The Year In Controversies

The Year In Controversies

It was a controversial year for gaming. The past 12 months saw the in-game assassination of Castro, playable Taliban, a Freedom of Speech shaking Supreme Court case and the call for a ban on Blood Minerals in gaming consoles.

From a “fun” concentration camp game, to a lawsuit packed with accusations of intrigue, backstabbing, secret messages and double agents, these are some of the stories of 2010 that generated the most fervor, the headlines that pushed gaming into the mainstream.


The Tenth Circle of Hell

I was a big fan of the video game remake of Dante’s Inferno. The marketing for the game? Not so much. Last year’s push for the game included fake protesters at E3, calls to /”commit an act of lust” with Comic Con booth babes, and bribes sent to game reviewers. But Dante’s marketing team continued their push straight into 2010 with a slew of fake Dante’s Inferno news in January tied to the circle of hell dedicated to fraud. They wrapped up their nine-month campaign with treachery, running fake TV ads for a site that teaches you how to steal a friend’s girlfriend or wife.


Nintendo’s $US1.5M Pirate Lawsuit

Australia’s James Burt was obviously in the wrong when he decided to upload a copy of New Super Mario Bros on to the Internet for anyone to grab for free in hopes of impressing a “game hacking group.” But Nintendo’s decision to go after the part-time freight worker in court for $1.5 million AUD seems a bit excessive. Since the still-living-with-his-parents 24-year-old and the multinational corporation settled out of court, there’s no way of knowing if Burt will actually have to pay up. I seriously doubt it though.

Ubisoft’s Draconian Anti-Piracy Measures

We first heard about Ubisoft’s range of /”new anti-piracy measures” in late January. But it wasn’t until February that we discovered just how bad they would be. Assassin’s Creed II on the PC, for instance, booted players out of the game if they lost their Internet connection. A month later Ubisoft’s servers went down, making it impossible for some people to play a game or two they purchased. Ubi did apologise to gamers impacted with some free games, but stubbornly refused to change their DRM policies.


The Day The Playstation 3s Stood Still

On March 1, Playstation 3s around the world simply, inexplicably stopped working correctly. Some consoles worked offline, some didn’t work at all but everyone, from Europe and Australia, to the Americas, seemed confused. Almost exactly 24 hours later the consoles returned to fully-functioning life with Sony blaming the issue on a fault in the PS3’s clock functionality.

Adult Australians Still Wanting Adult Video Games

Australia doesn’t allow the sale of games rated 18 and older. This was mostly due to a decade’s old-decision and one man: trouble-plagued South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson.

Atkinson was the politician must vocally standing in the way of a law change that would allow games rated 18 or older to hit Australia’s shores. And then in late March, on the heels of a string of embarrassments, the politician stepped down.

And there was great rejoicing among Australian gamers who saw a change in that absurd classification law. But too many politicians ruined the soup, and the decision on whether to change the law has been delayed until 2011.

An End to Xbox 360 Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

One of 2009’s big controversies, Microsoft’s bizarre take on Gamertag names and sexual orientation, finally came to an end in March of 2010 with an official Xbox Live policy change. Prior to the change Xbox Live’s official policy was not to allow any references to sexual preference in Gamertag names or descriptions. This led to an array of often bizarre, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, bannings on Live.

In February, Xbox Live head of enforcement Stephen Toulouse said he was looking into how Microsoft could change their official policy. In March, they finally did, creating a new policy that allows gamers to use the following terms to express their relationship orientation in a profile or Gamertag: “Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Straight”


Call of Duty: Legal Warfare

April saw the kick off of what would become the biggest controversy of 2010: The break up of the makers of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare with the publishers of the game.

What started out as an already fantastical tale of intrigue, backstabbing, secret messages and double agents, blossomed into a yarn of Orwellian bosses, a police state and secret flights on private jets. Over the course of eight months, the bubbling legal warfare expanded to include Electronic Arts, accused by publishing rival Activision of trying to hijack the game makers and being instrumental in the break up.

The suits, counter-suits and updated accusations somehow also managed to drag in references to the Black Eyed Peas, EA President John Riccitiello’s barbecuing skills and the Internet’s ability to turn anything into a song.

Check out our complete guide for all of the accusations, cross-accusations and an explanation of what it all means.


Electronic Arts’ Online Pass

What started out in February as a relatively positive thing – giving folks who buy a game new, extra, free stuff, took a dark turn in the summer.

Project Ten Dollar started out as a system that delivered free downloadable content to games like Mass Effect 2, but charging folks who bough the game used $US10 for the same content. In June publisher EA extended their scheme to all EA Sports games, adding a new online pass. The online pass allowed people to play games like Tiger Woods and Madden online for free, but only if the purchased the game new. If you bought the game used, you had to pay an extra fee for the online pass.

The online pass than jumped over to non-sports games with EA’s release of Need for Speed Hot Pursuit and Medal of honour, both of which require the pass to play online.

While Ubisoft, THQ and even Sony have all talked about or played around with something similar, EA seems to be the only publisher so fully embracing the concept.

Playstation Network Gets a Fee

While the core Playstation Network experience, playing online and chatting with friends, remains free, during E3 Sony introduced a second level of service for their network that comes with a $US50 annual fee.

