This Week in Games: August 18, 2012

EA might be for sale, OnLive has been sold, the Wii U might have a final release date, and the Vita finally gets a handful of new games. Also, some Ubisoft people complain about stuff.

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Gamescom - the most important annual gaming event in Europe kicked off this past Wednesday, and GameSpot had a large team in Cologne attending all of the press events and existing on a diet of nothing but currywurst and strong beer for the entire week. The fruits of their labor can be found collected together here. In short? There were some announcements, such as Capcom's futuristic Remember Me which the publisher says it intends to make its next major franchise, but much of the substance of the event consisted of putting some meat on the bones of announcements made earlier this year at E3.

Black Ops 2 Info Dump

Want the quick version? Kill streaks are gone, the equipment system has been completely overhauled, there are now 55 levels and 10 levels of Prestige

Arguably the biggest reveal came in the shape of Treyarch's disclosure of how multiplayer will work in November's Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Want the quick version? Kill streaks are gone, the equipment system has been completely overhauled, there are now 55 levels and 10 levels of Prestige, and there's a custom shoutcasting system built into the game somewhat-comically dubbed "CODCasting." For a more thorough exploration of the fundamental changes, check out Mark Walton's piece here. in related news--if the reason you bought a Vita was because of the promise of a portable Call of Duty, Activision obliged on that front this week too, and actually showed some gameplay video from Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. While the footage shows mostly conventional first-person shooter fare, the content is notable in that it includes scenes from the popular Nuketown Black Ops map.

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Good Vita Stuff, But No Price Drop Yet

The Vita actually had a very respectable showing at Gamescom, thanks in no small part to Sony leaning on it heavily during its press briefing on Tuesday and showing Killzone: Mercenary, and Media Molecule's adorable Tearaway (below.) Is it all too little too late though? Can the Vita be a viable portable platform in the face of so much competition now? Let us know in the comments.

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If you're hoping for a price drop any time soon, forget it. At least according to Sony's Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida in a Eurogamer interview this week. The executive explained that Sony engineers are currently working on methods to reduce the cost of manufacturing so a price cut can be possible, but that will not happen before the year is out. "It's too early," Yoshida said, emphatically. Instead, he said he hopes PS Vita software bundles--like the Little Big Planet and Call of Duty offerings announced this week--will be a significant enough value to steer prospective buyers toward a purchase. "Of course, cost reduction is one area our engineering team is working on. But we just launched the platform earlier this year. It takes time to do so," he said. "At a certain point in the future we would like to address the pricing issue for some of the people who are waiting. But this year we are trying to add value by creating different types of bundles. We announced we will provide Little Big Planet PS Vita bundle pack. That's affordable for people who are looking for a good deal."

Wii U Release Date? Kinda?

The Wii U very well may be on store shelves the week of Black Friday in the United States, a new GoNintendo report suggests. The site references a GameStop employee's account, which also indicates that Wii U preorders will open sometime next week. Last year, sales of the 3DS during the week of Black Friday surged 49 percent week-over-week. Nintendo software also benefited from launching during the popular shopping week, with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword becoming the fastest-selling installment in the role-playing game series to date after its launch November 20 for the Wii. A November release date for the Wii U falls in line with what Toki Tori 2 developer Two Tribes said earlier this year, slating the console to "probably" arrive in November. Separately, people reportedly familiar with the matter have told UK site CVG that the Wii U will launch across Europe in December, missing a previously projected November date. The sources said manufacturing issues with the Wii U GamePad are the reason the system has reportedly been delayed.

EA Mentions (Again) That The Future Is Digital

In case you missed it the 576 times someone from EA has said this previously, COO Peter Moore said again this week that the lion's share of Electronic Arts' revenue will stem from digital products in the coming years. The executive said the firm will increase digital revenues to surpass its boxed gaming business by looking to Internet-based and mobile device games. "There will come a point, whether it is two or three years from now, when we say, 'We are doing more in digital media now than we are in physical media,' and it's clearly…not far away," Moore said, mentioning EA's record $1.2 billion in digital receipts for its latest fiscal year. Moore said EA has 41 social mobile and free-to-play games "on the slate," and potentially has additional games in the development pipeline that have not yet been announced.

