This Week in Games: July 21, 2012

Nintendo thinks the Wii U is "important," but Michael Pachter does not. Meanwhile, EA announces Battlefield 4, a Taiwanese man dies while playing Diablo III, and always-on connections look set to become the norm.

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Welcome to This Week in Games: the games news roundup story for lazy people like me. It's the biggest stories of the week, all summarized in one convenient place. If you don't like to read, and you find the wall of text below to be intimidating, you can watch this week's episode of Quoted for Truth right here, in which news editor Brendan Sinclair, Tom McShea and I argue about a number of these stories, and bring in quotes from comments on each of the individual source stories.

I'm not going to lie, we're a bit grumpy this week.

PLUS! You can also listen to the latest episode of the GameSpot GamePlay Podcast in which we make an hour-long, satirical quiz show out of the week's happenings for the aural pleasure of your earholes. It's embedded all the way at the bottom of this page. Just scroll down and hit play.

OK, strap in...let's go.

Diablo, Fortnite, Always On and Playing Too Much

Diablo III's always-online requirement was a design choice made from the onset of development, and is not going to change, said Blizzard Entertainment CEO Mike Morhaime in a recent message to fans. Morhaime explained that though there are "some downsides" to the online-only approach, it was the right long-term decision for the game. "I fully understand the desire to play Diablo III offline," he said. "However, Diablo III was designed from the beginning to be an online game that can be enjoyed with friends, and the always-online requirement is the best way for us to support that design." Morhaime also said the perception that the always-connected requirement for Diablo III is nothing but a form of protection is false. "While we’ve never said that this requirement guarantees that there will be no cheating or game cracks, it does help us battle those problems (we have not found any fully functional cracks)," he said. "More important to us is that the online requirement is critical for the long-term integrity of the game experience."

On the same subject, Epic Games may mandate gamers have a constant Internet connection to play upcoming PC survival game Fortnite, producer Tanya Jessen told Rock Paper Shotgun. She said firm plans are not yet in place, but noted if Fortnite were to require a persistent connection, it would be done in the interest of fun over a desire to fight piracy. “That’s something we don’t know yet,” she said. “It’s gonna be really dependent on gameplay, and it’s also dependent on platform. So whatever we decide to do there is gonna be more relevant to the most fun experience you can have with your friends [than it is to piracy]. But I can’t nail that down today.”

Meanwhile, in Taiwan a man collapsed and died last weekend after playing Diablo III for 40 straight hours. The Australian Associated Press reported the story, citing the Taiwanese United Daily News as the source of the information. According to the report, the 18-year-old man entered an Internet café in southern Taiwan around noon on Friday, booked a private room, and played almost two days without stopping to eat. On Sunday morning, an employee of the café entered the room to check on the man and found him resting on a table. Shortly after being roused, the man collapsed and was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Love is a Battlefield (of Honor)

On Tuesday morning, Electronic Arts confirmed Battlefield 4, and said a beta for the new shooter will commence during fall 2013 for unspecified platforms. Gamers can get access to the trial period by preordering this October's Medal of Honor: Warfighter. EA said more details regarding Battlefield 4 and its beta will be announced at a later date. Speculation concerning Battlefield 4 was sparked last weekend, when EA's Origin webstore posted, and subsequently removed, promotional material for the game.

"Starting work on Battlefield 4 does not mean that we will be abandoning Battlefield 3 or working any less hard to bring you the best expansions we can."

On Wednesday, EA community manager Ian Tornay responded to questions about the announcement on Reddit, saying EA will continue to support Battlefield 3 while it also works on Battlefield 4. "There are several teams at DICE," he said. "Starting work on Battlefield 4 does not mean that we will be abandoning Battlefield 3 or working any less hard to bring you the best expansions we can. DICE and EA are dedicated to continuing our support for Battlefield 3. Just as we've continued to support and maintain Bad Company 2, we intend to continue providing the best Battlefield 3 experience we can well into the future and past the release of End Game and Battlefield 4." Additionally, Tornay confirmed that reserving Medal of Honor Warfighter will not be the only way to score entry to the Battlefield 4 beta. He said there will be "other ways" to get into the trial period, but presently, preordering that game is the only way to guarantee entry. Tornay also responded to criticisms about the timing of the Battlefield 4 announcement, which came just nine months after Battlefield 3 launched last October. "I think it's worth noting that DICE has released a Battlefield game every two years or sooner and Mirror's Edge at least every two years," he said. "I truly believe that we're in one of the best positions to be creating our next titles--Frostbite 2 has matured, we've been gathering fan feedback like crazy, Battlefield 3 continues to expand with features which we can learn from, and we've got more data about how people play than ever."

