This Week in Games - November 3, 2012
Cash back for playing Halo 4, Nintendo's confidence, Sony's denial, a GTA V release window, Lucas' billions, and more on that Lauren Wainwright unpleasantness.
While Hurricane Sandy battered the east coast, and left millions without power, it was one of the first truly huge weeks for game releases; Assassin's Creed 3 (and it's lacklustre Vita sibling Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation,) Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and WWE 13 were all released on Tuesday, plus the reviews for Halo 4 started to hit by Thursday. Spoiler Alert: It's pretty good, and rocking a Metascore of 90 (so far.) Given all that has been going on, you'd be entirely forgiven for not noticing any of the video game news that happened over the past seven days. Fortunately, you don't have to go rummaging through our news index, or through your RSS reader; the most important stuff is right here.
More Modern Warfare Coming?
There was a new Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 trailer this week. In-keeping with last year's celebrity-studded live action launch trailer for Modern Warfare 3, the new 60 second spot features Iron Man Robert Downey Jr., French actor Omar Sy, and YouTube celebs iJustine, and FPSRussia. Here it is, in case you've not seen it yet.
Black Ops 2 is still two weeks away, but this Tuesday it seemed that there may already be another game in the series being readied, at least if voice actor Bill Murray (no, not that one) was to be believed. The actor, who has played Captain Price in the previous two Modern Warfare games, told This is Xbox that he is set to reprise his role soon. He said, “Yeah, on Monday I am off to meet Infinity Ward about the next game, Modern Warfare 4, I’m doing work on the sequel to Modern Warfare 3, it carries straight on and I only ever appear in the Modern Warfare games…” The possibility of another Modern Warfare title should come as no surprise, we suppose. Traditionally, development duties on the Call Of Duty series are split between Infinity Ward and Treyarch, with each studio producing a game every two years.
Infinity Ward subsequently shot down the speculation, denying any contact with Murray or of the rumor. "Interesting news today, but it's not true," read a response from the official company Twitter account.
Interesting news today, but it’s not true. We’ve not talked with any voice actors, so all news is speculation.— Infinity Ward (@InfinityWard) October 30, 2012
What do you believe? Do you think there will be an MW4?
Sony Remains Defiant About Vita
Sony is "confident" (almost the point of being in complete denial) that its PlayStation Vita line will be a success. Speaking to GamesIndustry International, marketing manager John Koller said he is "pleased" with the device's price positioning amidst a market stuffed with competition from Nintendo's 3DS, and the increasing number of smartphones and tablets. He would not comment on the possibility of a price cut in the immediate future, adding that Sony is in it for the long haul. "I don't want to get into anything specifically, but I do want to say, as we've said multiple times, it's a marathon, not a sprint," he said. "And it's certainly going to be a marathon for Vita. It's going to be a very good, solid platform for us, one that performs very well."
Meanwhile, the overall health of Sony's games unit continued to show signs of deterioration this week. The company reported sales for the quarter ended September 30 on Thursday, revealing that revenue had slipped by 15.8 percent year-on-year from ¥176 billion ($2.2 billion) to ¥148.2 billion ($1.9 billion), with operating income also falling from ¥3 billion ($37.5 million) to ¥2.3 billion ($29 million). The company attributed the downturn to "lower" sales of PlayStation 3 and PSP hardware and software, though this was partially offset by contributions from Vita. Additionally, profits were down due to the slower sales, as well as "unfavorable" foreign exchange rates.
As for specific sales figures, Sony sold 3.5 million combined units of the PS3 and PS2 compared to 4.9 million during this time last year. The PSP and Vita moved 1.6 million units during the three-month period, down slightly from the 1.7 sold year-over-year. Of note, this time last year, the Vita had not yet gone on sale.
Despite keeping very quiet on the subject of its next-generation consoles, we learned this week that the electronics giant is currently conducting briefing sessions with select US software developers on the capabilities of the PlayStation 4, which is being referred to only by its codename: Orbis. Some game publishers are believed to be taking delivery of an enhanced version of the console’s development kit now, with v1.0 understood to have been little more than a graphics card. The current "modified PC" update, and January’s upcoming third refresh, is believed to be indicative of the final specs, before the unit is provided "next summer" (in the US), ahead of a predicted pre-E3 reveal of the device to the public.
Nintendo Confident of Wii U Success
Apparently claiming to be "confident" is this year's chosen marketing expression, because - whaddya know? Nintendo is "confident" too. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, said during a financial presentation that preorder figures for the Wii U make it clear the system will hit the ground running. "If you look at how preorders are doing at the moment, it is not an exaggeration to say that Wii U is sure to sell well in this holiday season," he said. Iwata claimed last week that preorders for the Wii U had sold out at many retailers, with a waitlist for the console at GameStop numbering more than a quarter of a million people. The executive cautioned that though Wii U sales may get off to a quick start, keeping sales strong into next year is the real task.
