The Weekly Fetch Quest – October 31, 2016
Welcome to Theory of Gaming’s Weekly Fetch Quest, in which we adventure out into the world searching for the week’s most important news, and gather it all in one place, for your reading pleasure (and unlike most adventurers, we’ll fetch these items for you free of charge).
Every Monday, we’ll post the top stories from the previous week relating to the world of video games, along with some insights into why these are the news stories you should be reading. The Weekly Fetch Quest promises to be a brief look at these events that will get you caught up in no time at all.
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A late breaking news story leads this week’s column, as Electronic Arts (EA) has been accused of preventing players who have purchased games through their online service Origin from accessing those games. EA says the restrictions are in place for countries in which the United States government has placed sanctions against trade. The list includes: Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine (Crimea region). The story broke when players in Myanmar were unable to access their library of purchased games, and took their complaints to Reddit. The story gained traction, especially when it was revealed that US President Barack Obama lifted the trade sanctions against Myanmar earlier this month, making EA’s actions all the more perplexing. Although EA has responded that they are working to restore access to players in Myanmar, this should come has a stark warning for those who have taken advantage of digital distribution, and is yet another reminder that, more so than any point in the industry’s history, the future of the market is truly up in the air.
The ongoing battle between the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and leading video game publishers has intensified, with publishers (including Activision, Disney, EA and Take-Two) launching a site critical of the strike. According to their claims, the strike is a result of a lack of communication from SAG-AFTRA negotiators, and not a result of a disagreement from the negotiations. Video game publishers are quick to point out that only 25% of voice actors and motion capture artists are members of SAG-AFTRA, while the union hit back against the “deceptive” site. Regardless, it appears that something does indeed need to change – a recent story published on Kotaku noted that many voice actors are unaware of the project they are working as they are recording lines or providing motion capture work, a stunning lack of transparency. As we stated last week when this story broke, voice actors are a crucial component of video game development, and it’s disheartening to see such a rift between those who run the industry and the talent that works on them.
The nature of video games reviews has long been a controversial topic, one that prompted the creation of Theory of Gaming. Many gamers worry that reviews are “bought” by publishers, or are concerned that video game sites push reviewers to turn in their review too quickly, trading accuracy for page views. This issue is about to become even more complex – Bethesda Softworks, creators of The Elder Scrolls franchise and Fallout 4, and publisher of highly anticipated titles Dishonored 2 and Prey, have announced that they will no longer be sending reviewers advanced copies of games – the earliest a reviewer can obtain a copy of any Bethesda title is one day before release. This had led to an uproar amongst video game sites, with Rock Paper Shotgun labeling the move as “anti-consumerism.” Of course, the impact this will have on gamers and the industry at large remains to be seen, but Bethesda’s new policy is off to a rocky start – their latest release, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition, released with improved visuals but decreased audio quality, and the remastered release still features all of the same bugs and glitches as the original 2011 release. Instead of consumers learning of this through the review process, and possibly changing their minds on a day-one purchase, this news broke by fans who were understandably upset that the remastered version of a five-year-old title still suffered from game-breaking bugs, and somehow sounded worse in the process. At this point, we’re still waiting for Bethesda to make a game with a compelling story, and then we’ll move on to post-launch support and issues with review copies.
With so much attention being paid to virtual reality (VR), one story that has surprisingly flown a bit under the radar is a lawsuit from ZeniMax Media against Oculus CTO John Carmack. The lawsuit alleges that Carmack and a number of Oculus employees who previously worked at ZeniMax stole millions of dollars worth of trade secrets and trademarked code from ZeniMax, which was then used to create the popular VR headset, the Oculus Rift. The lawsuit has now extended to Samsung, who worked with Oculus when making their own VR headset, therefore possibly using ZeniMax’s source code and other assets. With so much fragmentation already in the video game industry, especially in the resurging VR market, lawsuits such as these could have tremendous impacts on the landscape of the industry. One such impact was the announcement by Bethesda at their E3 2016 press conference that DOOM and Fallout 4 would be coming to VR, but only on the HTC Vive, and would not appear on the Oculus Rift.
Responding to both negative reactions from investors and a seven percent drop in shares, Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima said he couldn’t understand the reaction to Nintendo’s next home console. The Nintendo Switch, a hybrid home and mobile console, is one of Nintendo’s biggest gambles yet, and with no new information coming until January 2017, such as price point and launch titles, it stands to reason that many investors might feel nervous about the ambitious project. From our viewpoint, the Switch has plenty of pros and cons, and giving our enduring love for all things Nintendo, we’ll be keeping a close eye on their latest. Whether that results in purchases or not remains to be seen.
If ever a news story captured the changing economics of the video game industry, it would be the breaking news that developer Respawn Entertainment would not be selling post-release content for their latest, Titanfall 2. Instead, Respawn has promised that all future DLC will be free of charge and available to all. This approach to DLC is one we’ve long asked the industry to reconsider, especially after Nintendo set the bar for money-to-value ratio with their superb post-launch support of Mario Kart 8. Hopefully Respawn’s latest is successful enough so this can, once again, be considered standard operating procedure.