So…you got that? The future is digital. In other news, the sky is blue, grass is green, and rain is wet.

Warfighter Authenticity and Weapons Promotion

Sticking with EA, seeing as they seem to be so good at keeping themselves in the news lately - file this one under "authenticity can be contentious." In a bid to extend the reach of its Medal of Honor: Warfighter brand, EA chose to test these boundaries by updating the official Warfighter site to include links to the sites of the real-world weapons and weapon accessories manufacturers that are helping turn the game into the "most authentic shooter" yet. Anyone visiting the Medal of Honor: Warfighter site could click through to these external sites and, where legally permitted, purchase weapons like the ones featured in the game. More startling was the decision by Medal of Honor executive producer Greg Goodrich to write accompanying blog posts for each of the companies (there were 11 listed, three of which manufacture guns or knives) in which he seemed to wholeheartedly endorse their products. In one post, after revealing that knife manufacturer SOG Knives will be selling a limited edition Voodoo Hawk tomahawk designed specifically for Warfighter, Goodrich encouraged players to "visit their website and reserve your exclusive limited edition Voodoo Hawk today!"

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GameSpot editor Laura Parker questioned the wisdom of this (as did many other journalists, along with many people on Twitter,) and posted a story on Wednesday asking, "Is this about selling weapons, or making games? Or have the two become inter-changeable?" Within a couple of hours of this posting, EA deleted the partner site and Greg Goodrich posts and links from its Warfighter page. Soon after, they also deleted the Goodrich post promoting the tomahawk with no statement or comment.

After some continued pestering, EA issued the following statement. "After listening to feedback from the community and reviewing our program for supporting veterans, we have withdrawn the Tomahawk from the promotion and removed related URL links on our website. We continue to work with gear manufacturers to provide an authentic videogame experience and to support veteran’s organizations. Medal of Honor is committed to delivering an emotional, authentic depiction of the today’s war and today’s soldiers. It is inspired by real people, real places and real operations. The game is M-Rated and a work of historic fiction. Though a work of entertainment, the themes, scenarios and battles are a sensitive subject and may stir conversation among press and players." Still no acknowledgement that their timing might have been a little off given events of recent weeks."

As you can probably imagine, the story has generated a lot of comments, and opinions on the matter are split right down the middle. As of this writing, there are over 1,700 comments on the story, and the debate continues to rage. You can find the full conversation here.

Command and Conquer is Now a Service

Much has changed since the last time Electronic Arts talked about BioWare Victory's Command & Conquer: Generals 2. The publisher announced on Wednesday at Gamescom that the real-time strategy project has been converted to a free-to-play business model and that it has been redesigned as a platform that will span the Command & Conquer series history, with Generals merely being the first of the franchise's various worlds offered to fans. Set for release next year, Command & Conquer will be built on the Frostbite 2 engine (the tech behind games like Battlefield 3) and require players to install a client program on their PCs. EA is promising "an authentic and modern RTS" designed for veterans of the series as well as newcomers. EA is prepping to begin closed beta testing on the game, and has asked would-be testers to sign up on the game's official website.

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We asked EA VP and GM Jon Van Caneghem how much of a shift the new game is for the series. "'Platform' is definitely how we're approaching the development of Command & Conquer," he said. "This is more than a game; it is a free-to-play destination for gamers to access every Command & Conquer universe, from Red Alert to Tiberium and to where it all starts next year: Generals. This is a live service and we are committed to continually delivering content. Heralding feedback-driven design, Command & Conquer will evolve and develop with an expanding array of new content based on community feedback and activity, which is more than we can normally do when shipping a traditional boxed game, benefiting the consumer."

EA is For Sale?

Let's cap all this Electronic Arts news this week with one last story… the company might be for sale. According to unnamed sources speaking to The New York Post, the publisher is "quietly exploring" a sale. The company has reportedly been approached by private equity firms KKR and Providence Equity Partners, the latter of which owns a partial stake in Bethesda parent company Zenimax. The discussions are supposedly in "early days." EA shares surged by more than 8 percent on Thursday morning to over $14 per share, representing the highest intraday gain since February 2, according to BusinessWeek. One unnamed source reportedly said the publisher will "do a deal" when the company's share value rises to $20. GameSpot news reporter Eddie Makuch reached out to Electronic Arts for comment, and a representative responded with the familiar, "We don’t comment on rumors and speculation" line. Asked about the likelihood of EA being sold, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter told Makuch, "It’s a low probability. I don’t believe it."