Despite EA using one big, modern-era shooter franchise to promote another, Electronic Arts' two major shooter franchises have been intentionally designed to attract different gamers, EA Labels president Frank Gibeau asserted in the latest issue of the Game Informer. Gibeau claimed that only half of Medal of Honor gamers also play Battlefield, and this was a result of planning. "We are very careful that Battlefield and Medal of Honor stay differentiated," he said. "There is an inefficiency to having two different brands coming out alternating like that; there is some upside. You don't have the annualized, sequel fatigue. With Medal of Honor we tried to embrace that the game is real. The multiplayer is different than Battlefield. We're trying to use a sequencing strategy to keep it as fresh and different as possible." Gibeau explained further, saying EA did research and found the Medal of Honor community enjoys "more authentic shooters and the story." Additionally, he stated that the real task is "figuring out how to grow both of them together." Clearly, the solution is to bundle the beta for the next popular and successful game with the retail release of the less popular and successful game. Or something. What do you think? Shenanigans?

More Shadowrunning

A second Kickstarter project set in Jordan Weisman's Shadowrun world has now been launched, following the successful $1.8 million backing of Harebrained Schemes' Shadowrun Returns a few months ago. The new project--titled Shadowrun Online--is aiming to raise $500,000 by Tuesday, August 14. It will be a free-to-play browser and tablet MMO with co-operative gameplay and player vs. player faction wars set in the world of Shadowrun, and will be developed by Cliffhanger Productions. "While our MMO is extremely modest by the big-budget standards of today, it costs far more than a development company of our size is able to afford on our own," Cliffhanger said on the project page. "Due to the licence restraints, it is hard to get traditional publishers interested, and we didn't want to give away creative control over the project, or the ability to shape the game together with you, the fans." According to the project's Kickstarter page, the collective actions of players in the game will determine the fate of the online game world with a player-driven plotline. The game will be powered by the Unity 3D game engine, and will be accessible through browsers and tablets (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS), as well as the possibility of Linux support in the future.

Wii U: Important? Or Solution in Search of Problem?

Ever-ready to provide a provocative quote, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter offered some harsh words about Nintendo's forthcoming Wii U console last week, saying during a Develop Conference presentation that the system "isn't going to work."

"I don’t get it," he said. "I think that essentially this is a solution in search of a problem. I mean, somebody had an idea--'let's make the controller a tablet'--and there aren't many games that are going to take advantage of that." Pachter also claimed that Activision and publishers of other major franchises pressured Nintendo into developing the Wii U Pro Controller, a more traditional gamepad.

"I think that essentially this is a solution in search of a problem. I mean, somebody had an idea--'let's make the controller a tablet'--and there aren't many games that are going to take advantage of that."
"Activision never said anything to me," he explained, "but I know that [for] big games like Call Of Duty they said, 'No, we're not putting it on there if you don't give us a conventional controller'. So they gave in." Pachter had little faith in the original Wii at launch in 2006, calling the system "gimmicky." That system exploded with regards to popularity upon launch, and is currently the top-selling current-generation console. Pachter admitted this was true, but claimed that Nintendo's success will not be repeated. "[The Wii] worked, they got lucky, [but] I don't think they're getting lucky with Wii U," he said. "I don't think they suck. I just think that they really believe that, 'If we're still novel, everything we do will work'. This isn't going to work. Hardcore gamers will buy them; hardcore Nintendo fanboys will buy it. They could put out a piece of cardboard and say that it'll play Mario and they'll buy it."

As you can probably imagine, Nintendo feels quite differently. In an interview with Gamasutra Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said, "One of the reasons we believe this is the time for Nintendo to launch the Wii U is it's going to be important for the world." A bold claim, indeed. Much of the conversation focused on whether being "first" with a new system was an important move, or a disadvantage for the company. To this, Iwata said plainly, "being first in the next generation race is not important at all." He went on to address next generation console competition from Microsoft and Sony. He said Nintendo does not care about attempting to match those consoles' power, and is instead focusing on differentiating the Wii U from these still unannounced systems. "We have not changed our strategy. In other words, we just do not care what kind of 'more beef' console Microsoft and Sony might produce in 2013," he said. "Our focus is on how we can make our new console different than [others]." With regard to how the system will be positioned, he noted that, "The pricing of Wii U is going to be one of the most important elements when it is going to be launched," Iwata said. "The environment is different. Wii U is going to be launching in a different environment than when the Wii was launched. Also, the involvement surrounding [mobile and social] businesses is different than several years ago."

Anyone care to take a stab at guessing what the pricepoint will likely be at launch? Let us know in the comments.

GamePlay Podcast: Biological Warehouse

Check out our new(ish) weekly news-quiz podcast, GameSpot Gameplay - hosted by Kevin VanOrd, and featuring Tom McShea, Carolyn Petit, Chris Watters and myself. Each week we turn the week's events into a loosely-formed quiz show format that you can play along with while listening. If that kind of thing floats your boat. Here's the latest episode, and you can subscribe to the RSS feed too.

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