#51: Behind the curtain

It must have been carnage at Nvidia HQ the other day, after a GeForce Now database leak inadvertently revealed the names of dozens of unannounced, in-development games, some of them made by the biggest and most powerful companies in the industry. How on Earth do you respond to something like that? Nvidia has tried to style it out, describing the list as ‘speculative’, and in any case is probably powerful enough itself to get away with it. But there have surely been a number of awkward phone calls this week from Nvidia to its development partners, and I expect a few grovelling apologies therein. 

I’ve heard enough from pals in the last couple of days to suggest that the list is, at least in part, genuine. But I haven’t looked at it myself. As a lifelong fan of games, and a frequent visitor to shows like E3, I enjoy surprises. And as a professional, whose job has often involved having exciting announcements spoiled ahead of time — one cannot make a magazine without advance notice of something — I prefer to keep myself in the dark as often as possible. Back in the day, in the run-up to E3, I’d often hear from other journos who reckoned they knew every game that was going to be announced at the show. Firstly: no you don’t. Secondly: why would you do that? Do you open all your Christmas presents on December 18th, then wrap them back up again for the big day? Stop getting E3 wrong!

The veil of secrecy that hangs over the videogame industry can be frustrating at times, I get that. No other form of entertainment holds its secrets so religiously close, so I understand the desire to peek behind the curtain when the opportunity arises. But whether we like it or not, this is the way the game industry operates. And there is a purpose to it. Making a game costs a lot of money and takes a long time; show it too early and you risk its innovations being copied and put on shelves before you. Besides, I’ve played enough in-development games to understand that most of them are really not ready for prime time until very late in the day. 

Leaks don’t really tell us anything: the name of a game or character, the studio that’s making it, and perhaps some topline details on story and setting. Indeed, they can often be entirely misleading. Back in 2017, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was inadvertently revealed a short while before its planned unveiling at E3. It was roundly shat upon by people who saw Ubisoft’s eminently punchable mascots besmirching the good name of one of the most beloved characters in gaming history, and quite understandably assumed the worst. The game itself, I am sure I do not need to tell you, would later turn out to be excellent. What did we get from knowing about it early, apart from becoming needlessly upset?

I think there is an assumption that, when players find out about a game before they are supposed to, they are somehow sticking it to the man. That when they learn about the new Call Of Duty ahead of its formal unveiling, it is Bobby Kotick’s nose they have bloodied. Likewise Yves Guillemot’s, when something like Kingdom Battle leaks out. They probably don’t consider the irony that they are, in fact, hurting themselves. When the next E3 or Gamescom bores them silly because they’d seen it all in a database leak months earlier, they will only have themselves to blame. And no traditionally secretive company is going to decide to be less so in response to a leak. They are only going to draw the covers around themselves more tightly.

I tend to think, at times like these, of the developers. Of the people who have worked for years on something, building towards the date when they can finally show it to the world, the response to it hopefully giving them the boost of morale and energy they need to get the thing over the line. What do you suppose went down at Ubisoft Milan when Kingdom Battle leaked? ‘Boss, we’re getting death threats, someone on YouTube says the game looks like the inside of an arsehole, and DeviantArt is full of drawings of Rabbid Peach having sex.’ Well, try not to think about it, and get on with your work. We’ve only got four months til gold master.


Before we get to everything else, a small update from me. The response to Monday’s edition has been amazing. Last week, shortly after email signups passed 900, I set myself a goal of reaching 1,000 by the end of October. Thanks to your efforts with the share button, we hit it last night! I love you all so very much.

(My next target is 100 paid subs by the end of November. We’re currently on 65, and I realised yesterday that total subs have risen by over 70 per cent so far this month. Please keep going! We can do this!)


MORE!

  • Splitgate developer 1047 Games has raised an eye-watering $100 million in its third funding round since May. The company, which has a headcount of less than ten and just one early-access hit on its books, is now valued at $1.5 billion. CEO Ian Proulx says the job now is “to build the next Riot Games”. This makes me incredibly queasy, I must say, but I wish them all the best.

  • I suppose all that VC capital has to go somewhere, given all the acquisitions going on at the moment. Funcom has acquired Cabinet Group, meaning it now holds the rights to such storied IPs as Conan and Solomon Kane. Sumo Group, itself recently acquired by Tencent, has snapped up Bristol’s Auroch Digital for £6 million.

  • Activision Blizzard is being sued again, this time by Communications Workers of America. Filing on behalf of employees, it accuses the publisher of “worker intimidation and union busting”.

  • The PS5 update that lets users add their own M.2 SSD drives arrives today. I can’t be bothered with this because it’s just kicking the can down the road — I can spend £200 to solve a problem I have today, but I’ll only end up running into it again in a few months. The onboard 1TB isn’t enough, but 2TB won’t be either, really. I will, however, absolutely avail myself of the feature that lets you disable the icon that pops up when you take a screenshot. The bane of reviewers everywhere, that bloody thing.

  • Switch’s irksome failure to support Bluetooth headphones has been remedied, four-and-a-half years after launch, with a firmware update. Meanwhile, Nintendo Of America says it has no plans to follow the example of its European cousin, which permanently discounted the base-model Switch earlier this week.

  • Game Pass Ultimate members can now play cloud-streamed games, and titles streamed from their console, on PC.

  • Microsoft says its Xbox briefing at not-TGS later this month will be “a celebration with our Asia community and locally relevant updates, though no new global debuts should be expected.” Righto.


That’s your lot for today. Thanks once again for all your support in spreading the word. I’m as terrible at giving praise as I am at receiving it, but you people really are the best. Have a good couple of days, and I’ll see you on Friday.

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