5 Conclusions - 16/11/18

November 16, 2018

A regular look at gaming-related stories from the past week or so whereby conclusions are drawn from anything and everything. These may be incredibly well reasoned based on events from the week. Alternatively, they may be highly speculative, drawn from very little evidence. More likely, they will be somewhere in between.

Conclusion One: Get ready for a lot more unhappy Diablo fans

During BlizzCon this week, Activision Blizzard announced that they were working on multiple mobile titles. In a talk during the convention, executive producer Allen Adham stated:

“Many of us over the last few years have shifted from playing primarily desktop to playing many hours on mobile, and we have many of our best developers now working on new mobile titles across all of our IPs”

This is not likely to go down well with Diablo fans who expressed outrage over the lukewarm announcement of new mobile game Diablo Immortal by launching a petition (yes, really) and tanking the company’s stock price (yes, really). Even pizza company Dominos got in on the act by trolling the game’s announcement.

It seems Activision Blizzard believes mobile games are the future, which is unsurprising given the diminishing returns being reaped for its annual entry in the Call of Duty franchise. The latest, Black Ops IIII, made a paltry half a billion dollars in its first three days compared to the $550 million the third instalment made. And obviously, in the crazed heads of some gamers, if a studio is working on one thing, they surely can’t be working on another at the same time. I mean, with such limited revenue coming in, how could they possibly afford to pay for the development of mobile games AND Diablo 4?

Conclusion Two: Hacking is a lucrative side business...

While you may not have fallen for the increasingly sophisticated phishing scams plaguing your inbox on a day-to-day basis, you may have wondered what — outside of financial gain — motivates hackers to try and break into programs, bypass security or generally plague development and network teams. For some, it's the prestige of being able to say that they outwitted another person, or a global corporation. For others, it's about trying to understand how code works so that they can use it themselves, or improve their experience.

Valve’s HackerOne program actively encourages people to try and break Steam — and pays big bucks for doing so. Step forward Artem Moskowsky who found out he could access Steam keys for any game on the platform. To prove it, he literally retrieved 36,000 keys for Portal 2 — although it’s worth noting that these are keys that were already created before, so had quite possibly been used. Even so, this is a bug that has been around for a long time and was actually discovered back in August — Valve only recently agreed for the information to go public at the end of last month, and paid Moskowsky $20,000 (over £15,000) for finding it. Luckily, the exploit was found by someone who wasn’t malicious. Indeed, the people behind HackerOne believe the risk/reward for Valve’s bounty program is an enticing opportunity for anyone who wants to test their programming knowledge against a huge company and possibly rake in some cash for doing so.

Conclusion Three: ...whereas emulation could cost you dearly

At least, it was for Jacob and Cristian Mathias. The husband-and-wife team ran two websites offering illegal ROMs — LoveROMS.com and LoveRetro.co — and are now facing a $12m damages bill from Nintendo for allowing pirated versions of classics such as Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario World and Mario Kart 64 to be downloaded.

While emulation is historically a grey area (some have argued that fair usage means that ROMs are allowed to be used if you own the physical copy of the game), Nintendo has made no such distinction and have stated that all ROMs are illegal, regardless of ownership. Emulation itself is, of course, perfectly legal. The tricky part comes when you are emulating copyrighted material owned by another party.

And though the fine is eye-watering, it is more likely to have been jacked up specifically to deter other emulation sites. Nintendo is unlikely to demand the full payment given there is practically zero chance of receiving such a huge sum, but whether it is settled quietly out of court or not Nintendo has made its position clear and flexed legal muscles to do so. Other emulation sites will no doubt be taking note.

Conclusion Four: The Obsidian/inXile acquisition is only half of Microsoft’s battle won

After we stated that Microsoft’s acquisition of Obsidian would likely be confirmed within a month, it was - just under one month later. Not only did they pick up the long-standing RPG developer but also inXile Entertainment, a studio responsible for some cracking games of its own such as Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera.

However, veteran game writer and ex-Obsidian staff member Chris Avellone had plenty to say about the buy-out, and it wasn’t glowing. According to Avellone — whose beef with the studio has been well documented in an interview with TechRaptor — Microsoft would do well to fire the top level management at Obsidian.

He also confirmed a few days later on Twitter that he’d consider rejoining the company if this happened. Microsoft has struggled to make a big success of the Xbox One in the face of overwhelming competition from the PS4 and now the Switch. The biggest issue it has is a lack of first-party titles with any sort of clout; owning two big RPG studios is one thing, but narrative games need excellent writers and Avellone is one of the best in the business. 

A simple check of his grievances against Obsidian’s owners is likely to have happened as part of due diligence (one claim outlined in the interview above stating that CEO Feargus Urquhart tried to have his two small children listed as employees). It is therefore likely that Microsoft has either discounted these as comments by a disgruntled employee, or are biding their time to bed in the new studios before “restructuring” and managing unpopular people out of the business. Given the detail Avellone has provided, our money is on the latter path. Will that lead to his rehiring if so, and will he even want to return? Either way, Microsoft has a big job on its hands in making the most of these two new acquisitions.

Conclusion Five: The PS5 will be announced in 2019

Sony has announced that for the first time in twenty-four years of E3 that it will be skipping the convention in 2019 and PlayStation will not be exhibiting. 

In a widely released statement, Sony said:

“As the industry evolves, Sony Interactive Entertainment continues to look for inventive opportunities to engage the community. PlayStation fans mean the world to us and we always want to innovate, think differently and experiment with new ways to delight gamers. As a result, we have decided not to participate in E3 in 2019. We are exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019 and can't wait to share our plans with you.”

Big news indeed, which we can only assume means that they are busy working on a megaton announcement to upstage anything that Microsoft or Nintendo plan to unveil. And that announcement is almost certainly going to be one thing only — the reveal of the new PS5. The current generation is bedded in five years after its launch, so we fully expect Sony to be shouting from the rooftops about the PlayStation’s next chapter in its own time, rather than committing to the hard deadline of E3.

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Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.