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Games and Permanent Marks

Elizabeth Technology April 13, 2022

Should games be messing with file registries?

Before you read this, there are game-behavior spoilers for games from 2017 and back.

Games like being creative. They especially like doing interesting things to punish you for making poor choices or mistakes, although how the game defines ‘punishment’ is completely up to the developers. For example – sometimes, punishment for taking on an enemy you weren’t prepared for is simply dying a frustrating death, but you still get to keep your stuff and levels (like the Halo games). Sometimes, punishment means losing some levels, some of your stuff, and any consumables you used in the fight, because dying to the boss doesn’t mean going back to a checkpoint, it means going back to a spawn point (like Dark Souls).

Some games go even a step further than that – they write your failures or poor choices somewhere besides the game, so you can’t escape your failures unless you find those files.

It’s not a new phenomenon, although it has gotten a little more popular as of late. An old RPG by the name of Zork! would curse you if you tampered with a corpse, and you’d never be able to pick up treasure again. It would keep the curse stored in the Windows Registry, so not even reinstalling could help you. Fun!

The Famous Undertale “Genocide Route”

Undertale is a cute game with many twists, the first one being that you don’t actually have to kill any of the enemies – you can, and you’ll still beat the game, but you don’t have to. You may not realize this upon first playthrough, though, so when you beat the game, look up discussions or lore, and realize oh man I killed some guys you can go back through and play it pacifistically to get the ‘true’ ending. No penalties, you made an uninformed mistake and can fix it now that you know better.

However, this doesn’t apply if you decided to start maliciously slaying everything in and out of your way (the way other RPGs expect you to grind for experience points)! It really doesn’t feel good, not just because the characters are cute, but because the game is designed for random encounters, so actually finding every killable enemy in an area takes much longer than playing the game normally – even as your damage increases. At that point, you get a different final boss fight that’s even harder than the original Flowey fight (which isn’t spoilers), and you carry the mark of what you just did with you forever (intentionally vague). And the game really does mean forever. Even if you complete the total pacifist run afterwards, at the very last second, the game shows that it still knows what you did. Even at reinstall.

The game’s check that you killed everyone is in a folder that is separate from the game’s main ones. While it isn’t hard to find if you know it’s there, it was unsettling to the people who’d played the genocide route, uninstalled, reinstalled, and then discovered the game still remembered their crimes.

Anti-Pirating Techniques

In-game DRM, most popular in games from the late nineties up to the mid-2000s, prevents the game from functioning as intended. Some prevent the game from starting at all, others actively shame you for  downloading an illegitimate copy, but most sit somewhere in between. In the Spiro games, for example, you can still play… but you’ll never get to finish the game if it thinks you have an illegally made copy. The game becomes increasingly difficult to play, and when you get to the end, the game crashes and wipes your save. In Alan Wake, the game just slaps an eye patch on your character and guilts you without actually touching any playable aspect of the game. Restarting doesn’t make either of these things go away, but reinstalling might… if the legit copy was just faulty, or if you actually did replace your… faulty… copy with a legitimate copy of the game.

The DRM is part of the game, so it’s not technically a permanent mark on the computer, but a permanent mark on the game itself. Don’t pirate indie games!

Doki Doki Literature Club

If you’ve been online in the game-sphere in the past 7 or so years, you’ve probably seen the Japanese-Dating-Sim-inspired DDLC (or Doki Doki Literature Club) mentioned at least once. If you haven’t, this section will contain some vague spoilers. DDLC is infamous in the indie game scene for jerking very hard to the left, and executing that turn so well that it permanently shaped the way that flavor of indie game was made. The game actually pulls from the Windows or Mac directory to get your real name, but that’s not all. It actually invites you into the game’s files at the finale, and it organizes itself so neatly that removing a character is as simple as removing a folder with her name on it. It’s not quite that simple if you were to actually look inside the files (the game is actually doing a check to see if you’ve removed that file, and if you have, it removes the relevant character, because actually sorting character information like that is practically begging for bugs) but it is a very interesting way to handle the last scenes of the game.

Games That Uninstall Themselves

Some games actually refuse to leave any trace at all, insisting that you don’t replay them without at least a little bit of introspection in between runs.

Or, they realize they’re already on track to be uninstalled, and simply do it themselves. Meme games, meme horror games, and art games sometimes fit this description, but it’s honestly pretty rare. It makes it tough to get back into the game, because reinstalling games is annoying, so the games that do this either understand they’re special or understand they’re annoying. DDLC did this too, and so do a handful of Japanese games. One of the big ones is Nier Automata – if you don’t let characters delete themselves, you don’t get the ‘true’ ending.

If you like spoilers, or you just like seeing how games handle the concept, TVTropes actually has a whole page of games that self destruct, delete your data, or otherwise tamper with themselves as a game mechanism: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DeletionAsPunishment

Games That Install Things That Aren’t Really Part of the Game

The My Little Pony fangame Luna Game was sort of famous for this, if famous is the right word – within the incredibly niche community of MLP Horror fans, there existed this platformer that pretty much only played for long enough to serve up some jumpscares and then leave, granting you one final jumpscare with an edited creepypasta-style .jpeg that opened right after the game quit itself out. Later editions would open up the notepad and tell you something ominous.

Eventually, horror games realized this was associated with the sort of games that were easy to make and scariest for 12-year-olds who weren’t allowed to play scary games yet, but were afraid of breaking the family computer by downloading ‘a virus’ and getting caught.  As such, notepad txt files and simple jpegs aren’t really used this way anymore. When games want to show off their monsters, they put a gallery with still images of it in the game itself!

And, once again, DDLC did something higher with this concept – after the game deletes itself, it leaves a note for you, one that’s actually sincerely tied into the game and not a jumpscare or warning. While there’s a lot of room for creativity, there’s also a lot of room for things to go wrong. Some antiviruses, for instance, don’t take kindly to the ‘wrong’ kind of file opening while a game is playing. Other computers just don’t let the game put the files in the way it wants them to, meaning it can’t pull them back out the way it will need to at the end of the game.

Overall, there are many ways to add to a game within a game, so maybe twists and turns from fiddling with source files isn’t the only way to add scares or intrigue to the game!

Sources:

https://classicreload.com/zork-i.html

What Happened To Hello Neighbor?

Elizabeth Technology February 25, 2022

The indie game made such a splash when it was announced, and the demos felt – and looked – great. What happened to it, that it came out and went from a solid A- to a C+?

The Trailer – and the Alpha Release

The trailer was great. You watch a short cinematic of a man (the neighbor) nailing a door shut and turning out lights, before the player breaks into their house. The goal is clear – your neighbor has committed a crime, and you’re a kid in over your head, trying to get out before he gets you. It’s clearly puzzle- and stealth- based, as the player has few items with which to confront him directly. The premise is genuinely interesting and exciting! The art style is unique and has a lot of depth. It made big waves, and the video now sits, 5 years later, with over 3 million views.

