This Week in Games: March 31, 2012

This week saw word of a cheaper, crappier Xbox, an Assassin's Creed sausage-fest, the PlayStation 4 getting a different name (plus it won't play used games), a Mass Effect cupcake explosion, and a prediction of your free-to-play future.

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Next-gen news was a little thin on the ground last week, but the crazies have been out in force over the past seven days. Behold…

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This Week's Next-Gen Nonsense

Microsoft will perhaps have new hardware for gamers next year after all, but it won't be a next-generation console, according to noted anonymous Microsoft blogger MS Nerd. He wrote on Reddit that Microsoft will ship a stripped-down Xbox in late 2013. Given the recent Web domain registration for Xbox FL there's some speculation that this move is somehow related. MS Nerd further noted that the ARM-powered console will focus on "Arcade-style games" and Kinect applications. The technology will be "price-competitive" with Apple TV, which currently retails for $100. Just what we all need right now, a cheaper crappier Xbox rather than a new and improved system with more memory and faster innards. A Microsoft representative issued GameSpot the following fluff-laden obfuscation: "Xbox 360 has found new ways to extend its lifecycle like introducing the world to controller-free experiences with Kinect and re-inventing the console with a new dashboard and new entertainment content partnerships. We are always thinking about what is next for our platform and how to continue to defy the lifecycle convention." Blah, blah, blah, not addressing the issue in any way whatsoever blah, blah. The statement ended with a predictable, "Beyond that we do not comment on rumors or speculation." Thanks bud.

Just what we all need right now, a cheaper crappier Xbox rather than a new and improved system with more memory and faster innards.

In other next-generation console news (it was also by far the most-read news all week,) rumors circulated on Thursday that the PlayStation 4 is named Orbis (there's a convoluted logic which explains how this is related to the name "Vita," but we won't waste your time with it here) and that it will feature an anti-used-game system, offer no backward compatibility with PlayStation 3 titles, and ship in holiday 2013. Based on this, we assume it will also loudly berate and insult you every time you turn it on. If all this is true, it seems 2013 is going to be a bumper year for gimped hardware and the execution of myopic, unfriendly, and terrible decisions by platform holders. Multiple sources told Kotaku that the Orbis will sport some sort of anti-used-game measure and that full Orbis games will be available via Blu-ray disc or as a PlayStation Network download and will be locked to a single PSN account. Players will not be able to circumvent the system by remaining offline, as the source said users will be forced to be connected to the PSN to boot up their games. Genius, huh?

Ever the contrarian, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter dismissed the rumor, arguing that the story was "just a rehash of that old rumor and the recent one about the Xbox 720," before saying that the story's "reliable source is a monkey." Wait. What? A monkey? The "consumer backlash" from blocking secondhand games would be huge, he said. It would also be unlikely to help the firm financially, though he did admit that it might benefit the larger publishers such as EA and Activision "slightly." This backlash would prevent Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft from unilaterally blocking used games, he said. While a multilateral move might mitigate some of the fallout, none of the three firms "are evil enough to do it together." He might have a point there. Or does he? What do you think?

In somewhat related news, Silicon Knights founder Denis Dyack grumbled that used game sales are cannibalizing the business, predicting that "there's not going to be an industry" if used sales continue as is. There's a good

The used game market is ultimately good because it shows there is healthy demand for games in the industry in spite of the onerous measures publishers are taking to discourage secondhand sales.
chance he thinks that Sony is on to something with its new idea. Dyack complained that it used to be possible for a game like Warcraft to continue selling over a 10-year life span, but the used market has changed that. "Now there is no tail. Literally," he whined, presumably ignoring the fact that people still willingly buy the Warcraft III: Battlechest after (ahem) 10 years. "You will get most of your sales within three months of launch, which has created this really unhealthy extreme where you have to sell it really fast and then you have to do anything else to get money," Dyack said. To be fair, his comments are more appropriate for console games than PC. It's just unfortunate that he used that particular example.

In a counterargument, GameSpot senior editor Brendan Sinclair suggested that used games aren't the problem at all, and instead suggested that "the used game market is ultimately good because it shows there is healthy demand for games in the industry in spite of the onerous measures publishers are taking to discourage secondhand sales. Maybe certain companies will go under because the missing revenue caused by used sales somehow makes the difference between keeping the lights on and calling it quits. Maybe there will be fewer Call of Duty clones, or fewer AAA bets on original intellectual properties. But the underlying demand for games will ensure that the industry presses on; it's just a matter of what form it will take as it does. And as with any sea change in a consumer industry, it will be the entrenched giants who seek to impose their terms on the market who drown in the tide."

What do you think? Express yourself in the comments, please.