To maximize the prospect of sales longevity for the Wii U, Iwata revealed that several games that were being readied to be among the 23 launch titles for the system were pushed to 2013 to keep gamers interested. He did not name any of these, and all 23 previously announced launch titles remain on-schedule. "Nintendo tends to release too many titles at the launch of a hardware system and as a result suffers a drop in new games for quite some time after launch, and for the Wii U launch, we are being very careful not to let it happen," he said. "Fortunately, third-party publishers overseas are launching many titles for us this time, and we were able to push back the release of some of the titles that we had originally intended to release as launch titles until next year."
Bleszinski Offers to "Fix" Resident Evil
Former Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski has offered to help Capcom "fix" the Resident Evil franchise. "Hey, Capcom. Call me," he said on Twitter. "We can fix Resident Evil. Together." He didn't go into any further detail regarding why he believes the Resident Evil franchise would need fixing. but if you've played Resident Evil 6 - you probably have a pretty good idea of where he's coming from.
Hey, Capcom. Call me. We can fix Resident Evil. Together. :-)— Cliff Bleszinski (@therealcliffyb) October 28, 2012
What do you think? Given that the original Gears of War was strongly inspired by mechanics from Resident Evil 4, do you think Cliff could be the right man for the job?
Disney Now Pretty Much Owns Your Childhood
Disney announced on Tuesday that it had purchased Lucasfilm (and all of its subsidiaries, including LucasArts) for $4.05 billion in cash and stock shares. In conjunction with the news, the company also revealed that plans for a seventh Star Wars movie, are in motion with an anticipated theatrical release in 2015. "It's now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I've always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime," said George Lucas in a statement. "I'm confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come. Disney's reach and experience give Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment, and consumer products."
Disney chairman and CEO officer Bob Iger stated, "This transaction combines a world-class portfolio of content including Star Wars, one of the greatest family entertainment franchises of all time, with Disney's unique and unparalleled creativity across multiple platforms, businesses, and markets to generate sustained growth and drive significant long-term value."
This is Disney's third major brand and studio acquisition in the last ten years. In 2006, the company acquired Pixar for $7.4 billion, then in 2009, Disney acquired Marvel for $4 billion.
The big emphasis during Disney’s Tuesday conference call discussing its acquisition was the (obviously) enormous earnings potential of the Star Wars franchise, including gaming. One of the analysts on the call asked what kind of Star Wars games Disney will be focusing on. Iger responded, saying that they are “likely to focus more on social and mobile than we are on console.” However, he added that Disney will look at console games “opportunistically,” using licensing deals to allow other companies to create Star Wars games for consoles.
Later, LucasArts issued a statement that it's "business as usual" for internal projects at the studio, which led to a number of emphatic (but possibly misguided) headlines on a number of sites declaring that existing projects are "safe." No specifics were stated by anyone at Disney, but you'd be forgiven for maintaining a cynical belief that rumored-but-lots-of-people-have-seen-it XBLA multiplayer shooter Star Wars First Assault (which the rumor-mill would have us believe is a bit crap) may end up being iced, and that E3-darling Star Wars: 1313 could be put on indefinite hold. Despite generating plenty of buzz, rumor has it that the realtime demo's of the game were running on PC rigs with multiple--possibly up to four, depending on who you believe--GTX 690's ($1,000 graphics cards) chugging away together to make those gorgeous graphics possible. The smart money is on that project being farmed out to a third party publisher, if it's to survive at all. LucasArts and Disney will no doubt vehemently deny this, right up until the point that they inevitably announce it sometime next year.
Later in the week, further news emerged regarding George Lucas' plans for the proceeds from the sale of his company. The creator of the Star Wars franchise, already worth approximately $3.3 billion before the deal, is said to have ambitious plans for "a major, Bill Gates-style philanthropic initiative," with the money. In 2010, Lucas signed The Giving Pledge, the effort by Gates and Warren Buffett to get America's wealthiest individuals and families "to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their lifetime or after their death." At the time, Lucas said in a public letter: "I am dedicating the majority of my wealth to improving education. It is the key to the survival of the human race. We have to plan for our collective future--and the first step begins with the social, emotional and intellectual tools we provide to our children."
At The Opposite End of the Spectrum: This Guy
38 Studios may be off the hook for federal charges, but the state of Rhode Island is only just beginning its legal action against the company. The Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) has filed a suit in Rhode Island superior court against some of the architects behind the controversial 2010 $75 million loan that brought 38 Studios to the Ocean State. Defendants include 38 Studios founder and former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling and former company CEO Jennifer Maclean, as well as banks Wells Fargo and Barclays Capital, among numerous others. The entire 97-page complaint was posted to the RIEDC website, if you want to check it out.