The first alpha release of the game was released in 2016, and presented fans with a lot of what they had seen in the trailers. It wasn’t all of it, but that was okay – game development takes time, and people were willing to wait, not yet fully jaded by the likes of games like Yandere Simulator, which has spent seven years in development now since that first alpha release.

The game, however, slowly got further and further away from the original vision until it was merely a shell of it’s former self.

The Studio

While some studios develop games entirely by themselves, others partner up with developers and act as more of a publisher, which is what TinybuildGAMES does. Tinybuild has put itself behind a number of well-received games, mostly horror/comedy themed, like Happy’s Humble Burger Farm or the three spinoffs of the original Hello Neighbor. Their general vibe is visible across almost everything they help make, even non-horror themed ones like Guts and Glory and Pigeon Simulator, both of which are three-dimensional.

Tinybuild gets around, and it’s released 40 games since it began working as a publisher in 2014.

The company behind Hello Neighbor specifically was more used to mobile games, but did a surprisingly good job on the alpha, something totally out of their wheelhouse and decidedly more mature than the pet simulator games they used to make (and still do make). Their stuff was cuddly, cute, and 2-D, so a 3-D horror game was a wild left turn to make.

The Environment of the Time

Hello Neighbor came out officially in 2017, about four years into Tinybuild’s publishing career, with an alpha released in 2016. However, production began much, much earlier – in 2014. Right before a major indie resurgence spawned by Five Nights at Freddy’s overnight success. As Sagan Hawkes points out in his video on Hello Neighbor (cited below), FNaF had really opened the door for kid horror fans in a way that wouldn’t traumatize them.

The first Five Nights at Freddy’s game wasn’t aimed at kids at all, but the naturally child-friendly lack of blood and the only scares being jumpscares meant no graphic content to earn it an aggressive age warning. It also wasn’t afraid to use color, something many horror games either deliberately wash out or highlight sparingly. Distinct, recognizable, easy-to-draw characters as well as an easy plot helped too – you’re in a Chuck-E-Cheese style restaurant after closing. It may not have been made for kids, but it sure was incidentally kid-friendly.

Kids also tend not to care so much about cringe, and put their entire heart into consuming something as popular as FNaF was. Adults created the content demanded of them, creating a large lets-play video community around the game, spreading it’s reach even further. All of this combined into very heavy audience participation. Fan songs. Suitsonas. Other animatronics games, and sequels. Plush toys. Art. Most importantly, a new kind of attention for lore, which encouraged theory-crafting online, sparking a generation of lore-heavy games that favored story over gameplay.

The Game Before

As said before, development for Hello Neighbor started before FNaF came out, and the art style certainly shows it. The game was always stylized, but it didn’t fear using weaker, darker colors in with the bright primaries also scattered around. The house had wood floors. It felt like a real house, not a Dr. Seuss fantasy blur. If you watch LetsPlayers play the first and second generation ‘alphas’ (alphas usually refer to an incomplete demo of the game), you’ll see the original vision for the game’s artstyle.

Gameplay-wise, many say these were the best versions of Hello Neighbor. The game was genuinely claustrophobic, and scary because the AI was very good at finding you and cutting you off, and even if the stakes were low (you just get kicked out of the house) it was still uncomfortable to be caught. The AI also learned from you – if you broke a window to get in, the neighbor would board over the window. If you got in through the back door, he’d lock it next time you tried to get in. He was smart. The game was good. You had to be stealthy, because once he knew you were in his house he’d start actively looking for you.

The Game After

And then alphas three and four came out, after FNaF had some time to marinate on the open web. Suddenly, the colors were brighter. The floor inside the house was blue, and the hallways and rooms  were gigantic, not like anything you’d see in a real house. The AI of the neighbor was worse, and he became significantly worse at catching you – making the game much easier. He was also prone to glitching. The gamemakers had increased the size of the house in past alphas, but alpha four nearly tripled the height of it, including a number of bizarre, nonsensical rooms you’d never see IRL. Said house, in a moment of unintentional metaphor, looks slapped together, with rooms built out on rooms on top of rooms with plain wooden planks and rails for carts (?) poking out of the top.

(Image via GameSpot)

Gameplay-wise, a number of confusing choices include having the player model’s hand hovering near the center of the screen, and using platforming (which was bad in alpha 1 but awful in alpha 4) to solve more of the puzzles. This made the game longer, yes, but by frustrating the players, not by increasing the playable content. Speaking of playable content, there was now so much stuff in the game that the games engine was struggling to maintain framerate and proper lighting. Adding all these brightly colored, textured, and physics-based items meant the game chugged as it struggled to load them all for the player. Lag in a platform game is worse than orange juice and toothpaste.

Choices

Speaking of content, and to go back to Sagan Hawkes again, the game wanted ‘lore’ about itself so, so badly. FNaF’s legacy is dozens upon dozens of hours of content creators’ theories about what happened to the kids, how the suits got possessed, who the purple man was, what the puppet was, etc. etc. and FNaF didn’t have to beg for this to happen. It just happened. Lore was unnecessary to the game, but not obstructive, either – sometimes it even improved the experience.

In FNaF 2, when you die, sometimes you get a minigame where you play as an animatronic, and you get a little bit of game history that way. But it doesn’t happen every time you die, so the game is still snappy and quick to get back into. Lore and more game. You could seek out better explanations for the minigames online, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.

Unfortunately, lore is good for content engagement, and Hello Neighbor could not help but try to transform meaningless little tidbits from inside the neighbor’s house from red herrings into solid, meaningful hints for theory crafting when the full game came out. Note – while lore encourages engagement, it is not a magic shortcut to engagement.

Backstories have to be interesting in and of themselves to create lore engagement. FNaF’s was spooky. Resident Evil’s was within the game, built into letters and notes. Overwatch’s lore is short and sweet, easy to watch and read without serious investment, or involvement in the game itself. Hello Neighbor released a book and a show pilot after the full game and managed to straddle the uninteresting parts of all of these strategies. The neighbor’s kids went missing before the events of the game, that’s about the deepest and most interesting it gets. We already knew he had someone in the basement, that’s not a question of lore, it’s a question of plot.

 When Hello Neighbor came out in full, the Twitter account for the game was tweeting at MatPat, a popular gaming channel that also does theories and strategy guides, asking (repeatedly) for him to do a deep-dive on that show pilot. As Sagan Hawkes notes, the video has both a five minute version and a twenty minute version, so being able to cut 15 minutes of video and still have a plot does not point to deep mystery or lore. As far as I know, MatPat did not make a video.

Upon full release, all of the problems now cost 30$ to own. The game has suffered for trying to be FNaF. The game has suffered for not listening to alpha testers who disliked the platforming and who pointed out serious bugs that could softlock the game or toss the player hundreds of feet into the air with a misstep. The game suffered for increasing the time spent in the game by increasing the size of the game, not the complexity or number of puzzles in the game. The game suffered for each new alpha, struggling to tap further into the kiddie market at the cost of its vision, its aesthetic, and its gameplay. The game as it is now is a bizarre caricature of a better game, a game we saw for free in alpha one.