Do you believe it?

OnLive Sold

"OnLive’s founder and CEO Steve Perlman finally decided to make an exit--and in the process, is screwing the employees who helped build the company and brand." - TechCrunch

The story of cloud gaming service OnLive is still unfolding, but late in the day on Friday an OnLive spokesperson confirmed to VentureBeat that the streaming gaming service's assets have been sold to another company. It did not say what this company was. The spokesperson said users will experience no interruption of services or product roll-outs and the new company plans to hire "a large percentage" of its former employees.

If you weren't following the events that led up this news; early on Friday morning, Mashable carried unconfirmed reports that OnLive had laid off its entire staff. However, the business was said to be "transitioning to a new phase" in which a number of the staff could potentially be rehired. The report suggested the new-look OnLive could be driven by intellectual property and its numerous patents on cloud-based gaming.

Meanwhile reporters at TechCrunch claimed that a "reliable source" had informed them that "OnLive’s founder and CEO Steve Perlman finally decided to make an exit--and in the process, is screwing the employees who helped build the company and brand." Their report went on to state, "Our source tells us that the buyer wants all of OnLive’s assets--the intellectual property, branding, and likely patents--but the plan is to keep the gaming company up and running. However, OnLive management cleaned house today [Friday], reportedly firing nearly the entire staff, and we hear it was done just to reduce the company’s liability, thus reducing employee equity to practically zero. Yeah, it’s a massive dick move."

Kotaku later reported that a source within OnLive told it the company is filing for an assignment for the benefit of creditors, an insolvency proceeding similar to bankruptcy that allows for operations to continue. Additionally, Gamasutra cited a former OnLive employee with confirmation that all of the company's staff was, in fact, laid off on Friday morning.

Ubisoft Developer Grumble Twofer: Lack of Innovation is Your Fault, and Games Press is "Subtly Racist"

According to Ubisoft Toronto managing director Jade Raymond, gamer expectations limit innovation in today's industry. Speaking to Official Xbox Magazine UK in a new interview, Raymond claimed that the business has come to a point where gamers expect such high quality in every aspect that developers can only create what is proven to sell. "One of the things I see that's different [about the industry today] is that our audience expects perfection," Raymond said. "Before, there were only, say, two million people playing games--they were real fans and they were playing every game. They were willing to forgive bugs, and try things that weren't as much fun because they were different. Now, there are 30 million people buying and they only buy the top five," she continued. "They expect perfection. I think that growing up with everything being so good, so easy to use, there are certain expectations." And it is these expectations, Raymond says, that have hurt developers' abilities to try new things. "It's not very forgiving," she said. "It does limit innovation, because if something isn't working as you get towards shipping, you have to cut it or revert to back what you know does work."

"I think there's a subtle racism in the business, especially on the journalists' side, where Japanese developers are forgiven for doing what they do." - Alex Hutchinson

So, remember that when you get to the boring bit halfway through Darksiders II this weekend, OK? It's actually your fault that it goes through a bit of a lull, because your expectations are just too damn high.

On the subject of Ubisoft developers complaining about stuff, Assassin's Creed III creative director Alex Hutchinson has taken a shot at Japanese games and those who critique them. Speaking to CVG, the developer claimed the narratives in Japanese games often leave something to be desired, and reviewers give these games a free pass. "Just think about how many Japanese games are released where their stories are literally gibberish," he said. "There's no way you could write it with a straight face, and the journalists say, 'Oh it is brilliant'. Then Gears of War comes out and apparently it's the worst written narrative in a game ever. I'll take Gears of War over Bayonetta any time." Hutchinson's remarks came as a response to a question regarding how Nintendo is able to release new iterations of long-running franchises every year without drawing much criticism. To this, Hutchinson remarked, "I think there's a subtle racism in the business, especially on the journalists' side, where Japanese developers are forgiven for doing what they do. I think it's condescending to do this."

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