A history of gaming's biggest scandals

Lara Bingle ain't got nothing on the games industry...

  • Gaming's Biggest Scandals

    We all lap up [[xref:|celebrity scandals|Lara Bingle 'caught in nude photo scandal' --]], exhilarated by the unfortunate plight of the rich and famous ([[artnid:340212|Ms Bingle]], we're looking at you). But watching a scandal unfold in the gaming world is akin to [[artnid:339251|watching puppies being slowly drowned in a barrel of acid|The most disturbing YouTube videos of all time -- PC World]]. It’s no fun at all.

    You get that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, knowing that each volatile headline could directly affect the games you play. Think about it. When Lindsay Lohan gets arrested for [[xref:|drug-fuelled hijinks| Lindsay Lohan Arrested on Suspicion of DUI, Cocaine Possession After Car Chase]], nobody else is adversely affected. But when Infinity Ward and Activision are battling it out for the rights to Modern Warfare, the consequences could be dire for everybody.

    Video games are a great way to escape the banality of everyday life. But while we’re happily immersed in our pixellated a world, a whole industry is working behind the scenes like a well-oiled machine; churning out games for our enjoyment. Occasionally, a cog in the wheel gets broken.

    We've taken a look at some of the biggest scandals to rock the video game industry; from the infamous DRIV3R-GATE to the plight of Richard Gaywood. These are the events that rocked the gaming world, in chronological order...
  • E.T. almost kills the video games industry (1983)

    Few would suspect the family-friendly alien E.T. would trigger a calamity that almost killed the gaming industry.

    But the game E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, published by Atari, did indeed bring the industry to its knees. It was so abhorrently bad it is often credited with single-handedly instigating the [[xref:|great video game crash of 1983|North American video game crash -- Wikipedia]]. (The ensuing drought was a bleak time for gamers, until Nintendo finally came to the rescue with the mighty NES.)

    To be fair, there were a lot of poor titles released at the time, but E.T. was the straw that broke the camel's back. [[xref:|The games’ copious number of death pits coupled with the dodgy controls|YouTube: Awful Video Games - E.T The Extra Terrestrial]] made the game nigh on unplayable. Consumer trust in video games had been irreversibly burnt, and the tradition of awful movie licences was born.

    There is a rumour Atari dug a huge pit in the middle of the New Mexican desert to bury unsold and returned copies of the game. A year later, Atari closed down (possibly from embarrassment).

    To this day, gamers [[artnid:340539|still embark on pilgrimages| Wintergreen: 'When I Wake Up' music video]] in a bid to find the mystery landfill, recognising the importance of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to the history of gaming.
  • Nintendo gets screwed over by Sony, and then by Square (1994)

    In 1991, Nintendo abruptly dropped out of its partnership with Sony to produce a CD-based video game console. It was a decision that the Big N would regret for an entire decade.

    It started out as a match made in heaven: Nintendo, gaming juggernaut, and Sony, electronics extraordinaire, were to make a new console tentatively titled the SNES-CD.

    But at the 11th hour, Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi ran through the contract and had a "WTF?" moment, realising that Sony would be the master of all games made on the new console.

    The deal was called off. But what was Sony to do with all the research it had done? Lo and behold; the PlayStation was born and Nintendo sobbed into its pillow as the new disc-based machine gobbled up more and more market share.

    To rub salt into the wound, long time exclusive Nintendo developer Square (now Square-Enix) jumped ship to the PlayStation and graced it with [[xref:|one of the most critically acclaimed JRPGs of all time: Final Fantasy VII |The video game ‘Shame’ file -- GamePro]].

    Square had originally wanted to make a game for the Nintendo 64, but cited the exorbitant cost and small storage capacity of cartridges as the reasons it jumped ship. There might have been an outcry from Nintendo diehards, but the glamorous cut-scenes Final Fantasy is now famous for wouldn’t have existed if not for the defection.

    Nintendo’s belated foray into the disc-based console market with the GameCube ended up being a bit of a damp squib, but all was not lost. The company eventually got its “in your face!” moment when it released the Wii, which has sold more than 67 million units worldwide. Still, the damage caused to the Nintendo brand cannot be underestimated.
  • Driv3rgate (2004)

    Driver 3 (or Driv3r as it's marketed) was a [[artnid:273085|god-awful game]]: the graphics, the lack of fist-fighting, the inexcusable number of bugs — the lot.

    It was so bad it couldn’t even pass as a poor man’s GTA III (though the Driver series’ third-person play-style goes way back).

    So when [[xref:|PlayStation: The Official Magazine| PlayStation: The Official Magazine]] and [[xref:|Official Xbox Magazine| Official Xbox Magazine ]] — both published by Future Publishing — gave the game an incredible 9/10, the proverbial ‘shit hit the fan’ and left a stain that still taints the integrity of games journalism to this day.