Legacy

The game has a good rating on both Google and Steam. People find it fun to play, and after a number of updates patching bugs and expanding the house the neighbor lives in, it became a fun sort of popcorn game, the kind of brightly colored, not too-intensely-mechanic-driven game common for the time after FNaF. It’s very obviously still aimed at kids, though, far from the all-ages game it used to be. The book is weird. The show is… kind of ugly. But, the fact that they exist at all is a sign of determination to expand upon the story, so I can’t fault the studio/developers for trying new stuff in an attempt to build hype.

A couple of other games made by the same developer/studio combo show promise, though – a couple of people have high hopes for Hello Neighbor 2, which looks like it wants to return to the original vision set by the trailer and alpha versions of Hello Neighbor 1. Hello Guest, set in a theme park, managed to attract attention without being obnoxious about lore. Simultaneously, the promise of a better Hello Neighbor is one that comes with some skepticism. Hello Neighbor got uglier and worse every alpha, eventually turning into a low-stakes platforming game over the medium-stakes stealth game it had been. Only time will tell how Hello Neighbor 2 goes – I hope it goes well.

Sources:

Sagan Hawkes’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HkY7qUqYjI

https://www.dynamicpixels.com/

Battlefield 2042 Lost 70% of it’s players in two weeks on Steam

Elizabeth Technology January 7, 2022

You might have seen it hit the news: Battlefield 2042, the latest in the Battlefield series, has lost over 70% of it’s players on Steam in the first two weeks of its release, and only going down. This was a 60$ game, and that’s a huge deal. What happened? ­

Firstly: Preorders

Pre-order sales are often made with a lot of promises about the game that don’t get delivered on. There’s been more and more push back against preordering games after multiple non-refundable disappointments have hit the gaming sphere: Anthem. CyberPunk. No Man’s Sky (although that did eventually become good). Fallout 4. And, most recently, Battlefield 2042. Triple-A studios and pre-orders seems to be a recipe for a mediocre-at-first-launch game at best, and a total disaster at worst.

However, pre-orders are not the cause of the issue, they’re merely a symptom of a wider problem with Triple A studios – they’ve become complacent. They assume that the customers will simply hold on for a few more months as they assemble a working game out of the stuff they pushed out on crunchtime. Realistically, most of the time, they’re right. Refunds are rarely offered by preorder vendors, the games do tend to work eventually, and the customer has likely fallen into sunk cost fallacy with all of the time they spent waiting. Plus, if the game isn’t totally broken, they’re probably not annoyed enough to really kick up a fuss about it beyond the typical memes and forum posts those big studios already ignore.

The pushback is more bark than bite, and it means they have no reason to stop operating as they have: make an announcement for a game. Announce the deadline a little too ambitiously. Showcase one part of the game by forcing the devs to work out of order and polish one specific mission first (which the Spiderman game for PS4 and 5 did, although that game turned out alright) creating unrealistic expectations. If they delay, they don’t delay it nearly long enough to sort out anything but the biggest of bugs. Push producers into hours of overtime, sometimes unpaid. Release a mediocre product after promising the world. Ignore most complaints, announce fixes publicly as a form of advertising. Finally, if player counts are still high, have a functional game with a lot of players who have forgotten that the game sucked on first release. Repeat, because you need the cash for the next game.

Easy! However, this works best on campaign games, games where the unpleasant bugs and issues can be ignored, or the player can reset back to the last save point and troubleshoot it themselves. Battlefield 2042 is not a campaign game.

Big Studios and Their Games

Battlefield 2042 is not a campaign game – it’s purely multiplayer, a divergence from the Battlefield games of the past where there was some imagination of a single player campaign, even though that was also vestigial at best. Battlefield 2042 intended to completely rely on new and exciting modes of multiplayer battle, including Hazard Zone lobbies and lobbies that could cram massive numbers of players into one map. However, as you could guess from the opening title, this didn’t revive the aspects of Battlefield that players wanted, and the playing experience (according to IGN, Metacritic, and many Google reviews) was lackluster at best, something that those players could have gotten out of the last game if they wanted. But they wanted a new game.

The game suffered from pre-order syndrome as well, leaving players with bugs like disappearing loadouts, game flaws like unbalanced guns, vulnerabilities to hacking, and more. Once players got fed up with it, they left – there was no single player mode to bide fix-time in like there was for the last Battlefield game. When players don’t know when the game’s been fixed via Tweet or Steam page update, they don’t want to go through the effort of booting it up (especially with how massive updates can be now) and getting into a match only to discover the latest bug patch didn’t fully fix the issues. They’d rather just play a substitute.

It Will Not Work Forever

It used to be that you could buy a finished game, and it would only need patches or rebalances for stuff the dev team didn’t test for. Now, players have to balance their expectations for both when and if the game is going to be good enough to be worth 60$ if they want to pre-order it. Games that don’t promise the moon on pre-order day seem to be less prone to failure; games that do incentivize preorders with in-game loot, so players keep coming back anyway, assuming (or blindly hoping) this time it will work out, especially when it’s a big game. Battlefield has made a name for itself, so it’s probably going to get at least a few more of these pre-order bombs in before enough of their consumers wise up to it – there’s a chance that the next game will be worth 60$ at launch, maybe, or it will eventually be worth 60$ within the first two weeks.

Maybe. But, this poll run by IGN with nearly 20,000 votes shows that Battlefield is running out of ‘next-time-it’ll-be-good’ chances. I don’t think many more people are going to buy 2042 now unless there’s some huge promotional event – 70% of the player base has stopped signing on, meaning games take longer to load and the odds of running into the same few players over and over goes up. Customers want to get 60$ worth of entertainment out of their game, and they can’t do that in a multiplayer game if all of the other players are leaving, hacking, or trolling. If the pool is already cold, and it only seems to be getting colder, why get in at all, when you could just… not, and save yourself the price of entry? There’s pools in other places, even Olympic ones like Call of Duty and PUBG. The next game they make may start cold, and even if the one after that is good, their reputation is not going to serve as positive marketing by default anymore.  

How Would You Fix It?

Firstly, I’d say to stop preordering games, but you’ve already heard that one from better sources than this blog. Any other fix besides voting with your money is going to have to come from the game studio themselves – perhaps the poor management that leads to crunchtime catastrophes and releases riddled with bugs could reign themselves in, given the customers support the devs and not the game.

Sources:

https://www.ign.com/articles/battlefield-2042-review

https://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/battlefield-2042

Balan Wonderworld – Triple A Failure

Elizabeth Technology January 4, 2022

A Disappointment

Balan Wonderworld announced release in the July of 2020, by Square Enix and Yuji Naka (famous for creating Sonic The Hedgehog and Night Into Dreams). The coronavirus had already spread to every continent, minus the poles. Many countries were scrambling to get their policies in order. It was still unclear how big the problem was about to be, and lockdowns were happening haphazardly – kids leaving for spring break would not return to the physical school building until late next year, depending on their district. It didn’t come out until March of 2021, another deeply chaotic time as vaccines approached completion and the death toll worldwide approached 1,600 per million infected.

