By Alec Meer on December 17th, 2008 at 6:50 pm.
Tis the season to write round-ups, tralalala la la la laaaah. I know we’ve covered much of the same ground in our award-winning* Now That’s Why I Love A Best 2008 Ever series, but I figured there’s room for a separate look back at the biggest storms in teacups of the year that’s nearly gone. Has it really been a year with more flashpoints than usual, or is this just an unfortunate side-effect of the rise and rise of internet discussion, and the Angry Internet Men that inevitably come with it? At any rate- here’s the PC gaming scandals, scandalletes and total non-events that most angered the Angries this year, compiled at random by an idiot (i.e. me). Some uprisings were justified, others less so – but the debate around them always fell prey to MAXIMUM RAGE.
(Oh, and for the record, as it does get a bit overused these days, by ‘Angry Internet Man’ we mean someone who takes a really extreme negative reaction, usually expressed as any or all of swearing, shouting, taking instant offence at offhand comments and a refusal to consider the other side of the coin. That’s as opposed to just someone who’s righteously annoyed and expresses it thoughtfully. Though being a whiny bumhead also counts.)
10. Diablo 3 has colours shocker
(Er – in case you you’re not familiar with it already, that screenshot is one of the crazy mean people’s commentary on Diablo 3, and not our doing)
About the most ridiculous protest of the year, and one that makes me fear for developers’ perceptions of PC gamers. Oh no – long-awaited RPG is slightly more colourful than its predecessors. STOP WHINING. Fair play to Blizzard for actually responding to the irate fans with their reasoning for the change, though were I in their shoes I would, I suspect, refuse to stoop to that level.
That’s Spore: the game, not Spore: the copy protection. What was expected to be a cute, inventive follow-up to the Sims and the posterboy for procedural generation turned out to be something else entirely. It suffered the violent wrath of Angry Internet Men because its mini-games failed to meet their sky-high expectations – so their disappointment was entirely understandable, but it’s sad that it seemed to shoot straight to outright dismissal/loathing rather than re-evaluating the game based on its own merits.
It also found itself in the middle of a very different storm, and one that briefly escaped the confines of web-rage to reach the mainstream. I.e. people made penises and buggering couples in it. To some, it was damning proof of the fall of society. Others reacted to news that EA would be banning naughtier creations as though Margaret Thatcher had personally visited them and stomped on their face. Remarkably, Spore as we know it in light of all the fury around it and Spore as really it is are two very different things. It’s sold well, and on the back of being a creation tool more than as the oddball strategy game it becomes.
8. Orc vs Orc
We’ve already talked today about the absurd, insane fanboy fallout from our own comparisons between Warhammer Online and World of Warcraft, but in truth it was a torrent of poison that briefly gripped MMO sites the world over. Notably, MUDfather Richard Bartle endured character assassination by a raft of WAR fansites after an interview in which he apparently stated the two games were very similar. Forums, meanwhile, were full of WAR vs Lich King debate, underpinned by this persistent, spiteful sentiment that WAR was somehow a real man’s game where WoW was some cartoon noobfeed. I know I’ve said it before, but people who play an MMO actively do define themselves by it – and as a result, they’re making PC gaming more tribal than ever. All Orcs are equal, but some orcs are more equal than others.
7. Bethesda Are Worse Than Hitler
There’s been a slow trickle of poison throughout the year about Bethesda handling the second sequel to the old turn-based Fallout RPGs. Surprisingly, the fury was at its worst before release rather than after, with die-hard Fallout fans harshly and bitterly pre-judging the game based on what they saw as Oblivion’s critical failings and resentment that a 2008 game wasn’t 2D, turn-based and PC-only. Extreme exaggeration was everywhere, Bethesda suffered any amount of name-calling and every screenshot was pored over for inconsistencies with the first two Fallouts. Celebration that a third Fallout was happening at all was in incredibly short supply. The white noise of hatred actually seemed to dim upon the game’s release. While it’s got more than its fair share of problems – especially the crashtastic PC port – a goodly number of the angries seemed pleasantly surprised by it. Well, at least until they got to the abysmal ending.
6. Assassin’s Greed
Conversely, AssCreed’s PC port wasn’t greeted with much good cheer. Already carrying something of a bad rep from its console versions – unskippable drear-o-thon cutscenes, a craptastic sci-fi sideplot and too many inane mini-games – its PC version being late, buggy and resource-hungry seemed to erode the last remaining goodwill for it. Matters were made worse by its infamously long-winded and asinine exit-the-game procedure and Ubisoft’s blaming the PC port’s poor sales on – here we go – it being leaked to Bittorrent some weeks before release. Hilariously, they even claimed a fatal bug in that version was included as deliberate security measure. Oh, and there was also some old bollocks about a patch that reduced performance on Radeons. Add to that all the kerfuffle about not allowing their games to be sold over Steam in Europe and the use of Securom in Far Cry 2 – Ubi’s not made friends of many PC gamers this year.
