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Gamasutra's Best Of 2008: Top 10 Controversies

Gamasutra's Best Of 2008: Top 10 Controversies Exclusive

December 22, 2008 | By Leigh Alexander

December 22, 2008 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Throughout December, Gamasutra will be presenting a year-end retrospective, discussing notable games, events, developers, and industry figures of 2008, from the perspective of our position covering the art, science, and business of games.

Previously: 2008's top disappointments, downloadable titles, overlooked games, gameplay mechanics, indie games, surprises, PC games, trends, handheld games and developers.

Next, we'll look at this year's ten biggest controversies, the public issues that fueled the big disputes and blog hits, alongside the industry moments that drew enough attention for their impact to resonate into the coming year.

Video Games and the Music Biz: Who Needs Who More?

Activision CEO Bobby Kotick went to war with words against Warner Music CEO Edgar Bronfman over whether games like Guitar Hero are helping keep music artists afloat -- or whether the games would sink without the songs.

Bronfman stated that, given that band games depend on their track lists, the amount of royalties the industry pays is "far too small", while Kotick retorted that such comments were not "respectful of how much we've done to bring new audiences into the market."

Although the long-term outlook for the popularity of band games continues to be in dispute, it's inarguable that neither party can do without the other. Kotick points out, however, that Activision's Guitar Hero: Aerosmith generated more revenue for the band than any individual Aerosmith album.

LittleBigPlanet's Qur'an Lyrics

Media Molecule said it felt "shellshocked and gutted" when its long-awaited LittleBigPlanet was yanked back just at the cusp of its launch, after audio samples from the Qur'an, Islam's holy book, were discovered in the game's soundtrack.

Many Muslims consider the use of the Qur'an in music to be an offense, although the song's artist Toumani Diabate, a Grammy-winning Muslim himself, explained at length the context for the music.

Case of paranoia? Perhaps, but Muslim groups praised Sony's decision to be extra-respectful, while fans bemoaned the extra days' delay.

Electronic Arts' Bid For Take Two

The great big battle royale for the fate of Take-Two went on all year, through numerous bid renewals, FTC investigations, sports monopoly worries, nondisclosure agreements and, ultimately, a surrender.

The hostile takeover attempt drew the attention of Wall Street because of its similarity to Microsoft's languishing bid for Yahoo!. But it also attracted game fans largely thanks to what EA CEO John Riccitiello calls a "personal narrative" -- the visual of two powerful CEOs who both refused to yield their position.

Even analysts wondered if ego didn't play a role in the power struggle somewhere. The coming year is sure to yield some insight on the wisdom of both companies' positions.

Spore's DRM Debacle

Fans had awaited Will Wright's latest project since 2005. But the launch of Spore was met not so much with discussion of its game mechanics, but with a firestorm of controversy around its digital rights management system.

Those who stood in opposition to the title's comparatively rigid DRM fought back, inundating the game's Amazon listings with negative reviews -- and at one point reducing the title's user rating to a single star.

More importantly, the Spore issue brought to light just how complex the issue of game piracy is. And it increased the urgency on organizations like the PC Gaming Alliance to lead the charge in evaluating how piracy's impact on sales can be measured.

Ultimately, BitTorrent news site TorrentFreak claimed that Spore is the most-pirated game of all time, and armchair analysts speculate that the title was made to receive retribution for its copy protection methods.

Mythic's Crediting Controversy

Mythic Entertainment's drew fire when it was revealed that its new MMO, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning would only credit those staff members currently working at the developer, a move the International Game Developers Association immediately called "disrespectful".

The debate was on -- does providing credits to all employees on a project, regardless of their status, remove their incentive to stay with the company until the project's done?

IGDA chairperson Jennifer MacLean called that assertion "arbitrary, unfair and in some cases even vindictive... they simply don't hold up."

In the end, Mythic emerged as a studio on the forefront of thorough employee crediting. It announced its intention to create an online database that will list the names of all staff members who contribute to its projects. The IGDA's MacLean later apologized to Mythic's Mark Jacobs.

Itagaki Takes On Tecmo

Already a controversial figure in part for his vocal criticisms of other developers' work, Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden creator Tomonobu Itagaki claimed he was entitled to a $1.4 million completion bonus from Tecmo regarding Dead or Alive 4.

Itagaki abruptly resigned and filed suit, which might have prompted others to take on Tecmo. Shortly thereafter, 300 other employees raised a class-action suit against the company for unpaid overtime and an illegal "flexible hours" work scheme. Tecmo has yet to resolve things with Itagaki, but in the meantime, has slapped the vocal developer with a gag order.

"Stop Doing Interviews"

A spat erupted at Activision over the Call of Duty franchise, when, promoting Call of Duty: World at War, publisher-side senior producer Noah Heller was apparently too vocal for some tastes on all the shortfalls of CoD4 that CoD5 would address.

Robert Bowling, community manager at CoD4 developer Infinity Ward, posted a rant on his personal blog entreating Heller to "stop doing interviews," to "promote YOUR game" instead of comparing it to others.

He also pleaded with the media to stop interviewing Heller -- whom he now-famously referred to as "Senior Super Douche" -- and speak instead to the development team at CoD5 developer Treyarch directly.

(This controversy was so pungent that Gamasutra staffer Chris Remo recently used his spare time to set it to music, with delectable results.)

Wilson And Romero Revisit The Past

When Doom creator John Romero referred to former Ion Storm colleague Mike Wilson's work with his venture, the now-defunct Gamecock Media Group, as "jackass stunts," Wilson fired back in an open letter to consumer weblog Kotaku, opening an old argument -- who was responsible for those ill-advised Daikatana ads?

"Unlike you, I didn't get to file a federal trademark for my own personal catch phrase, 'Suck it Down,'" dug Wilson, offering many eyes a look inside the long-running dispute.

The public spat featured fairly gruesome mudslinging from both sides, backhanded snark and lots of public airing of unresolved grievances. Ugly.

Salary Cap Collusion in Montreal?

A former Eidos employee reached out to fellow publishers in Montreal to suggest a "collaboration" to "avoid a bid for higher wages which would only benefit the employee."

That employee, Flavie Tremblay, was allegedly let go from Eidos at that time, and it's still unclear the extent to which any Montreal companies colluded on salary caps, if at all.

But Tremblay, who worked at Ubisoft prior to Eidos, was subsequently re-hired by Ubisoft, and the latest information suggests she still works there. Most parties involved are tight-lipped, but is Tremblay's continued employment an endorsement of her efforts?

ESA Sees Mass Exodus

Throughout the year, the Entertainment Software Association saw a slate of high-profile departures including Activision, Vivendi and LucasArts.

The accompanying discussion suggested big publishers were beginning to question the benefit of the association -- and its E3 event, which has struggled to find its groove amid changes to its formula in recent years.

The publisher departures brought a wave of questions about new president Mike Gallagher's leadership, the function and future of E3, and the cost-benefit equation of ESA memberships that may have prompted the association to announce it would try to return E3 to some of its former glitz and glamor in 2009. Next year will be key for the association to answer some of those lingering questions.

Other Controversies: The PSP 3000's unfixable scan lines, GTA IV's PC release, Activision's Kotick wants franchises with the "potential to be exploited", PEGI vs. BBFC war for UK ratings dominance, Microsoft knew about the Xbox 360's disc-scratching problem, Factor 5 employee reveals studio problems.

[Did we miss anything? What issue do you think stirred the pot the most this year? Feel free to comment below. We'll pick the best reader comments on each list for our final retrospective, to debut on Gamasutra close to the holidays.]

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