The idea of the game was, in theory, fine. The plot is a pretty standard affair divided by chapters and aims to follow the Hero’s Journey very closely, which many critics said was to its detriment. It’s a child-friendly game, it doesn’t have to be a storytelling masterpiece – although, a much more successful game by the name of Psychonauts has a somewhat similar theme of ‘troubled hearts’ and how to help them recover, so the story clearly isn’t why it wasn’t a hit. Graphics and sound design, too, are completely fine and in line with stuff you’d expect from a family game, bright and cartoony, with a lot of motion.

Why did it fail if all of the pieces are – in theory – fine?

All of The Pieces

Everything making up the game is fine… by itself. Graphics? Fine. Music? Cute, fine. Characters? Not much to them because the game has no dialogue, but fine. Levels? Fine.

They’re all… just fine. Issues that could be forgiven if the rest was great are simply not up to snuff when everything else is at the same quality as the issue piece. And they come together in an incredibly milquetoast way! The writer’s attempted adherence to the Hero’s Journey worked against the game.

Remember Super Mario Galaxy where you, as Mario, travel to different worlds, collecting stars so Rosalina can power her ship back up? And along the way you run into all sorts of wacky platforming puzzles and enemies? Each individual level has its own flavor, but the levels themselves only contribute to the story via their completion outside of key boss fights – if you could randomize the levels, you wouldn’t be too confused about what’s going on as long as you always come back to Rosalina’s ship in between completing them. Rosalina needs stars, levels give you stars to give to her. You could realistically cut out about 85% of the middle of the game and the story would still make sense without re-writing. Super Mario Galaxy is very much loved anyway.

On the other hand, Psychonauts’ linear progression through the minds of people you’re trying to help is directly contributing to the story, as Rasputin learns and explores his new reality as a Psychonaut – you cannot complete levels out of order without screwing with the story or gameplay, because new levels give you new abilities that you’ll use in creative ways on the next levels. Every new mind helps Rasputin understand his own struggles with his family a little better. Dialogue is plentiful and often purely for story, and cutting chunks out would interfere with the story. Psychonauts, too, is very much loved.

Balan Wonderworld does not strike a balance between these two. Balan Wonderworld does not have dialogue, and the levels are supposed to be sort of linear and based on the Hero’s Journey, like Psychonauts, when it really should have been more like Super Mario Galaxy given it’s chapter-based nature and the ‘costumes’ idea, and the lack of dialogue. Characters were supposed to be able to collect costumes with special abilities, and they were also supposed to be able to use multiple different costumes to complete any given level – the end result was bland levels and dull gameplay that didn’t benefit from the chapter-based game sequencing or the costumes. Mario has the same abilities throughout. Rasputin gains new ones on key levels. Balan Wonderworld hit the worst possible compromise between these two ideas. The level-planning is already not great, but if the gameplay was satisfying, maybe that could have saved it.

Gameplay Itself

Unfortunately, it is also very consistently pegged as ‘un-fun’ and ‘clunky’, a game too late for it’s time. Game reviewers often compare it to the early PlayStation games – the camera jumps around in a way that can make gameplay difficult, and the frame rate is not anywhere near Square Enix’s normal standards. The costumes, while a fun gimmick put to better use in games like the Kirby series, or Super Mario Odyssey, have a very severe drawback – they all only do one thing, and that prevents your character from performing other critical actions. Like jumping.

Designing around those jumpless costumes means that levels lose some of their dynamicity, something they wouldn’t have had to plan around if jumping was a character action and not a costume one. Of the costumes that do allow you to jump, it’s one of those games that completely erases forward momentum when you hit the button. No running starts!

 Nintendo Watcher says Balan Wonderworld feels like a student project, or an especially ambitious indie game – not a game by the same studio who produced Just Cause, or Final Fantasy games. The author of the story, one of the creators of Sonic the Hedgehog, actually retired after this game did so poorly. It’s cute! It’s complete, it’s just… not very good. It’s definitely not worth the 60$ it’s still being sold at.

Sources:

https://www.destructoid.com/balan-wonderworld-worst-rated-game-of-2021-on-metacritic/

https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data

https://www.nintendowatcher.com/blog/is-balan-wonderworld-really-that-bad

Game Data is Getting Ridiculous

Elizabeth Uncategorized September 15, 2021

Why are game downloads so ridiculously huge?

The first Doom game is famous for how little space it takes up. Because of it’s absolutely tiny size, almost any device can play it. The latest Doom was approximately 50 GB, a far cry from the games of the past.

The Beginnings

Doom is famously small. When games came on floppy disks, fewer disks meant less overhead expense and a more seamless player experience. It also reduced the risk that something could go wrong. Programming was simple, elegant – textures and sounds were limited, and yet Doom used it’s few pixels to great effect.

Sonic, another small game (meant for a console this time), famously took up a levels’ worth of space for the SEGA opening soundbite. The scale of the levels themselves was so incredibly small that a second-long clip of someone saying ‘Sega!’ consumed as much space as a level. That is insane. Audio, even the crispest, clearest mp3s around, can no longer say that.

While some ambitious games like Doom were technically 3-D, many more were much simpler – Sonic, Metroid, and other 90s games were all 2-D, and yet they all came out difficult and engaging. A number of other trash games came out alongside them, but the shining stars of 90s nostalgia still hold up to this day. The concepts themselves were fairly new to the world: Personal computers and consoles alike were still a fairly new consumer product, still heavily associated with businesses in the case of PCs and children for consoles. Customers, therefore, were making room for something new, not accommodating it unconditionally.

The Graphics, and The Next Step: 3D

The next generation of consoles and computers were significantly more powerful, and as such the games could afford to take up a little more space. A little. Still, that little meant that things looked very different. The distinct polygonal art seen in Final Fantasy, Banjo Kazooie, and other favorites was the best, least-intensive art they could make at the time. You’ll notice shadows are limited and that textures often repeat.

The Nintendo 64 had about 4 MB of RAM – games to fit it could be a maximum of 64 MB, although many were much smaller. Articles say that all of the games for the 64 could fit on the Switch, which is still underpowered compared to other consoles! And yet, so many iconic games come from this era. Ocarina of Time, Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie – the world was an oyster. Other games on other consoles came out, but Nintendo – having watched Atari shoot itself in the foot – didn’t make a habit of producing bad games, or letting third parties make bad games for them.

Game length, too, was incredible for the limited storage space: polls say that Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie both take 11 to 12 hours to beat, and longer to 100%. If they didn’t provide hours of entertainment, that money might go elsewhere to keep the kid distracted. A small game had a big hill to climb, and it still didn’t have a lot of space to do it in, both on the shelf and on the actual console. Games would much rather be longer than look great.