While the Playstation Plus plan includes “hundreds of dollars in free content”, according to Sony, it still seems like what could be the start of slide toward Xbox Live’s pay-to-play service.

Blinded by the 3DS

Nintendo’s unveiling of the 3DS at E3 this year was one of the pivotal moments of the show. It proved that Nintendo can still surprise and delight us, but it also came with a shocking warning.

Speaking with Stephen Totilo at the show, Reggie Fils-Aime broke the news to Kotaku that the 3DS may not be a great gaming choice for children.

“We will recommend that very young children not look at 3D images,” he told Kotaku in June. “That’s because, [in]young children, the muscles for the eyes are not fully formed… This is the same messaging that the industry is putting out with 3D movies, so it is a standard protocol. We have the same type of messaging for the [1990s Nintendo virtual reality machine]Virtual Boy, as an example.”

Six months later, Nintendo reiterated the caveat, this time with a specific warning to children under 6.


Blood Consoles

The notion of Blood Minerals, the precious minerals used to create a slew of electronics including video games and arguably fund war in the Congo, has been around since the days of the Playstation 2. But it came to the surface again over the summer with a push by Enough: The Project to End Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.

The organisation rated Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, saying that of the three only Nintendo seemed unwilling to make changes in the way they track the minerals used in their consoles and portables. The story touches on the broader notion of ethical consumerism, the idea that people may shop as much with their heart as they do with their mind.

Blizzard’s Real iD

It was perhaps the shortest controversy of 2010, lasting just three days.

On July 6, the folks behind StarCraft II and World of Warcraft announced plans to tie gamers’ real names to the posts they write in the forums for Blizzard’s popular games. Blizzard said it was a last ditch effort to stem the tide of flame wars, trolling and general unpleasantness that can often creep into anonymous forum sites.

The reaction was immediate and vitriolic. Three days later Blizzard scrapped the concept.


Taliban Invade Medal of Honor

On September 2, Kotaku broke the news that all stores located on Army and Air Force bases would not be allowed to sell Electronic Arts’ upcoming military shooter Medal of Honor because an aspect of the game includes playable Taliban characters.

The commanding general of the Army and Air Force Exchange Services told Kotaku that his decision was spurred by “well-documented reports of depictions of Taliban fighters engaging American troops” in the game.

The decision drew a mixed, but vocal response from gamers and those serving in the military.

Then about a month after defending their right to allow gamers to play as both the U.S. military and the Taliban in Medal of Honor’s online mode, EA inexplicably changed the name of the Taliban to Opfor.

U.S. military officials later told Kotaku that the game could have lost its official U.S. Army support over the inclusion of Taliban fighters as playable characters in the game’s online mode.


Zynga Breaks Facebook Privacy Rules

October saw a Wall Street Journal investigation that found that dozens of Facebook applications, including Zynga’s wildly popular casual games FarmVille, Mafia Wars and FrontierVille, transmit user data in violation of the social network’s privacy settings.

Zynga told the Journal that they have a “strict policy of not passing personally identifiable information to any third parties.” Adding that the company will be working with Facebook to improve privacy.


The Surpreme Court Weighs in on Violent Video Games

After five years of court battles, the decision of whether a law should be passed to enforce the ratings of violent video games now rests with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Our own Stephen Totilo attended the landmark case, sitting in on the arguments in Washington, D.C. in November. The Supreme Court justices appeared highly skeptical, he wrote, of the State of California’s arguments that certain violent video games should be illegal to buy, questioning whether such exceptions would need to be applied to rap music and even Grimm’s fairy tales.

The case could have a massive impact on the industry and future of gaming depending on which way the Justices decide next year.

Fortunately, it sounds like the justices are leaning toward gaming.

NBA Elite 11 Killed

NBA Elite 11 was initially seen as a bold attempt by Electronic Arts to reinvigorate the NBA Live series. But one notorious bug and a disastrous delay eventually killed the game.

On Nov. 2, EA’s chief financial officer announced the game’s death during an investor call.

Kill Castro

While Call of Duty: Black Ops didn’t court controversy with an airport terrorist attack No Russians level, that doesn’t mean it didn’t raise some ire.

Cuba’s state-run-media blasted Activision as /”doubly perverse” after discovering that one mission in the game has you putting a bullet in the head of a man you think is Fidel Castro.


The “Fun” Concentration Camp Game

An Israeli modder turned a 1992 first-person shooter into a bloody tale of revenge set in a Nazi concentration camp with Sonderkommando Revolt, putting players in the role of an Auschwitz death camp prisoner on a killing rampage.

Developer Maxim Genis told Kotaku the team behind the first-person shooter makes no political statement and has no agenda. The game was meant to deliver “blast the Nazis fun.”

While the game may have meant to be played as a violent revenge fantasy, the sensitive nature of Sonderkommando Revolt’s setting resulted in mixed reaction outside of Wolfenstein modding circles. Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal centre, a museum focusing on the Holocaust, worried that games like Sonderkommando Revolt can be harmful to people’s understanding of history. And the Anti-Defamation League slammed the game as horrific and inappropriate, telling Kotaku that the Holocaust should be off-limits for video games.

Weeks later, Genis said that he was cancelling the project because he could not stand media exposure of any kind. “I have no internal emotional powers to deal with the press, the violation of my personal privacy and life,” he said.


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