This Week in Games - December 22, 2012

Happy Holidays! BioShock, bankruptcy, Borderlands DLC, the decline of western civilization, Bobbty Kotick's dating life, and the NRA.

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Attempts to find some kind of meaning, and something to vilify, in the wake of a tragedy such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, are completely understandable. As seems to be the norm of late, attention is yet again turning to violent video games as something to be singled-out for blame. The political attention began this week with this Tweet from Obama administration advisor David Axelrod.

This sparked plenty of attention on Twitter, and fueled a number of stories throughout the week predicting an escalation of finger-pointing in gaming's direction. It arrived in force on Wednesday when Democratic West Virginia senator Jay Rockefeller (picture below, and no - that's not this particular bill he's waving around) introduced a bill to congress that would task the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to study the effects of violent video games and other programs on children. The measure comes less than a week after the horrors at Sandy Hook. "Major corporations, including the video game industry, make billions on marketing and selling violent content to children," Rockefeller said in a statement on his website. "They have a responsibility to protect our children. If they do not, you can count on the Congress to take a more aggressive role." The bill would direct the NAS to conduct a "comprehensive study and investigation" of the link between violent games and other violent video programming and harmful effects on children. More specifically, the NAS would be charged with looking into whether or not video games cause children to act aggressively or "otherwise hurt their wellbeing," and if so, determine if that effect is notably distinguishable from other types of media. This study would also look at the "direct and long-lasting impact" of violent content on a child's well-being. "With respect to violent video games, NAS must look at whether current or emerging aspects of games, like their interactive nature and the personal and vivid way violence is portrayed, have a unique impact on kids," the statement reads. Separately, Rockefeller said he will call on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to further their work in this area. "Changes in technology now allow kids to access violent content online with less parental involvement. It is time for these two agencies to take a fresh look at these issues," he said. If the bill passes, NAS must submit a report on its study within 18 months to Congress as well as the FTC and FCC.

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If you've been following this kind of thing for the last few years, you'll no doubt be rolling your eyes at yet another potential waste of government resources and taxpayer money. After all, previous studies of this nature have failed to turn up any data that supports a connection between violent games and real world gun violence, so why will this one show anything different? The Washington Post ran a story on Monday this week demonstrating that video game consumption "does not seem to correlate at all with an increase in gun violence," and cited data from 10 different countries including Germany, Australia, South Korea, and the Netherlands. The outlier on gun violence? The United States.

On Friday, the National Rifle Association finally broke their silence on the subject, taking the opportunity to finger violent games as partially to blame for last week's tragedy. "There exists in this country a callous, corrupt, and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people," NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said. "Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, and Splatterhouse. And here's one: it's called Kindergarten Killers. It's been online for 10 years. How come my research department could find it and all of yours either couldn't or didn't want anyone to know you had found it?" He went on to question whether violent media of any kind should be called entertainment. "But is that what it really is?" he questioned. "Isn't fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?"

"Isn't fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?" - Wayne LaPierre, NRA

LaPierre argued that media conglomerates are caught up in a "race to the bottom," and in fact compete with each other to "shock, violate, and offend every standard of civilized society." Complicit in this behavior, according to LaPierre, is the national media, their corporate owners, and stockholders, who are "silent enablers" and even "co-conspirators." He claimed media "demonize" lawful gun owners and "fill the national debate with misinformation and dishonest thinking."

The NRA's solution? "As parents, we do everything we can to keep our children safe. It is now time for us to assume responsibility for their safety at school. The only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away ‚ or a minute away?"

If you want to read the full text of the statement, you can find a PDF of it here. LaPierre's comments drew a sharp response from gun-control advocates. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg accused the NRA of "a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country. They offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe," he said.

Please share your feelings on the subject in the comments. There's certainly plenty to chew on.

BioShock Infinite Hype Continues

Irrational Games creative director Ken Levine has offered a tease regarding the BioShock Infinite endgame. Speaking to Outside Xbox, Levine claimed the game's ending is unprecedented and consequently may not be full accepted or embraced by all fans of the franchise. "The plot actually gets more interesting as it goes on, Levine said. "The end of the game, I can't tell whether people will like it or not like it. I can say it's something we're incredibly proud of. It's like nothing you've actually experienced in a video game before. It's quite unique and quite particular to this world, these characters, and this franchise." Levine didn't share much more on the subject, however he did say Irrational is working to make sure the story doesn't decline in its second half, as many feel was the case in the original BioShock. "You had a situation there where you had this amazing character and once he's gone the story loses some of its steam," he said. "That is something we took to heart in this game."