Middling

I recently watched a video covering Silent Hill 2, a game for the PS2, which came only four years after the Nintendo 64. I was very impressed by how good it looked; while the main character was definitely blocky, and the fog and fire effects looked like they were sponged on, the frame rate never dropped, and the pre-rendered cutscenes could have blended in with games much younger. Game storage had moved from cartridges and the occasional floppy disc to the new and much better CD-ROM. Silent Hill 2 was 1.8 GB. The device to load it, the PS2, had a RAM of 32 MB, and that was plenty to run it. Games like those pushed the boundaries of what could be packed into a disc!

Levels could have more complexity. Silent Hill 2 features constant fog and enemy combatants with sometimes unpredictable behavior. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas still stands as a worthy open-world entry. The content, too, became more adult as the consoles and PC games proved their worth as much deeper than what a quarter got you in the arcade. Halo, for the Xbox (which came out only a year after the PS2), is one of the most revered Xbox games of all time – it’s lasting cultural impact is the stuff game designers dream about.

The great thing about these games is that even though they took up more space to look nicer, you could still generally tell how long the game was by the file size, although people were no longer ‘making room’ for a ‘toy’ – they were creating a space for legitimate art and leisure. Computers were more widespread, now, although not every family had one. Games were turning into art, into something most people wanted or already had experience with. Consoles, while almost always hot Christmas items ever since their conception, started turning games into ‘must-buys’. As such, sloppier games and games that took up a lot of space now had permission to exist. Games didn’t have to be so brutally efficient in their coding..

The 2010s

The Xbox 360 had entered the market, and LAN was becoming outdated. The console and the increasing internet speeds of the time meant that players didn’t have to get together to play together for everything anymore. Gaming consoles as well as computers are now capable of downloading large games directly from the internet, where before a disc or a cartridge or something would have been more efficient. This is around the time games start bloating. Characters look really good – Grand Theft Auto 4 looked downright realistic compared to San Andreas, and adults who had played both could tell. Games, even for the PC, could be really effective sandboxes. The player had room for a whole world now, after all.

 Big games were usually still pretty long, but they were also becoming unpredictable. The Darkness, a game I really liked, took up 6.8 GB – Sonic ’06, meanwhile, takes up 5.6 GB. Games could become boring much faster – unlimited potential and limited handholding meant that games like Minecraft could be really fun for hours, or get boring in thirty minutes. Storage space for PC games is no longer a promise of quality or length.

Even Better Graphics – How Big Is Too Big?

Doom takes up 50 GBs to download. While it is decently long – PCGamer says it took them 20 hours to complete the main quest, and HowLongToBeat says 12 hours – it’s also significantly bigger than the first Doom, which provided somewhere between 5 and 6 hours for just the main quests, at a mere 2.39 MB. You don’t have to be a math expert to tell that the ratios are way different. The textures that go into making Doom Guy’s gun now take up more room than the original game ever did. And is it worth it? How many copies of Doom could you actually download on your computer? Borderlands 2, another game on both PC and console, takes up 20 GB but provides around 30 hours of entertainment with just the main quest. The twist is that Borderlands 2 is 4 years younger. In the time between GTA 4 and GTA 5, between Borderlands 2 and Doom, between Gears of War 3 and Gears of War 4, game studios have ballooned all the trappings that come alongside the game. However, the concepts of games themselves, at their core, don’t take up any more space than they used to. But that’s not universal: puzzle games and games with stylized art don’t take up nearly as much space as the Triple A open-worlders do. Baba Is You, a puzzle game with timeless graphics, takes up only 200 MB. Hades, a cartoony roguelike game by an indie studio, takes up 15 GB – and that one’s from 2020. Hades is also capable of providing many days-worth of replays complete with story advancement.  

Games stopped getting bigger for levels. They started getting bigger for detail. New Halo games are not longer than the old ones, on average, but they are still bigger. The detail of the levels is consuming valuable space that gamers with mid-tier rigs might like to save for other things. Like other games. Games that don’t hold themselves to hyper-realism in every new generation are finding their job much easier, but the Triple A studios are struggling to justify the expense and space consumption of a game that gets a ‘B’ on Steam. Triple A studios have come full circle, and are beginning to shut themselves out of parts of their market that they’d otherwise be guaranteed.

An unintended side effect is that indie studios are providing much more accessible games. A triple A studio is forced to let go of otherwise guaranteed customers because their game sizes and specs are keeping up with the top-of-the-line computers, not the mid- and low-tier ones the indie studios are aiming for. They take less resources, they provide a different experience – but they’re much closer to that original era of gaming where their spot on a computer was very far from guaranteed. Small games can be just as fun and charming as big ones – especially when their size comes down to texture and engine lighting over more substantial things like story and gameplay, or AI.

Sources: https://www.nintendolife.com/news/2020/05/random_every_nintendo_64_game_ever_released_would_fit_onto_a_single_switch_cartridge

https://howlongtobeat.com/game?id=834

https://howlongtobeat.com/game.php?id=9364

https://howlongtobeat.com/game?id=1274

https://gamerant.com/halo-infinite-franchise-how-long-to-beat/

https://store.steampowered.com/agecheck/app/12210/

https://venturebeat.com/2012/09/17/borderlands-2-nearly-perfects-the-blend-of-shooter-and-role-playing-game-review/

Pre-Ordering: A Recipe for Disaster

 

You’ve likely seen it hit the news: a game available for pre-order has disappointed it’s fans. “CyberPunk 2077 was a disappointment”. “No Man’s Sky fails to deliver” (they fixed that, BTW). Why do fans keep pre-buying video games if all evidence points to them sucking at first release? More importantly, why do studios keep falling into the trap?

 

Hedging Bets

 

Even good studios can put out bad games, and it usually comes from rushing. Game studios are hedging their bets when they release pre-orders for a game, and hoping they’ll be able to finish it in time for the release date they’ve set. Frequently, they cannot. Cyberpunk was delayed three separate times, and each time they still weren’t ready. Even the final release wasn’t ready, and a big first day patch came through just so they could deliver something on the day they promised. Even that wasn’t enough – the game simply wasn’t ready, and glitches were everywhere.

Investors in a game will push, and push, and push to get the game out as soon as possible. Delays are only allowed to be a few months long, and if they work their engineers to death to get the game out? So be it. It’s a deeply unpleasant situation to be caught in for the studio: they have to listen to investors, and they have to listen to fans, but the game’s a buggy mess and trying to fix it is only creating more bugs. The devs are exhausted; they’re working 80-120 hr workweeks to get all the promised features out. There’s no way that keeps code bug-free, but pre-ordering is another way of putting stress on the studio to get the game out ‘on time’. “These fans will be disappointed, and it’ll be your fault”.

Preorders ensure someone’s getting the money on time, even if the product isn’t ready to sell. Fans have been burnt by this so many times that a growing movement to stop preordering completely is beginning to appear on forums like Reddit.