Borderlands, Wii U, and the Cost of Next-Gen
Borderlands continued to make headlines this week. The iOS game Borderlands Legends that we mentioned last week hit the App Store on Tuesday night (unusually one day ahead of the bulk of the stuff that usually hits the games channel) and despite some initial criticisms for not being a first person shooter, has been fairly well-received. If you're looking to check it out, know that it's not a universal app; the iPad version is a separate "HD" game that sells for $6.99, whereas the iPhone and iPod Touch version is $4.99.
The shift to mobile wasn't the only news, Take-Two also revealed during it's earnings report on Wednesday that Gearbox Software's Borderlands 2 had been a roaring success. The company called the launch one of the "most successful releases" in 2K history and noted that in addition to healthy sales at retail, the game has also enjoyed "strong" digital sales. It was not announced how many copies of Borderlands 2 were actually sold, but stated that it had shipped 5 million copies.
At around the same time, Gearbox president Randy Pitchford told Joystiq that he is "a believer" in the Wii U's GamePad controller. The executive claimed Nintendo has never made a better input for first-person shooter games and other hardcore titles. "This is the best controller Nintendo's ever made for making [a first-person shooter]," Pitchford said. "This is the best controller Nintendo has ever given us for playing hardcore games."
Meanwhile, according to Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick, it may be a myth that next-generation game development will be more expensive and complicated than it currently is. Speaking during a conference call after the earnings call on Wednesday, Zelnick said that Take-Two is not expecting there to be additional expenses associated with the move to new consoles. "We don't have a ramp up of operating expenses for next-generation," Zelnick said. "Do we believe the titles to be a whole lot more expensive to make for next-gen? And the answer is we do not. In many instances we believe that it may be somewhat easier to make titles for next-gen, depending on how the technology comes together."
Brace Yourself For Halo 4
The Halo franchise is (d'uh) one of Microsoft's crown jewels, and now the company has revealed just how lucrative the series has been. Since launch in 2001, gamers have purchased more than 46 million Halo games, driving nearly $3 billion in revenue, the company announced on Wednesday. It went on to break down the launches of past entries in the franchise, stating first-day sales of Halo 2 hit $125 million, with Halo 3 notching $170 million during its first day, and Halo: Reach besting that with more than $200 million during its first 24 hours. Halo 4, as you probably realize by now, is due out next week for Xbox 360. It is the first numbered entry in the series developed outside Bungie Studios, and Microsoft spent more money developing it than any other title in the company's history.
Also on Wednesday Halo 4 executive producer Kiki Wolfkill and 343 Industries head Bonnie Ross denounced sexist behavior on Xbox Live, revealing that Microsoft does its best to monitor and ban players who abuse others over the network. Speaking to GameSpot, Ross and Wolfkill said there is zero tolerance for Xbox Live players who are found to be making sexist or discriminatory comments against others, with a lifetime ban from the network as penalty. "I've seen many of the sites that have documented some of the more gender-specific slanderous comments," Ross said. "This is behavior that is offensive and completely unacceptable. I'd like to think most of our Xbox Live players don't support this kind of behavior. It can be dangerous to give adolescents a broadcast mechanism," Wolfkill added. "There are always going to be jerks out there, and if you give them a way to express that side of their personality without being seen, you're going to see this type of behavior manifest itself." Ross and Wolfkill said that developers have a responsibility to stamp out this behavior by putting more thought into how their games will be perceived.
Sticking with Halo news (there's been a lot this week,) the Halo 4 soundtrack became the highest-charting game soundtrack ever this week, debuting at number 50 on the Billboard 200 list. How many copies did it need to sell to achieve that? Just 9,000 apparently, but that was enough to sandwich it between Barbara Streisand and The Killers. In charting at number 50, the soundtrack easily surpassed the previous record-holder, 2007's Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock - Companion Pack, which peaked at number 107.
Finally: have you ever been to a restaurant, checked in with Foursquare and been prompted to connect your Amex card to get money off the check? Cool concept, for sure, if a little scary for the privacy-paranoid. Well, Microsoft has partnered with American Express in a similar way as part of one of its many, many promotions around the game. Rather than "check in" as you do with Foursquare, if you connect your Amex to your Xbox Live account in the US or UK, you can receive $10 or £10 in Live credits, and receive coupons for promotional partners. Additionally, if you beat the campaign mode on Normal or above, you immediately receive $25 in statement credit. Finally, if you're one of the first 25 people to beat the game on Legendary, you will be entered into a draw to win a trip to E3 2013.