    The two mags might have gotten away with the favourable reviews, if Driver 3 had not been crucified (many times over) by the rest of the gaming press. Knowing all was not well, readers converged on the publishing house’s [[xref:|GamesRadar forum| GamesRadar forum]] to discuss the highly suspicious score.

    There were whispers of corruption and that Future Publishing was paid off by Atari. The forum posts raged on, but the comments were systematically wiped by administrators, which gave way to suggestions of a cover up by the publishing house. Eventually, Future removed the forum thread in its entirety. It was like Stalinist Russia all over again. Except without the beatings and famine.

    As it turns out, Future Publishing was indeed awarded first dibs on Driver 3 by Atari — but neither party has ever admitted to any wrongdoing. The case was never resolved but the ‘Driv3rgate’ debacle was a punch in the guts for game reviews’ credibility.

    For many, it marked the death of games journalism.
  • Hot Coffee mod scalds Rockstar (2005)

    When Hilary Clinton is talking about video games, something is definitely wrong. Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was by far the most controversial game of the GTA series thanks to the “Hot Coffee mod” scandal.

    Enthusiastic GTA gamers developed an independent mod that activated a sex minigame, dubbed Hot Coffee, in the PC version of San Andreas. Suggestions the mod only worked to turn on (pardon the pun) a hidden component of the game were rejected by Rockstar, which claimed hackers fumbled extensively with the game’s code to create the [[xref:|salacious sex game |GamePro: GTA: San Andreas Secret Sex Controversy - We Have Pics!]].

    But when Hot Coffee code was discovered on the console versions of San Andreas, the publisher had to swallow its words and admit it had put it there.

    The revelation evoked scathing criticism from several high-profile politicians. Most notable was US Senator Hilary Clinton, who called for tougher regulations on the sale of video games.

    Rockstar was accused of trying to cover Hot Coffee up so it could obtain an M-rating with the US classification board. The game subsequently received an 18+ classification in the US, and it was banned from release in Australia (Australia does not have a [[artnid: 337374| classification for 18+ games | Gamers unite for R18+ classification]]).

    Rockstar launched a "de-caffeinated" version of [[xref:| San Andreas| GamePro: GTA San Andreas Back On Sale]] (which was released with an MA rating locally) and released a patch to block Hot Coffee in the original prints. At the peak of the scandal, a protest was staged at Rockstar’s headquarters with people demanding the company’s execs to be prosecuted.
  • Sony PlayStation 3 launch -- what’s not wrong with it? (2006 – 2007)

    With the Xbox 360’s one year head start, Sony was determined to crush its rival with the much anticipated PlayStation 3.

    In the lead-up to the console's launch, then Sony Entertainment President (and misunderstood genius) Ken Kutaragi embarked on a trash talking campaign against Xbox 360 while simultaneously singing the praises of the impending PS3. Behold his pearls of wisdom:

    "“The PS3 is not a game machine."
    "The next generation doesn't start until we say it does."
    “I believe we made the most beautiful thing in the world. Nobody would criticise a renowned architect’s blueprint that the position of a gate is wrong. It’s the same as that.”
    “With the PS3, our intentions have been to create a machine with supercomputer calculation capabilities for home entertainment.”
    “[Consumers] will work more hours to buy one. We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else.”
    “Microsoft has stated clearly that it is going after PlayStation. However, they're going not after the PlayStation 3, but the PlayStation 2.”
    “Microsoft is still not a black belt.”
    “Is it not nonsense to compare the charge for dinner at the company cafeteria with dinner at a fine restaurant?... If you can have an amazing experience, we believe price is not a problem."

    All this just added to the speculation and pessimism that was already swirling around the unproven machine. It seemed that the pendulum of fate had swung against Sony, with people going out of their way to bash it (who could forget those snarky [[xref:|George Forman Grill comparisons|Playstation 3 Converted Into George Foreman Grill – Gizmodo]]?) But when the PlayStation 3 finally hit stores in 2007, even the hardcore Sony faithful had to reconsider their options.

    At around US$500 for a 20GB version and no Triple A games at launch, the initial fanfare that surrounded the PS3 soon died down. Launch events were [[xref:|attended by below average size crowds|Sony Australia throws a party, nobody shows up – KOTAKU]] and sales [[xref:|dropped dramatically |Will Sony Survive the PS3? – Smart House]] in the console's second week on the market.

    But most heinous of all, Sony failed to mention that PS3 consoles in Australia and Europe (which were released four months later), had zero backwards compatibility with PlayStation 2 games. People who owned a truckload of PS2 games were sold short: if they wanted to keep playing them, they couldn’t trade in the old console to subsidise the cost of the PS3. By the next year, all new PS3s lacked PS2 compatibility worldwide.

    It was a giant kick in the face for faithful PlayStation fans and damaged the PS3 brand considerably.

    Sony has been trying to mend its image ever since.
  • Activision sues Guitar Hero developers (2007)

    The publisher's tiff with Infinity Ward might seem like history repeating itself for those who have followed the ins and outs of Activision over the years.