How is it getting so out of hand?

 

Over-Reliance on First Day Patches

 

First day patches are useful for a lot of things, but they’re primarily for small bugs and glitches that didn’t appear in the test environment. Try as you might, you’ll never cover every possible set-up for a game. Using First Day Patches as an extended development time is only going to make fans angry!

Pre-ordering is supposed to build hype. It’s supposed to give the game studio an accurate look at their playerbase’s numbers, and sometimes stats on what kind of devices are going to be playing it. It is not extended development time, but game producers are increasingly treating the first round of players as beta testers for the game instead of people who ordered it early. This is not a good approach for many reasons.

 

Fundraising

 

Games that are looking to get funding from the pre-ordering process are a mixed bag. Patreon fundraisers where the producer has a very clear vision in mind, has the access to programming expertise, and has realistic expectations for their game have a pretty good shot at being worth the money. They don’t have big investors, so their community fills in the gaps for funding in exchange for getting the game first when it comes out. However, it’s not good just because it’s small. Look at “Yandere Simulator”, for example. The lead dev had the idea, he had Patreon funding, but he just couldn’t bear to let go of his control over the code. He didn’t have enough experience to program his vision into reality, and as a result the game’s been ‘in development’ for over five years now.

This is fundraising gone wrong – he’s living off this Patreon, and while he’s allegedly still working on the game, he’s unable to complete it without outside help because so much of the foundational work is just… wrong. The game’s funding is only exacerbating this problem as the dev feels the need to show new features with every update, to keep his Patreon patrons happy, but he’s building off that broken code from before, so nothing actually improves. He’d need a studio to completely overhaul what he’s already got, but the funds he’s gotten for the demo aren’t being spent on studios. This is where fundraising via pre-order can go wrong – and it’s not just the little studios who have this issue.

Money went in – value did not come out.

Big studios are supposed to know better than the little guys!

 

Controlling the Hype Train

 

Hype Trains exist everywhere, so this isn’t just for pre-ordered games. Essentially, a hype train is what happens when fans talk to each other on forums and get excited about a product. This is a good thing! When fan expectations are met or exceeded, they’ll have a good time, they’ll feel good that they spent money on the product, and they leave with positive things to tell others who haven’t bought the product yet. Hype trains have a positive synergy with advertising.

When fan expectations are subverted, they can still have a lot of fun on the journey, and this can also build the hype train. The advertising should still contain the whole essence of the final product, though. For example, 1917 subverted the expectations I’d built based on the trailers, but I still knew it was a war movie. Finding good features, segments, or characters not advertised in the game build can have this effect. Users tell others there’s twists and turns, and that creates hype.

Trying to use a hype train without decent grounds to back it up is a recipe for disaster. How many times have you heard the saying ‘if a comedy movie has to tell you it’s laugh-out-loud funny, it’s probably not that funny’? The advertisers are trying to build some misleading hype for a product that they can tell isn’t that good. This works less and less the more advertising uses it. Fans become jaded over time, and less inclined to believe statements made in the advertising of other products from the studio. The same goes for games!

 

Loss of Steering

 

Even worse, failure to control the hype train can make even good games feel like trash in comparison to what was actually advertised, and the fans do it to themselves because the studio either A) doesn’t provide enough material, or B) promises too much in early development. Some of the things that disappointed fans about Cyberpunk were things the fans made up! While the flying cars were shown in the trailer, there wasn’t any promise that you’d get to actually drive them.

The trailers were released way too far away from the actual release, so fans had nothing to do but sit and discuss, and – in typical forum fashion – they begin overanalyzing material while they waited for more. The hype train was already out of control by the time CD Projekt Red realized they weren’t going to be releasing on time. Getting Keanu Reeves in on it only made the problem worse: Keanu is near-universally loved for his acting. Surely, a beloved action star wouldn’t sign on to a bad game?

Hype train.

 

Damage Control is a Bitterant

 

A hypothetical: It’s annoying to have an event delayed due to weather. It’s more annoying when you’ve invested yourself in going to this event, and you’ve pre-paid for your tickets, and the event managers really don’t want to give you your money back.

Even worse, the event finally happens, and the main event isn’t “Pop Team”, it’s “Pop Teag”, and it’s one guy with an accordion instead of the girl group you thought you’d bought tickets for. You look at the stub, and it definitely says, “Pop Team”, but the doorman insists that it was always going to be Mr. Pop Teag on stage, even though the advertising in front of the building also says “Featuring Pop Team.”

At this point, even if Pop Teag is good, you’re pretty freaking annoyed. You came for Electro-pop, and instead the managers are offering Appalachian accordion music.

You’re angry, your friends are disappointed. You vow never to come back to the place that hosted Pop Teag under false pretenses.

This is what game studios keep doing to themselves. They promise features that aren’t there, they end up delaying pre-paid tickets and holding the money hostage, and then when push comes to shove, they try to lean on the optimists saying “oh, accordion’s not that bad, I’m still having a good time!” Yeah, the accordion’s fine. But it’s not what they printed on the ticket, it’s not what the posters advertised, and it’s not what players were expecting when they paid for the tickets. Studios can’t be relying on their old fans to make up for the experience new fans are getting. Eventually, they’ll burn through their fans’ goodwill and patience – refunds will be demanded universally.

Stop pre-ordering games, but also: stop releasing incomplete games!

 

Sources:

https://www.dualshockers.com/is-bioware-offering-a-refund-after-cancelling-anthem/

Piracy: Don’t Do It

Piracy is a crime. Don’t pirate things. They’re serious about it. I’m not just being uncool, there’s real reasons beyond “big music corps are people too”.

 

Why are the fines so steep?

 

Piracy seems victimless. In reality, the victims are just barely affected with each instance, up until the cumulative effect pushes them out of creation. Art has a price, and if folks aren’t willing to pay it, art disappears. Not all of it, of course, but the art that was made for you disappears. Art that wasn’t made with at least some profit in mind goes out the window.

Fines are a strong motivator for many people – their main goal is to make piracy so undesirable that nobody does it for fear of the fines, not for the fear of being a thief (or ‘thief’, depending on how you define copyright violation). Many people don’t see anything actually wrong with stealing content from big name artists. They aren’t really wrong, but they’re not right – they won’t be affecting that artist very much by themselves, and the amount missing from their art consumption is maaaybe a couple of pennies.

For example, Pharell only made something like $2,000 on Spotify when he was #1 on the top 40. Pirating that song would cost him maybe a twentieth of a cent, more if you were intending to buy it on iTunes but went to LimeWire instead. It’s like littering: if everyone left their trash at the park, the park would close for cleanup. One person is just an inconvenience to the groundskeeper. One plastic bottle won’t ruin the park’s water, but dozens will, and the rangers only need to catch one to get some of the others to stop. Fines keep litterers and minor pirates alike in check. If everyone thinks ‘my trash won’t hurt’, you get a trashed park. If every pirate thinks ‘my pirating won’t hurt’, you get musicians and moviemakers on strike.