5. Pirates of Goo
This argy-bargy about World of Goo turned out to be the biggest of many big piracy discussions we had here, but it spread far beyond RPS’ thin walls and onto the internet at large. Astoundingly, it was a comment left by 2D Boy on one of our posts, rather than a news story itself, that sparked The Great Rage. “Roughly 90% of WoG copies were pirated”, reckoned 2D Boy. “You’re making that up”, said the piracy-is-a-victimless-crime brigade. No-one knows the full, real extent of the problem, but that a fair few people would seize any excuse to deny that piracy might have been problem for WoG, without any of the facts, made for a sad state of affairs. Once the initially shouting had died down, we were given some more carefully researched stats that seemed to sate the calmer doubters – but it’s a still a distressingly big number, no? Let’s just hope all the controversy helped shift a load of copies of this splendid game.
4. Bioshock Ate My Children
By rights, this should have been 2007’s problem. Unfortunately, it remained (remains?) an open wound for a certain breed of gamer. Many had treated it as the last, best hope of intelligent shooters, and when it turned out to be a stylised corridor-pounder that stopped making sense two thirds of the way through and climaxed with one of the more embarrassing boss fights of recent times, a lot of folk felt betrayed. It’s hard to deny – unless you’re Mad Kieron – that Levine & chums’ shooter pulled far too many punches, but the irrational (pun entirely intended) rage of so many people at the mere mention of its name, even months later, totally overshadowed what it did do very well, in terms of atmosphere, setting, horror and early narrative cleverness. Calm down, dears. Believe it or not, Levine didn’t specifically design the game to offend your sensibilities. Oh – and that it was one of the first games to employ limited-installation DRM horror was a slap in the face that hasn’t yet stopped stinging. The game dodged 0-day piracy because of it, and it’s more than likely it’s thus one of the main precedents for all the Securom punishments of this year’s games.
3. Epic dump the PC
The worst aspect of the Unreal creators clearly giving the finger to the platform that made them in favour of shiny Xbox dollars wasn’t that we wouldn’t get Gears of War 2 or whatever on PC, but rather that Cliffy B, Mark Rein and co just kept on saying stupid stuff throughout the yeaer. They were like a guy who dumped their smart, pretty girlfriend for someone with bigger boobs, but inexpicably kept on slagging off the ex in company. Clearly, they’re still in love with the first girl, but they won’t admit it to themselves or anyone else. Alright, chaps- go away if you must, but do stop it with the uninformed insults. I wonder what irked PC gamers more – that sense of betrayal by one of their early champions, or embarrassment that the preening, bling-draped, nonsense-spouting Cliffy ‘Don’t call me Cliffy B’ B was once one of us.
This wound’s so fresh that I barely need summarise it. GTA IV PC’s triple whammy of DRM, unnecessary and irritating ancillary applications and more fatal bugs than Walker’s underwear drawer made this 2008’s final insult to a bunch of gamers that had suffered enough. Frankly, that blood hasn’t been spilt over this camel back-breaker is astounding. Oh – worth noting the first patch came out recently, which purports to fix some of the bugs and performance problems. Good that Rockstar have reacted quickly, but I don’t think anything they could do, short of free hats for every purchaser, is going to make up for the laughable state they released the game in.
1. Spore’s DRM Signals The End Times
I’d say the burning pitchfork treatment that resulted from the revelation of Spore’s internet-only activation and limited installations is an entirely different scandal to dissastisfaction with the game itself for one simple reason – it had nothing to do with the game itself. This was a war of principles, the bloodiest battle to date between freedom-crazed Internet Men and out-of-touch, piracyphobic publishers. The mainstream news reported on it, it introduced the concept of DRM to people who’d never heard of it before, and it convinced more than a few people to utterly loathe a game they hadn’t played. At the heart of it all was the oddly unassuming Spore itself – which, if it hadn’t ended up selling so well, might have been a bizarre Joan of Arc figure for the internet age.
Whatever lessons have been learned from the fiasco and the fury won’t really be clear for a while. Despite all the enraged emails we received demanding we report on Far Cry 2 and Fallout 3’s use of Securom, it’s very likely the case that most of the post-Spore DRMy games would likely have been planned as such months previously. So it’s what happens with next year’s games that will be fascinating. Do publishers truly fear the Angry Internet Man now? And is he the guy in Tiananmen Square he seems to think he is, or just a wild-eyed loon carrying a The End Is Nigh banner?
* If no-one else gives it one, I’m going to award it the title of RPS’ Best Best of 2008 Feature.