GTA V = "Spring 2013"
Surprising exactly no one, Rockstar confirmed on its Newswire blog this week that Grand Theft Auto V will be released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in spring 2013. Pre-orders for the game will begin on Monday (November 5.) The announcement follows earlier leaks from Polish GTA fan site GTA-Five.pl and UK retailer GAME, both of which posted photos of promotional posters showing a Spring 2013 release date and the option to pre-order the game.
Lucky gamers who do pre-order the game next week will get the chance of an exclusive look at the game courtesy of special "Los Santos Viewers" (blurry picture below) being offered as incentives for early adopters. The viewers are said to come in five different colors, and will feature screenshots from new locations that "will never be released anywhere else, ever. Shots from those "extremely limited edition" viewers have already begun popping up on Instagram, showing GTA V locations including Grapeseed, Del Perro Piere, and the Vespucci Canals.
It is also expected that there will be a new Grand Theft Auto V trailer early next week, to further push the pre-order program, though it is currently running behind schedule. "We are working on a second trailer--unfortunately Hurricane Sandy has derailed our plans somewhat but we will have something to show soon," the company said in a statement on Friday. "It's hard to be precise as we have no power whatsoever in our New York office. We hope everyone else in affected areas is doing okay."
Anonymous Targets Zynga
Anonymous has chosen its next target: Zynga. In a post to the hacking group's official channel, one Anonymous member threatened the social gaming studio for its "outrageous treatment of employees and actions against many developers." The note goes on to claim that Zynga is currently planning a "massive layoff" scheme that will mark the "end of the U.S. game market as we know it." According to the post, if Zynga does not cease its plan, Anonymous will release confidential documents concerning the company. The Anonymous user gave Zynga a deadline of November 5. Additionally, the Anonymous writer claims to have lifted several Zynga games from the company's servers, and will release these titles publicly for free to make a point.
It Was Wainwright That Made the Legal Threat
In last week's This Week in Games we touched on the infuriating tale of UK games journalist Lauren Wainwright about whom comedian and sometime-games-writer Rab Florence had expressed suspicions about, due to tweets arguing that she saw nothing wrong with journalists winning free PlayStations in return for social media promotion at a recent event in London. Accusations were made, mud was thrown, legal threats were reported and then, inexplicably, denied. Originally it was thought that Wainwright's employer, the European games trade journal MCV had issued the legal threats in a misguided attempt to protect one of its reporters, but it turns out that it was actually Wainwright herself that made the potentially imprudent threat to sue Eurogamer. The site's operations director and editor-at-large Tom Bramwell wrote an editorial this Tuesday, addressing reactions to the controversy.
"… a lot of people want to know more about why I made the changes and issued an apology. The answer is that Lauren Wainwright threatened us with legal action and made it clear she would not back down, at which point we took legal advice and ultimately made the decision to remove the paragraphs. It was not a decision that I took lightly. One objection to this action that I’ve read online is that there was no libel. All I can really say is that the advice we received meant that removing the offending text and apologizing to Lauren was the right course of action to take. We also considered the fact that the article wasn’t really about her but about all of us, and I felt that the edited version did not change Rab’s meaning.
The second main reaction seems to have come mostly from people who work in the games industry--it’s all over my Twitter feed, anyway--and it’s that a lot of people want to forget about the whole thing and move on. It’s just video games, they say. It’s not as important as all this. Well, I don’t want to move on. It is important. And I don’t want to move on for the same reasons I published Rab’s column in the first place: I believe there is a lot of truth in what he says."
The larger discussion was fueled by widespread indignation and distrust expressed across social media and gaming forums along with some poorly chosen words by noted journalists. “I don’t think it’s a pretty important story,” Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo said, initially dismissing the whole thing as another games media witch hunt. “I think it’s the same tired nonsense about games journalism that some folks love to carry on endlessly about.” He later changed his position in a lengthy post titled A Note To Readers About a Story We Have Not Yet Covered, in which he conceded, "My words were careless," before going on to promise a lengthier exploration of the story in future.
Ultimately, after all the disdain, and the lengthy forum threads (NeoGAF's is well over 150 pages at this point) about games coverage in general, the individual that is arguably most affected by this whole thing is not original scribe Rab Florence, though sadly his column is no longer being carried by Eurogamer, and it's certainly not Totilo; it's Wainwright herself. Her naive behavior, unpleasant dishonesty, and clumsy attempts to hide incriminating evidence have effectively destroyed her reputation.
If you're interested in digging into this topic further, here are some links for you to explore:
The Wainwright Profile, by Stuart Campbell
Games journalists, and the Perception of Corruption, by John Walker
Guest Post: Robert Florence on the Eurogamer incident, by Robert Florence
Critics in the Headlights, by Jim Sterling
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