Levine bookended this statement on Wednesday by releasing video of the first five minutes of the game (below. Watch it at your peril.) "Want to see the first few minutes of Infinite?" he asked on Twitter. "If you watch it and complain about SPOILERS, you're dead to me."

Keeping up the media onslaught ahead of the Holiday break, Levine held a Reddit Ask Me Anything session on Thursday where he talked about his inspirations and motivations. When asked about the decision to stick to a first person perspective to tell the new game's story, he explained that the method allows for a more intimate level of detail. "I love first person because it gets you so close to the detail of the world," Levine said. "[BioShock Infinite] wouldn't work in any other perspective." He was also asked if he would consider tackling other genres for different products in the future, but he did not respond. Later in the session, Levine revealed that original BioShock and BioShock 2 composer Garry Schyman is returning to create the music for BioShock Infinite. Levine teased that Schyman's score this time around is "very different" from the first two games, but at the same time "very much guided by the same aesthetic principles."

THQ Filed Chapter 11, Ubisoft May Pick Up Pieces

Beleaguered Saints Row publisher THQ filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday. The company has entered into an asset purchase agreement with a bidder to acquire "substantially all of the assets of THQ's operating business." This includes THQ's four wholly-owned studios and games in development. "The sale will allow THQ to shed certain legacy obligations and emerge with the strong financial backing of a new owner with substantial experience in software and technology," the company said in a statement. The company's day-to-day operations will not be affected during the sale period, the company said. Every THQ studio remains open and development on all projects (Saints Row 4, Homefront 2, Metro: Last Night, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Company of Heroes 2 along with the unannounced game from Assassin's Creed developer Patrice D√©silets at the company's Montreal studio) is unaffected. No layoffs are expected. Employees will continue to work on their usual schedules and will receive their previously agreed upon compensation and benefits. "The sale and filing are necessary next steps to complete THQ‚ transformation and position the company for the future, as we remain confident in our existing pipeline of games, the strength of our studios, and THQ‚ deep bench of talent," said THQ CEO Brian Farrell in a statement. "We are grateful to our outstanding team of employees, partners and suppliers who have worked with us through this transition. We are pleased to have attracted a strong financial partner for our business, and we hope to complete the sale swiftly to make the process as seamless as possible."

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"We have incredible, creative talent here at THQ," new THQ president Jason Rubin said. "We look forward to partnering with experienced investors for a new start as we will continue to use our intellectual property assets to develop high-quality core games, create new franchise titles, and drive demand through both traditional and digital channels." Rubin spent much of the day responding to questions on Twitter. He assured concerned gamers that he is doing "everything in my power" to ensure that the Saints Row sequel, in particular, is unaffected by the changes. To hammer the point home, he made this comment accompanied by a photo of himself wielding the iconic dildo bat from Saints Row 3.

In a blog post at the end of the day, Rubin noted "Chapter 11 is a safety net for U.S. companies. American Airlines is currently in Chapter 11 restructuring, yet I flew back and forth on that airline when I visited Volition two weeks ago. Donald Trump and his companies have been in Chapter 11 four times. You can add to that list household names such as Macy‚ Eddie Bauer, the Chicago Cubs, Chrysler, Delta Airlines, General Motors, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Marvel Studios, and MGM, among many others. MGM filed Chapter 11 two years ago, and this year it released ‚ Skyfall‚ and ‚ The Hobbit,‚ two of the biggest titles of the year. That‚ what I mean when I say new start!"

On Friday morning it was revealed that Ubisoft is one of the top candidates interested in purchasing THQ's assets,. Sources told trade news site MCV that the French publisher has shown interest in buying THQ's wholly-owned studios and franchises. As you may recall, this is not the first time Ubisoft has publicly acknowledged interest in THQ. Last month, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said, "They have good things. We are always interested in good brands. For sure, it's something we can consider, but I can't tell you more." MCV's sources say Ubisoft has held "lengthy discussions" with THQ to get a deal done. One of the main sticking points in the negotiations, according to the sources, is that of price. Ubisoft is reportedly interested in a "bargain buy," and will hold out until THQ decides to sell specific properties instead of a total package.

The War Z Woes

Dissatisfied consumers took to Reddit early this week to voice their concerns surrounding the release of The War Z on Steam. Users accused developer Hammerpoint Interactive of releasing a patch for the Steam version of the game following Reddit reports that claimed this version of the game wasn't complete. According to Reddit user "IAmFluffey", the patch "proves [Hammerpoint Interactive's] quick money-grabbing and game-breaking schemes."