Besides, fines for piracy are massive. Up to $250,000, and possible jail time!

 

Who are you Actually going to hurt?

 

Small artists who get ripped off with copyright breaches and stolen songs are the people on the cutting edge of new. New music, new tech, new art – the small artists create things that you won’t find in Bed, Bath and Beyond, or on the Top 40. Cost these people money, and you’re destroying a complicated ecosystem of inspiration and passion-projects that the Top 40 is not looking to recreate. Layer Ariana Grande songs over each other, and you’ll discover patterns you didn’t notice before. The producers definitely did, and they went down a checklist to get that song out and on the charts.

Small bands don’t have the same resources. When something sounds good, it’s because they made it sound good by themselves – you’re rewarding individual talent by not pirating. Tame Impala didn’t have access to a recording studio for their first album. He wrote the songs himself. He mixed it, himself. The same goes for Billie Eilish, and any other number of bedroom musicians (musicians who record their music in their bedroom). No disrespect to Ariana Grande, but she can’t make albums with the creative freedom that a bedroom band can. The people who invested in her can’t afford to have a flop, so she always gets breathy, poppy, peppy songs with high notes. It’s her strength, so it’s all she gets to release. She has creative input, but not a lot of control.

Pirating wouldn’t directly affect her unless everybody started pirating. It would take significantly less to accidentally crush something like early (early!!!) Tame Impala, or early Billie Eilish, and you might not hear anything like them ever again.

 

Don’t pirate the music if you want more of it!

 

Movies: More Serious

 

Movies are more serious to pirate. The theater runs on a tight margin to keep the tickets cheap. This is why a cup of popcorn is six dollars, that’s where the operating cost goes – the ticket is just paying for the movie’s rental of the reel. The ticket money goes to the studio!

The studio puts its money towards making back the budget of the film, and if the film does well enough, there may be a sequel. Trolls, for example, did well enough for studios to invest in Trolls: World Tour. The same goes for Tenet, and for Sonic. They made enough money back that the studio wants to keep the gravy train running. Not all sequels are good – and some may say that money shouldn’t be running art – but the world we live in has these rules. More money = more creation. Artists literally cannot afford to create art full-time if they aren’t being paid for it.

However, assume pirating eats into the profit. One guy copies the file and sends it out and around, and a bunch of people see the pirated version on disc or download. They don’t want to spend money to see it again. Pirating takes the movie off the watchlist of hundreds or thousands without actually funding the movie.

Pirating can happen at the theater too! You think you’re watching a legitimate copy of Fast and Furious 8, but the owner had pirated it from a connection he had who got it early for review. That theater makes blockbuster movie money, and the studio sees none of it. Stuff like that is why the fines are so huge, that guy would gladly do it again for a $2,000 fine. Illegitimate rental places were also a real problem. BlockBuster franchises (and small locally-owned rental stores) making illegal copies of recent hits was a profit-killer. The fines are enormous because of these guys.

Remember, the goal is always more. It has to make more than the last movie did. If Trolls World Tour made less than Trolls, they’d never consider a third, even if it made profit. If it didn’t make more, the studio has to assume the worst will happen – they’ll break even or suffer a loss.

And as small bands suffer more than big bands, so too do small movie studios. Some of the wildest, most creative movies ever pushed to the big screen come out of small studios. The group that made Coraline, for example, is relatively small compared to Disney or Pixar. Pirating a newly released movie en masse could seriously dampen their funding for the next movie even if it wouldn’t make a dent for Disney.

By making an example out of people like the movie theater owner, they’re protecting the small artists along with the big ones. Some guy burning a disc for one other friend isn’t going to ruin a studio – but if everyone did that, we’d be back at square one. Pirating is a crime. No matter how you see it morally or ethically, the rules are in place to keep artists funded for their work. Whether you think that work is overvalued or not doesn’t change the end goal of the laws.

It’s cumulative. They won’t catch everyone who pirates… but they’ll get enough to be a deterrent. Good art comes from protecting the artists who made it!

 

Sources: https://variety.com/2020/film/news/trolls-world-tour-streaming-theatrical-window-future-1234573263/

Blizzard Entertainment’s 2012 Hack: An Example of How to Do It Right

In 2012, game developers were beginning to experiment with a principle known as “always on”. “Always on” had many potential benefits, but the downsides keep the majority of games from ever attempting it. Many of the notable standouts are games that require team play, like Fall Guys or Overwatch. Others without main-campaign team play tend to fall behind, like Diablo 3 and some of the Assassin’s Creed games. Lag, insecurities, perpetual updating, etc. are all very annoying to the end user, so they’ll only tolerate it where it’s needed, like those team games. It’s hard to say that this hack wouldn’t have happened if Blizzard hadn’t switched to an “always on” system… but some of their users only had Battle.net accounts because of the always-on.

Blizzard’s account system was designed with their larger, team games in mind. It was forwards facing, and internet speeds were getting better by the day. Users were just going to have to put up with it, they thought. Users grumbled about it, but ultimately Blizzard was keeping data in good hands at the time. You wouldn’t expect Battle.net accounts created purely to play Diablo 3 to lose less data than the user profiles in the Equifax breach, right? Blizzard didn’t drop the ball here! What did Blizzard do right to prevent a mass-meltdown?

Hacker’s Lament

 

The long and the short of it was that Blizzard’s stuff had multiple redundancies in place to A) keep hackers out and B) make the info useless even if it did end up in the wrong hands. Millions of people had lost data in similar events before, and security experts were more and more crucial to keeping entertainment data safe. Blizzard was preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, so even when the worst struck here, they were prepared.

The actual hack was defined by Blizzard as ‘illegal access to our internal servers’. It released the listed emails of players (excluding China), the answers to security questions, and other essential identifying information about accounts into the wild. However, due to Blizzard’s long-distance password protocol, the passwords themselves were scrambled so much that the hackers might as well have been starting from scratch. This is still a problem, but it’s not a world-ending, ‘everyone has your credit card’ problem. Changing the password on the account and enabling 2FA was considered enough to shore up security.

 

Potential Issues

 

Lost email addresses aren’t as big of a problem as lost passwords, but they can still present an issue. Now that the hacker knows an email address was used on a particular site, it’s possible to perform a dictionary attack, or regular brute forcing! This strategy will eventually work, but the longer and more complicated the password is, the less likely it is to succeed on your account in particular.

A secondary problem is the lost security questions. Those are a form of 2FA. Depending on the question asked, guessing something that works or brute forcing it again is dangerously easy. Sparky, Rover, and Spot are very popular names for American dogs, for example. If the hacker is able to identify that the player’s American, and then guess the name of their first dog, they’re in! They can change the password to keep the legitimate player out. (Part of Blizzard’s response is forcing users to change their security questions for this reason). 2FA that uses email or mobile is generally preferred.