Let Them Eat Cake! Mass Effect Stuff Continues

The Mass Effect 3 ending protestors changed their tactics quite dramatically this week. After being shut down for raising Child's Play money, they instead resorted to the persuasive power of sugary treats. Members of the developer's forums organized a successful ChipIn fund to raise more than $1,000 to deliver 400 cupcakes to BioWare's Edmonton offices. According to the fund's official page, 96 people pooled their money to have Edmonton-based bakery Fuss Cupcakes deliver the treats to BioWare. A worker at Fuss confirmed for GameSpot that the order was placed and the cupcakes were set for delivery this past Tuesday. If you poke around on the bakery's site, you'll find a comment from one John Shepard, stating, "I'm Commander Shepard and this is my favorite store on the Planet!"

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When is an MMO not an MMO? When it's Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium

THQ's long-awaited massively multiplayer online game Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online is no longer going to be massively multiplayer, as the publisher announced on Thursday that it would be making a major genre shift to turn it into a single-player game with some online multiplayer features. "As previously announced, we have been actively looking for a business partner for the game as an MMO," THQ CEO Brian Farrell said in a statement."However, based on changing market dynamics and the additional investment required to complete the game as an MMO, we believe the right direction for us is to shift the title from an MMO to a premium experience with single and multiplayer gameplay, robust digital content and community features." Yeah, that'll work. The last single-player Warhammer 40K game that had some online multiplayer was a roaring success, right?

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RIP Zipper

Back in 2002, Sony and Zipper teamed up to make the first SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs game and establish the PlayStation 2 network adapter as an essential accessory for the console. After that, the pair went on to release six further installments of SOCOM (two for the PSP) before Sony acquired the studio in 2006. In January of 2010, the studio released MAG, an ambitious first-person shooter for the PS3 that supported an unprecedented (on console) 256 players in a single game. That was followed up with SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs for the PlayStation 3 and then Unit 13 for the Vita. After all that, the studio announced on its Twitter feed Friday that it was closing down. A sad day indeed. Even though its titles weren't huge runaway hits by any stretch of the imagination, much of its work was groundbreaking and well loved by a dedicated following. Sadly, in a genre now dominated by Call of Duty, Zipper could no longer attract an audience at the scale necessary to be competitive.

Skyrim's Free-to-Play Future?

Ngmoco Sweden boss Ben Cousins is a smart cookie. If his name sounds familiar, it should. He was previously the manager on Battlefield Heroes and Battlefield: Play4Free at Electronic Arts, and before that was the creative director for PlayStation Home, the design manager for the EyeToy group, and a lead designer at Lionhead back in 2001. This week he caused a bit of a stir when he spoke at the Free 2 Play summit in London and stated, "I am totally 100 percent confident--I will bet large amounts of money--that we will have, in the next few years, a free-to-play equivalent of Skyrim," he said. "A game like Skyrim, where you accrue skills and equipment over time, that you can play for hundreds of hours, is actually one of the easiest games to develop for a free-to-play model. That would be a big hit. In the future I believe free-to-play will be the way that nearly everyone plays games," he continued. "It will be nearly every genre, and it will be nearly every platform."

What do you think? Do you agree with him? You know the drill…let us know down below.

Assassin's Creed III: Pour Hommes

The hype for Assassin's Creed III is reaching unprecedented levels. The publisher revealed on Thursday that in the three weeks since the game's preorder campaign kicked off, it has already exceeded the total US preorder numbers of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and has topped 10 times the preorders Assassin's Creed: Revelations attracted in a comparable time frame. Why the rush to preorder? Surely it's not just the steelbook package with the Alex Ross art? It's nice…but is it that nice? By the time E3 rolls around in June, Ubisoft expects Assassin's Creed III to have dethroned Revelations as the most preordered game in company history (US only). That would leave the game plenty of time to cushion its status, as Assassin's Creed III isn't set to launch until October 30 in North America.

In other news, we learned that Ubisoft steered clear of making the Assassin's Creed III protagonist a female character because the game's setting is not a strong match, according to creative director Alex Hutchinson. "I think lots of people want it, [but] in this period it's been a bit of a pain. The history of the American Revolution is the history of men." He then continued, stating that "there are a few people, like John Adams' wife, [Abigail]--they tried very hard in the [HBO series John Adams] to not make it look like a bunch of dudes, but it really is a bunch of dudes," he added. The Assassin's Creed franchise has bent the books of history before, but Hutchinson admitted that doing so in Assassin's Creed III could be problematic. "It felt like, if you had all these men in every scene and you're secretly, stealthily in crowds of dudes [as a female assassin], it starts to feel kind of wrong," he said. "People would stop believing it."

Speaking of Things That Sell a Lot

In news that surprised exactly no one, we learned this week that Angry Birds Space has sold an awful lot of copies since its release last Thursday. 10 million, in fact.

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