"After changing the description of their game due to [Reddit user] TotalHailbut calling them out on false advertising, they have now updated the game with a new patch," he continued. The post goes on to list a variety of changes in the new patch, including "increasing the respawn-timer from 1 hour to 4 hours", while adding a "revive" button where players can spend real-world money to revive instantly. Reddit users have suggested that this addition forces players into a micro-transaction model. According to the post, the update is also forcing players to sign a terms of service agreement before playing, which reportedly "disallows refunds" of the game. After publishing a similar thread on the Steam forums, user "IAmFluffey" was reportedly banned. The users claim that Hammerpoint Interactive subsequently shut down the entire The War Z discussion thread on Steam.

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On Wednesday the game itself was removed from Steam. A Valve representative told Kotaku that the game was mistakenly published in the store and will not return until the company speaks with Hammerpoint Interactive to resolve issues. "From time to time a mistake can be made and one was made by prematurely issuing a copy of War Z for sale via Steam," the Valve rep said. "We apologize for this and have temporary [sic] removed the sale offering of the title until we have time to work with the developer and have confidence in a new build." Gamers who already bought The War Z can continue to play it. Those who bought the game and are not satisfied can seek a refund by opening a support ticket at Valve's website.

On Thursday, Arma II mod Day Z creator Dean Hall spoke out about the situation, saying the controversy had left him "depressed" and led to him considering quitting game development altogether. Writing on Reddit as "rocket2guns," Hall broke his silence, saying, "I know I have been very quiet lately. So this will be really all I'll say for the moment. I've been pretty depressed about the whole situation," Hall said. "From a personal standpoint, this whole 'saga' of the development made me seriously question if I wanted to be involved in the industry and I gave serious thought to cutting my losses and not being involved in the project." Hall said he has been "hammered" with requests from media and fans alike, asking for his take on the situation and for further information about Day Z. He declined to provide any insight, noting he is keeping to himself while working on the standalone version of Day Z, which is scheduled for release next year.

Minecraft Documentary Hits This Weekend

Minecraft: The Story of Mojang will premiere Saturday, December 22 on Xbox Live. The documentary from 2Player Productions will be available for Xbox Live Gold subscribers in the U.S., UK, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, Austria, France, Finland, and Sweden. As for the film itself, Minecraft: The Story of Mojang follows Notch, and documents the challenges he faced during the company's first year. It addresses the massive success of Minecraft, and also features insight from journalists and industry professionals. The documentary began its life as a Kickstarter project in February 2011 and surpassed its $150,000 target, raking in a total of $210,297 when it closed in March of that year.

The Business News Part. Stay Awake

Electronic Arts has been removed from the NASDAQ-100, an index of the 100 largest domestic and international non-financial companies. Electronic Arts was pushed out as part of NASDAQ's annual reshuffling of the list to make room for newcomers like Western Digital and Liberty Global, and the new list will be effective from December 24. EA had a rough time of it this year, with shares hitting their lowest prices since 1999 partially due to its struggle to retain subscribers to Star Wars: The Old Republic, a game rumored to be one of the most expensive (if not the most expensive) video game ever made. Netflix, Blackberry maker RIM, and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters were also dropped. Major EA competitor Activision is now the only traditional video game publisher to remain on the NASDAQ-100 list, though several companies with ties to the business like Microsoft and Nvidia remain.

‚ Think about what it‚ like for my dating life when the first picture that comes up is me as the Devil." - Robert Kotick, Activision

Speaking of Activision, CEO Robert Kotick was profiled by the New York Times this week, in which he noted that firing Infinity Ward head honchos Jason West and Vince Zampella in 2010 was not a difficult decision for him to make. Kotick addressed the swift and severe action taken against the high-profile developers. You find out two executives are planning to break their contracts, keep the money you gave them, and steal 40 employees. What do you do? You fire them,‚ Kotick said. Activision's high-profile court case against West and Zampella, along with those 40 former Infinity Ward developers, was settled in May this year before it could be heard by a trial. Terms of the deal were not disclosed at the time and have not been since, though one analyst previously projected this figure to be in the tens of millions. Elsewhere in the profile, it was revealed why the massively popular Call of Duty brand has not spawned a Hollywood adaptation. Kotick said game-to-film adaptations rarely work out and could in fact blemish the franchise. Hollywood studios have reached out to Activision, he said, though all requests thus far have been denied.