Battle.net acted as an overarching account for all the games, and made the stakes higher for an account breach. All the online Blizzard games went through Battle.net. Losing access could mean losing access to hundreds of hours of game progress. Or worse: credit card data and personal info.

 

Online, Always, Forever

 

The event provided ammo for anti-always-on arguments. There was no option to not have a Battle.net account if you wanted to just play Diablo’s latest game. Some users were only vulnerable as a result of the always-online system. If they’d simply been allowed to play it offline, with no special account to maintain that always-online standard, there wouldn’t have been anything to hack! Previous Blizzard games didn’t require Battle.net. People who stopped at Diablo 2 seem to have gotten off scot-free during the hack. This is annoying to many users who only wanted to play Diablo 3. They might not find value in anything else about the Battle.net system. Why bother making users go through all this work to be less secure?

When discussing always online, there’s good arguments to be made for both sides. Generally, always on is better for the company, where offline gaming is better for the consumer. Always on helps prevent pirating, and it gives live data. Companies need data on bugs or player drop-off times, which can help them plan their resources better and organize fixes without disrupting the player experience.

On the other hand, consumers with poor internet are left out, as lag and bugs caused by poor connection destroy their gaming experience. As games move more and more to pure digital, buying a ‘used game’ only gets more difficult for the consumer. Companies treat purchased games as a ticket to a destination, rather than an object the consumer buys. Games used to be objects, where anybody could play the game on the disc even though save data stayed on the console. Buying access to Diablo 3 via Battle.net means that there’s no way to share that access without also allowing other people to access the Battle.net account, which stores the save data. It’s the equivalent of sharing the console, not just the disc.

 

Handling

 

The response to the stolen, scrambled passwords was for Blizzard to force-reset player passwords and security questions, just in case the hackers somehow managed to unscramble them.

2FA is always a good idea, and Blizzard strongly recommended it too. 2FA will do a better job of alerting you than the default email warning  ‘your password has been changed’ will after the fact. After you’ve received that email, the hacker is already in. Depending on when you noticed, they could have already harvested all the data and rare skins they wanted by the time you get your support ticket filed! Setting up 2FA first means that you’re notified before that happens.

All in all, Blizzard handled this particular incident well! Companies are required to inform their users about potential online breaches, but some companies do this with less tact than others. Formally issuing an apology for the breach isn’t part of their legal requirements, for example. What made this response possible in the first place was Blizzard’s competent security team, alongside a set of policies that were strictly followed. Logs and audits in the system ensured that Blizzard knew who accessed what and when, which is critical when forming a response. Blizzard was able to determine the extent of the problem and act on it quickly, the ultimate goal of any IT response.

 

 

Sources:

https://us.battle.net/support/en/article/12060

https://us.battle.net/support/en/article/9852

https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/08/09/its-official-blizzard-hacked-account-information-stolen/?sh=2ecadbc955d1

https://comsecglobal.com/blizzards-gaming-server-has-been-hacked/

https://medium.com/@fyde/when-too-much-access-leads-to-data-breaches-and-risks-2e575288e774

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-19207276

Preventing Piracy Is Hard

It’s frustrating to have someone else steal your work. That’s why piracy is one of the biggest scourges of entertainment today. Yet bootlegs and copyright infringement still happen, and sometimes undetectably. So, if the person pirating is outside your legal reach, how do you keep them from enjoying your work for free?

Create anti-piracy measures, of course.

Tainting the Well

Cher briefly released songs on LimeWire that played very quietly, in an effort to get the listener to jack up their volume. After a little bit, she’d shout at you to stop stealing at the normal volume band – which was now at max volume. This didn’t last very long, because downloads had names on the site, but there was no limit to what artists would do to keep their intellectual property in their own hands. Ironically, the worst LimeWire users themselves were more likely to protect property than the artists! Trolls would put some strange things on otherwise normal tracks, and some people would rather go to iTunes than play download lottery. They tainted the well themselves.

Shame

People tend to be more embarrassed that they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar than they are about the pirating itself. Asking about the bizarre version of the song you downloaded would out you as a pirate. And music wasn’t the only industry to do this.

In fact, a whole bunch of games would give strange errors or messages to get pirates to ask about it online. Of course, the pirates are the only ones who got these messages, so creators and other fans alike knew they’d pirated the software.  That was the punishment: everybody on the game’s Steam page knew you were a pirate! They then either self-exile or double down on the pirating.

Anti-Piracy software

Games have great examples of anti-piracy in action. Piracy detection used to be pretty hard – all it took was a blank disc and a PC that already had the game on it in the early days. Games would use physical wheels or artifacts on the inside of the game’s packaging to be sure you had a legit copy. Then, as computers got better and games could take up more space, programmed anti-piracy kicked into a higher gear. Anything and everything went – it was the pirate’s problem if they didn’t like it. Earthbound, a game that was already difficult, would crash at the final screen and then delete all your save data. So would Spyro, although Spyro would warn you that it thought you were playing a bootleg copy before you got to the end.

The goal was to frustrate the pirate, which would eventually prevent piracy in its own way. Some developers went to guilt, instead: Alan Wake just slaps an eyepatch with the Jolly Roger on your character to remind you that you’re playing a pirated copy and you should feel bad.

Business Software License Checks

There are many obvious downsides to pirating something like Excel. Namely, if something goes wrong, what are you going to do? Contact the vendor? With your illegitimate copy? Good luck with that. It doesn’t help that Microsoft runs audits, too – if they detect a license or a product key not in line with what they’re expecting, they’ll know you’re pirating. If another copy of Word tries to interact with an illegitimate copy, they’ll know you’re pirating. Basically, if you’re ever connected to the internet with a cracked copy of Office software, they’ll know. There are so many free alternatives that pirating Word seems foolish.

Microsoft is doing it for more than the money, too. There’s a growing host of people online who would just love to scam some businesses into downloading malicious software, alongside illegitimate copies of Word. Assuming the business owner genuinely believes they’re getting real copies of Office, Microsoft’s good name is tainted!

CAP Software

Pirating early-release discs destroys faith in reviewers. However, early reviewers are also giving you a lot of free advertisement, so it wouldn’t be very smart financially to just cut them all off. Instead, what they use is CAP software, which stores a code in the file. If the file is leaked or copied, the code is present, and the studio knows exactly which reviewer to cut off. Versions of this using tones mixed into the audio of the movie and visual watermarks are also common! Everyone benefits: the studio still gets it’s promotion, the reviewer gets to review the movie, and the viewer gets some early information about what they want to watch, legitimately. The pirate is slapped with a fine and everyone moves on.

 

 

Sources:

https://www.thegamer.com/clever-anti-piracy-techniques-in-gaming/

http://jolt.law.harvard.edu/articles/pdf/v07/07HarvJLTech377.pdf

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2019/06/27/four-data-driven-ways-to-combat-software-piracy/?sh=58e23a84320e