    In 2007, [[artnid:172900|Activision filed a lawsuit against the three creators of Guitar Hero|Activision sue developers of Guitar Hero -- GamePro]] for scheming to leave the company and start their own business.

    The publisher pulled out all the stops, obtaining restraining orders against the trio to stop them from “taking any steps to market, manufacture, sell, or distribute any guitar or drum based video games”. The game developers were also forbidden from divulging any Activision trade secrets.

    Guitar Hero was the game that made Activision [[xref:|the world’s most profitable publisher]], so it looked like a case of the publisher biting the hand that feeds it. The matter was settled out of court and the developers ended up working on Guitar Hero’s chief rival: Rock Band. The battle of the plastic guitars had begun.
  • Jade Raymond and that comic (2007)

    When Ubisoft decided to take the “Look! A hawt female made this game! Buy it!” promotion route for Assassin’s Creed, it was banking on the assumption sexually frustrated, teenage boys will buy any game with a remote connection to an attractive female (and by association breasts).

    Jade Raymond was the executive producer of Assassin's Creed and Ubisoft milked her sex appeal as a young female excessively and shamelessly. What Ubisoft probably didn’t expect was the backlash that ensued. One gamer, who was so sick of seeing Jade Raymond’s face on every bit of Assassin’s Creed promo material [[xref:|he made a ‘satirical’ pornographic comic]] depicting the producer naked and performing various sexual acts on a bunch of geeky dudes to flog the game.

    The comic was posted on the Website SomethingAwful. Ubisoft sued. The comic was removed from site. But since it is impossible to kill anything on the Internet, the comic work is still doing the rounds in cyberspace today.

    Lesson? Don’t assume all gamers are horny morons (or male heterosexuals).
  • Xbox bans ‘Gaywood’ (2008)

    Proving there is a fine line between political correctness and overreaction is Microsoft’s banning of Richard Gaywood’s Xbox Live account. The UK gentleman had used his real name as his Xbox Live gamertag: RichardGaywood. Unfortunately for him, [[xref:|Microsoft saw it fit to bar his account|Xbox Live "Gay" Crackdown MIGHT Be Getting A Little Out Of Hand -- Kotaku]] after a complaint was lodged by another Xbox Live member.

    "At the time I mostly felt bemused," Gaywood recalls. "One of the things that most baffled me was where they drew the line. What if I live in Scunthorpe and my name is Hancock? What if my name is innocuous in English but rude in Spanish? ...Wanker is quite a common surname in Germany. I just thought it was very silly."

    Despite discovering that Richard was, indeed, a legitimate Gaywood, Microsoft refused to reinstate the gamertag. According to the company, while the surname is real, “it may not be obvious to other Xbox LIVE members".

  • Teen kills parents over Halo 3 (2008)

    We’re all guilty of being annoyed at the punishments our parents hand down to us, but blowing their brains out for not letting you play a video game might just be a tad bit extreme. But that is exactly what Daniel Petric did. The US teen, who was 16 years of age at the time, had tried to smuggle Halo 3 into his house despite his folks banning him from playing the game. After his parents discovered the deception and confiscated the game from him, Petric grabbed a handgun from his parents’ lockbox (which, incidentally, also contained the copy of Halo 3) and shot his parents in the head. He tried to frame his dad for the shooting but, unfortunately for Petric, his old man actually survived.

    Petric use his "video games addiction" as a defence in an effort to obtain a lenient sentence. The judge didn’t buy it, however, sentencing him to 23 years in prison and cementing him as the poster child for anti-video-game zealots.
  • Infinity Ward gets busted by Activision (1 March, 2010)

    When [[xref:|security guards invaded Infinity Ward’s headquarters| Security arrival and management changes cause worry at Infinity Ward ]] last month, we all knew something big was going to happen — but we didn’t know how big.

    Initial reports claimed the heavies were called in at the behest of the developer’s parent company, Activision.

    Soon after that news was leaked, [[xref:|Infinity Ward senior execs Jason West and Vince Zampella were given the chop| Top Infinity Ward devs fired for ‘insubordination,’ lawsuits ‘expected’ -News at GameSpot]]. We’re not talking about managers for in-game pot plant designs here: West was Infinity Ward's president and Zampella its cofounder. They were basically the people behind the highly successful Call of Duty series.

    The reason? The duo was reportedly sniffing out another publisher for Infinity Ward after Activision allegedly failed hand over royalties for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Considering the game’s US and UK sales hit US$310 million 24 hours after its release, it is a lot of money to fight for.

    A West and Zampella vs. Activision showdown is brewing, with the two former execs suing the publisher.

    Activision maintains Infinity Ward will remain an integral part of Call of Duty game franchise [[artnid:338199|but we’ll have to see how the case pans out|Infinity Ward scandal: Did Activision kill the goose that laid the golden egg? -- GamePro]].
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