Kotick also noted in the profile that the online hate (which frequently manifests as Photoshopped pictures of him with horns) directed his way is cramping his style with the ladies. Think about what it‚ like for my dating life when the first picture that comes up is me as the Devil,‚ he said, noting that he is recently divorced. ‚ You see all this chatter and you realize that they game the search results. These super-sophisticated 19-year-olds are smarter than our expensive PR firm.‚

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On the subject of unpopular game publisher CEO's, here's something about everyone's least favorite gaming executive. Zynga CEO Mark Pincus was awarded the illustrious title of one of the "worst CEOs of 2012," by Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business professor Sydney Finkelstein. His list of the five worst honchos was published at Bloomberg, and provided multiple reasons for why Pincus came up short this year. Finkelstein said Pincus made some "rookie mistakes" including depending far too heavily on Facebook. Additionally, the professor cited Pincus unloading 16 million Zynga shares as a reason to believe he may not have much confidence in his own company. As you'd expect, Zynga's PR folks were reluctant to give comment to Bloomberg and have also not responded to GameSpot's requests either. The other four CEOs named were Best Buy's Brian Dunn, Chesapeake Energy top executive Aubrey McClendon, Avon's Andrea Jung, and Bankia executive Rodrigo Rata. Zynga shares have tanked this year. After peaking in March at around $15, the company's per-share value as of Friday stands at $2.32.

Get Your Own Gravity Gun

On a much lighter subject: Fans wishing that Gordon Freeman's iconic Gravity Gun was a real thing are in luck. Kinda. Toy maker Neca will release a 1:1 recreation of the classic Half-Life weapon this spring, the company announced through its blog. A price for the gun was not announced and quantities will be limited, much as they were for the original version of the firm's Portal gun earlier this year. As any self-respecting fan is aware, the Gravity Gun's real name is the Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator. It first appeared in Half-Life 2, given to players by Alyx Vance at Black Mesa East. Neca's Gravity Gun will be on display at the 2013 New York Toy Fair in February and preorders for the toy will begin "soon." The company has created a prototype, which shows that the Gravity Gun will also light up.

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On the subject of Half-Life and Valve, the Steam sale season kicked off on Thursday this week. Among the many bargains is the entire Valve Collection for just $49.99.

Godus Crowd-funded

Peter Molyneux's new God game Godus reached its Kickstarter goal on Wednesday, with just under two days to go to its final funding deadline. The fund closed at over £526,000 ($850,385) pledged of an original £450,000 ($727,515) target. Godus, as you may be aware, is a reinvention of Molyneux's classic God game Populous. It is in development at 22Cans for PC, Mac, and mobile devices, and will not require a constant Internet connection for its single-player mode. The game is due out during September 2013. Separately, 22Cans announced that it has been contacted by a range of composers and musicians wishing to contribute to Godus. One such musician is Harry Waters, son of Pink Floyd bassist and vocalist Roger Waters. No firm collaboration plans have been nailed down yet, but 22Cans said it is exploring how it can work with Harry Waters on the soundtrack for Godus.

Sir Hammerlock Cometh

The third batch of downloadable content for Borderlands 2 has been revealed. Due out January 15 (that's my birthday, in case you care) for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC will be Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt. It follows Captain Scarlett and Her Captain's Booty and Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage. Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt is included with the $30 Borderlands 2 Season Pass and will be available for others at $10. The content adds a new zone called Aegrus, as well as new areas to explore like Savage Lands, Lodge, and Scylla's Grove. It also brings new hunting-themed weapons (including legendary weapons) and loot, and a fanboat vehicle, which is kinda similar to the sand skiff from Pirate's Booty. The new content takes place just after the end of Borderlands 2, and pits players against a new villain named Professor Nakayama. You will also be battling new creatures including Wetland Drifters, Spores, Armored Boroks, Scaylions, Bandit-style Savage Warriors, and a new Seraph Guardian team raid boss called Voracidous. What's most interesting about these creatures is that there are new behaviors associated with them, notably more of a tribal hierarchy whereby "chiefs" both coordinate and heal their minions. Savages are controlled by Witch Doctors, the Varkid-like Scaylions have a queen that controls their behavior.

Happy Holidays!

This is the final (and looking back at it, somwhat depressing--sorry about that) entry in This Week in Games for 2012, as it will be on a break during the Holidays. Have an excellent season, plays some awesome games, and have a great New Year. See you in 2013.

The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.

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