We come to it at last, the final installment in the Week of Fives, My Five Favorite Gaming Moments of 2005:
1. Sony’s Station Exchange. I’m still laughing, maniacally, months after the launch of Sony’s Station Exchange — the sanctioned, sponsored and approved game items store for EQII. Virtual items and currency have been sold for real life cash for years, as we all know, this is just the next step in what will become the norm.
Gaming purity be damned, there is little that can been done to stem real money trading (RMT) when it’s what many, many players want.
Mostly I enjoyed this story because it was a 180-degree reversal of Sony’s previous mandates and because it was a textbook example of that ancient axiom: Money talks and bullshit walks.
2. Blizzard’s Big Warden. In a teeny, tiny paragraph in the ginormous documents you digitally sign when logging into the World of Warcraft for the first time and after each patch, is a teeny, tiny explanation that Blizzard’s Big Warden can and will crawl up your computer’s ass — as we learned later in more detail, said ass crawling was a scan of every open window and program while playing World of Warcraft.
Well, you did want to play WoW, didn’t you? You’re not a cheating hacker, are you? Then what’s your problem?
What I enjoyed about this story was how the times had changed. Few years back, when Sony wanted to do a much gentler ass job on the EQ players, we screamed like stuck pigs. (How dare! The nerve! Privacy rights! I pay for the equipment, keep yer mitts off it.) However, to Sony’s credit, they pulled the scan plan and all was well again in Norrath.
This year, Blizzard, Lord over all We Survey, implements a far more intrusive program without fully disclosing how thorough these scans are, and the playing public shrugs. For some reason that is not clear to me, we can trust Blizzard not to abuse the private information they could (and do?) collect, but not Sony. Wild, freaky stuff.
Not long after the larger details of Big Warden were revealed by smarter people than me, Sony’s BMG rootkit scandal hit the net: selected Sony Music CDs were shipping with aggressive self-executing anti-piracy software unbeknownst to the hapless consumer.
3. Hot Coffee with Cream. The 2005 story that launched a million blog posts, Grand Theft: San Andreas is found to contain code for a hidden, explicit sex minigame. Unlockable with the Hot Coffee mod, the minigame belies its ESRB rating of M-Mature audiences, for ages 17 and over.
The mod’s creators claim, “the Hot Coffee mod merely unlocks hidden, preexisting code inside San Andreas.” GTA: SA’s publisher, Rockstar Games, claims, “So far we have learned that the ‘Hot Coffee’ modification is the work of a determined group of hackers who have gone to significant trouble to alter scenes in the official version of the game” and “In violation of the software user agreement, hackers created the ‘Hot Coffee’ modification by disassembling and then combining, recompiling and altering the game’s source code.”
Damn, dirty hackers!
GameSpot, not satisfied with the pat “damn, dirty hackers” response, tested the Hot Coffee mod code on a “a sealed, first-edition copy of San Andreas” for the PS2 and the rest is history + a million blog posts.
Damn, dirty publisher!
4. Guild Wars arrives in a Warcraft-weary World. While there were a few (more than a few) things about Guild Wars that I did not like, it was a breath of fresh air in a land lousy with EQ clones. (refresh your memory of my struggles in the land of not-EQ)
No one, not even noobs, would mistake Guild Wars for a deep and rich virtual world, but there were two new-to-me concepts for which I will remain forever grateful: instant travel and no monthly subscription fees. I was willing to forgive Guild Wars many sins because they granted those two wishes.
There’s probably a marketing lesson in there somewhere.
5. Happy Holidays, Azeroth! I had enjoyed Christmas, err … the 2004 Winter Holidays in World of Warcraft (a few holiday quests and a mountain of holiday decor) but the Blizzard 2005 Azeroth holidays of Halloween and Christmas wtfpwned with improved quests and easily acquired tricks and treats for all.
I tire of Blizzard’s incompetence with infrastructure. I am disappointed with many of the endgame design decisions as this game moves steadily towards becoming EQ — I mean, let’s just put in dark elves, open up Neriak and be done with it.
It is Warcraft’s sly humor and abundance of goofy treats, especially around the holidays, that set it apart: the journey to level 60 far exceeds the destination, which could explain the chronic alt-itis ’round those parts.
Looking forward to 2006, may it be full of amusing drama and many new worlds to explore and conquer.