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The Weekly Wrap – WoW pandas, next-gen rumor mill

Batman, RAGE, BF3, Uncharted – the holiday season's in full swing. Oh, and let's not forget Skylander's Spyro... I mean, uh, Skyrim. Er, yeah. Look, a distraction: what last week's biggest news means.

BlizzCon 2011: D3 CE, Mists of Pandaria announced

What happened: BlizzCon kicked off with a bang. Or, well, it was more of a panda growl. And a Pokemon battle cry. And a demon army. And there were games, too!

What it means: Yes, it has fluffy bipedal April Fools pandas. Yes, it's one tiny yellow creature called “Electromouse” (or Electromau5, thanks to product placement) from being Pokemon. But guess what? WoW: Mists of Pandaria is secretly the most brilliant thing WoW's done in years. “But Nathan,” you say, “I'm angrily punching you in the face right now, you goddamn blaspheming idiot.” And I reply by profusely bleeding on you – but also with two key arguments.

For one – and I can't stress this enough – it's fucking Pokemon. How long have gamers clamored for a Pokemon MMO (or PokeMMOn, for short/disgustingly convoluted)? And how many times has Nintendo turned a deaf ear while shoveling giant heaps of cash into a furnace? So now WoW essentially has a second, perhaps even more addictive shell around a core that's kept players hooked for seven years. Also, it corrects my biggest complaint about Pokemon: the fact that Ash Ketchum isn't a shamanistic, totem-dropping cow person.

The second reason: Annual Pass. Blizzard, you see, just hammered a giant cork into its firehose-blast of a subscriber leak. I mean, let's face it: Pandaria's probably not emerging from its much ballyhooed mists for another year. So, what's Blizzard – already gushing subscribers like a balloon that's for some reason full of WoW subscribers – to do? Find a way to lock people in for another year, of course. A year-long subscription on its own, though? Meh. A subscription plus a free copy of Freeablo Free? Hell yes. So rabid deal-seekers make a deal with (and for) Diablo, and Blizzard's numbers stop dropping. Everybody wins.

But will Pandaria be worth the wait? Well, I'm not entirely sold on the new talent system yet, but I played around in the Pandaren starting zone for a couple hours, and... wait, was it a couple hours? Or was it days? Months? Where am I? Who am I?

Rumour: Next Xbox to get E3 2013 unveil, PS4 games already in works

What happened: A lot of people suddenly decided “Man, I really want to blab all my best-kept secrets about next-gen consoles right now.”

What it means: The next-gen console race has finally begun. Just, you know, really, really slowly. Sony and Microsoft are sprinting neck-and-neck out the gate – by which I mean they're hesitantly poking new technology with a stick and screaming in fear when it gently rocks back-and-forth.

Beyond the fact that this is an oddly diffuse spread (Nintendo's launching in 2012, Microsoft in 2013, and Sony in 2014), it's difficult to speculate much further. Will Microsoft continue its goal of being a frighteningly sterile, vaguely unsettling fun time for the whole perfect TV commercial family? Will these consoles even use physical media? What about streaming tech? When developers say they expect the next generation to look like Avatar, do they actually mean it'll be exceedingly blue and unsatisfying?

At this point, there are simply too many uncertainties. For now, just try to enjoy the flood of incredible games on current machines. Somehow, I doubt it'll be too terribly difficult. Or – if you simply can't bear to live in a world populated by rock textures that are sort of blurry if you examine them under a microscope from a 37.467 degree angle – there's always PC gaming.

Norweigan press accuses EA of Battlefield 3 review diddling

What happened: EA Norway allegedly probed select outlets with a survey that asked reviewers everything from their thoughts on Call of Duty to what they're wearing right now and how they feel about long walks on the beach.

What it means: Well, for one, two outlets have come out saying they actually didn't find any ill-intentioned pieces of paper corrupting their mailboxes. However, I've spoken directly with another non-reported source that did receive one, so this isn't just some blown-out-of-proportion isolated incident.

Regardless – more than anything – this seems to show a profound lack of confidence in Battlefield 3 on EA's part. On top of that, review copy deployment has been pushed back repeatedly, with reviewers only just now getting their war-hungry hands on PC code. The situation's a total mess – and that's not even factoring in the thinly veiled implications for games journalism. Thankfully, impacted outlets spoke up this time around. Here's hoping other publishers learn from EA's self-proclaimed “mistake.”

PS Vita given western Feb 22 launch, UK pricing confirmed

What happened: Eagerly anticipating Sony's portable beast with two touch screens? Of course you are. But man cannot live on desire, drool, and all-consuming gadget lust alone. Fortunately, the not-so-little handheld that could is right around the corner. It's launching in February – a nice drop from “eternity” to a mere “roughly 8000 years” in excruciating wait time.

What it means: Sony's certainly stacking the deck in its favor. February's a fairly dry month software-wise, and it's just outside the attention devouring black hole that is any sort of iPhone/iPad launch or pre-launch build up. That said, however, there are still enough unanswered questions to leave even the mightiest of crystal balls foggy. Foremost, what sort of launch lineup are we looking at? And – perhaps of equal importance – what kind of 3G data plans will be available? How about pre-paid cards? These things are absolutely vital to Vita's success. I can, however, at least confirm that my crystal ball is actually Peanuts-themed snow globe. So that's something.

CCP to reduce its workforce by 20%, refocusing on EVE and Dust 514 development

What happened: They say that the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. Evidently, though, that's far from the only step. After taking the humble high ground and apologizing until the hypothetical studio audience went “D'aaaaaw” and viewers learned a little something about themselves, CCP busted its toes on yet another stumbling block. Yes, the lay-offs came as the next step in the EVE developer's newly rediscovered focus, but that doesn't make them any less unfortunate.

What it means: Contrary to popular belief, the customer is not always right. In fact, the customer is frequently incorrect to the point of outright hilarity. So, in many cases, developers are correct to give their fans a dismissive “You so crazy” before diving back into the development trenches. Ultimately, though, players pay the bills, and their voices can't be discounted entirely. CCP made a big mistake, and it's paying a fitting toll of blood, sweat, and tears. As games move away from being static one-and-done deals and evolve into community oriented “services,” I imagine we'll see more occurrences like this. The industry's taking its first Bambi-on-an-ice-skating-rink-like steps into a new age of developer-community relations. It probably won't be pretty, but will it ultimately be better? Time will tell.

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