberg interpretation.
Irrational games debuted a new BioShock: Infinite demo to press; we all got a look at it during E3, and it remains one of the most memorable bits of media of the year.
Continuing its new tradition of charming humility, EA admitted again that it had made mistakes – but insisted it had done so with balls and brass.
BioWare won hearts two months in a row, this time by declaring that Mass Effect 3 would feature all kinds of love interests for those put off by Mass Effect 2’s heterosexual tunnelling.
True or False?
On the Operation Rainfall front, hopes for a Western release for Mistwalker’s The Last Story where lifted when rumours and team leader Hironobu Skaguchi agreed a localisation was under way.
A new Carmageddon project was outed, with Square Enix handing the IP back to its original developers.
Duke Nukem Forever went gold, after eleven years in the works. What else can you say? We’d say it anyway, in the months to come.
In London, Sony gave Starhawk a glamorous debut, and Ubisoft announced the inevitable annual Assassin’s Creed. Square Enix admitted to Hitman’s revival at last, and at an impressive media event in Dubai, Namco Bandai made it official with Soul Calibur V.
But the biggest announce of all was also the least surprising – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Officially, we didn’t know what the next entry would be, but unofficially? The logos leaked. Teasers were quickly deconstructed. Retailers opened pre-orders. A planned suprirse trailer debut during the NBA Playoffs wasn’t, in the end, all that surprising.
If you’d like to relive E3 2011 as it was meant to be, maybe come back tomorrow for June – but if you want the true to live experience, read on. This years’ event was thoroughly plagued by leaks, rumours and too-explicit hints from marketing departments, making most major “announces” pretty dull affairs.
Hatched, Matched and Dispatched
Atari, one of the oldest and most dramatically transformed brands of our industry, announced another of its periodic reinventions. Chasing the casual, social and mobile dollar meant dropping support for triple-A MMOs, and Cryptic Studios – developer of Champions Online, Star Trek Online, and Neverwinter – found itself on the market, although not for long. Perfect World was all over that.
The last remaining “founding father” of the original Xbox parted ways with Microsoft, which was a little sad.
Finally, the US government adjusted one of its grant schemes to include games, thereby officially settling the debate: games are art. it’s the law.
Check back tomorrow as we dive head-first into the silliest of seasons: E3 is just around the corner.