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Rumour has it that the decrepit Arkham Knight port beat a retreat on account of Steam refunds. After all, what better way to get a dastardly developer to blush and shuffle its hooves than to reverse its cash flow? Until June, when no-questions-asked refunds came into force, such a feat was impossible. Perhaps, after years of pro-consumer jabs at Microsoft and other corporates, Valve sought to make a material gesture that player interests are truly the heart of the Steam empire. Or perhaps they dislike being sued. Hint: they are currently being sued.
By now, you ve likely encountered a shop and have a reasonable feeling about how refunds should work: if it doesn t do what it s meant to, you take it back. Nothing could be simpler. Refunds for digital products or, as is often the case, licenses for digital products are a legal hellscape of false assertions and misinformation, in large part a product of outdated legislation that no one is keen to test in court. To sift through the muck, I got in touch with Ryan Morrison, founder of the New York law firm by the same name (and no relation of mine this side of the 17th century). Whether you re European, Stateside or in the wrong hemisphere altogether, here s the plain English version of where and through which service your purchases are best protected and why some retailers still risk refusing refunds.
The likelihood is that, if you played Aliens: Colonial Marines or Duke Nukem Forever, you didn't much care for them. Maybe they were buggy, or maybe they didn't look as good as you expected, or maybe they were just offensive. For a variety of reasons, lots of gamers just did not like them. But Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford insists that he did—and he knows how much that bugs people.
"I liked [Colonial Marines]. And it frustrates the people who didn't to hear me say that," Pitchford said in a long and wide-ranging interview with Eurogamer. "It's almost like they want to hear me say, yeah, it was rubbish. But it would be a lie for me to say it. I actually like, fuck, I like Duke Nukem Forever. I thought it was brilliant. I did! I know I'm not objective. But when I say that you should go, that guy's clearly not objective. Why would you expect me to be objective? Have you ever seen weird, bizarre art you don't even understand? The artist who created it clearly did it for a reason and loved it, you know."
Most of the interview is about the critical and commercial failures of the games, and some of it we've heard before: Pitchford defends against claims that the release version of Colonial Marines didn't look as good a promotional videos by talking about the removal of shattered glass and blood in a sequence that appeared in a pre-release demo, something he'd spoken about previously (and in a very similar fashion) in an interview with IGN. But he makes an interesting point about how the suggestion that those pre-release demos were intentionally misleading is an "absurd premise," because of the relatively small impact they have on the game's overall sales.
"Pre-orders for [Colonial Marines] were sub-150,000 units global. About 130,000 units. The game ended up selling 1.5m. The pre-orders are less than 10 per cent," he said. "And if you build bad will, you have no hope of a tail. So any strategy that's predicated on that is a failed strategy before it begins. That is not a strategy that can ever win. And it's not a strategy that any rational marketer should ever even consider."
I don't agree with Pitchford's assessment that it's all just, like, your opinion, man—which is to say that all opinions on Aliens: Colonial Marines and Duke Nukem Forever are entirely subjective, there was clearly a consensus that they'd fallen short of expectation—but he makes some interesting points. Whether they're enough to change your mind is, well, your opinion.
My favorite thing about the legal action filed over Aliens: Colonial Marines is the way Sega tried to portray Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford as a loose cannon. He was initially seen as a "respected development celebrity" who would help garner coverage but, like a cane toad in Australia, once he got going, there was apparently no stopping him.
Now that the matter is effectively over, Pitchford is speaking his mind again. "That whole thing was a huge waste of time," he said in an interview with GamesIndustry. "The market proved it was doing its job perfectly. The market is dispassionate—rewarding what it likes and punishing what it doesn't. There is an objectivity and fairness in the open market's harsh, firm justice."
But while the market worked as it should—and by that, I assume he means that people found out that Colonial Marines was a train wreck and opted to spend their money on more worthwhile things, like temporary tattoos—Pitchford believes the the legal system failed. The courts were manipulated by "what appeared to me to be essentially Mafia-style extortion tactics," he said, and it would've worked, too, if it weren't for those pesky kids at Gearbox.
"Those guys made a mistake in naming us as defendants because we stood up to them. That's all it took—someone to stand up to them," he said. "And so they lost since they didn't have a legitimate case."
The Aliens: Colonial Marines lawsuit was filed against Sega and Gearbox in 2013, but while Sega eventually offered to settle for $1.25 million, Gearbox refused. Back in May, that turned out to be a wise move: The studio was dropped from the suit and the judge in the case declined to certify it as a class action.
Gearbox Software, the studio that developed dreadful nonsense in the misshapen form of Aliens: Colonial Marines [official site], have been dropped from a lawsuit that claimed the developers – with publishers Sega – falsely advertised the Aliens game with unrepresentative demos.
It appears as though Gearbox made the correct move last year when it refused to settle the Aliens: Colonial Marines lawsuit filed against it and publisher Sega in 2013. Polygon reported today that the plaintiffs in the suit have agreed to drop the complaint against Gearbox, in exchange for Gearbox agreeing not to seek legal fees.
The suit was originally filed over claims that the game did not match what was promised in pre-release promotional trailers. Gearbox asked to be removed from the action last year, saying it just made the thing and had nothing to do with publishing or selling it. Sega, meanwhile, blamed Gearbox, and particularly studio boss Randy Pitchford, for loose-cannon marketing and making promises it couldn't keep. In August of last year, Sega agreed to settle the matter for $1.25 million, but the plaintiffs couldn't agree to terms with Gearbox.
Now, however, Gearbox is out, and further, the judge in the case has declined to certify it as a class action, meaning that only the original two plaintiffs are now being represented. The judge ruled that the proposed class, which would have included everyone in the US who bought the game, was too broad because it included people who may not have seen the misleading trailer; a proposal to have class applicants swear that they had seen it before preordering the game wasn't sufficient.
The documents also indicate that the remaining plaintiffs have until June 3 to decide how they want to proceed with Sega.
If you've lost sleep over the absence of Aliens: Colonial Marines and the 2010 version of Alien vs Predator on Steam, then it's time to relax: they're back. Both Sega-published games disappeared from Steam and several other services late last year, and while no explanation was provided it was likely due to some dizzyingly complicated licensing conditions.
You're probably not overly concerned by the disappearance of one of the most notoriously poor video games of the last decade, but sometimes when licenses expire, games disappear from digital storefronts for good: a deal between Activision and Marvel expired at the start of 2014, leading to the removal of, um, Deadpool. It's still not back.
Here's hoping this doesn't happen, even temporarily, to Alien: Isolation, which took our Game of the Year gong for 2014.
Two Sega-published xenomorph-based games - Aliens: Colonial Marines and Rebellion's 2010 version of Aliens vs Predator - are no longer available to purchase directly through steam.
Some might think it's because they're pap, but it's likely because of licenses expiring and all of that silly gubbins that's hard for us normies to understand.
Basically it's a regular thing for licensing issues to stop games from being on sale via certain outlets - we've seen it with a bunch of Activision's licensed titles in recent years, as well as a similar situation with Crysis 2 the other year.
It's alright though, you can still buy both titles in physical form, and digital stores like Green Man Gaming offer both that can still be activated on Steam. (Here and here, in case you want to punish yourself).
And it's even more alright because you can continue to ignore a terrible game (Colonial Marines) and a devastatingly average one (AvP), instead picking up our game of the year, Alien: Isolation, or the infinitely better non-2010 version of Aliens vs Predator.
Fallout 3 begins in Vault 101, an underground nuclear shelter that s been sealed away from the outside world for well over a century. When the player character reaches the age of sixteen, they tussle with a group of obnoxious delinquents calling themselves the Tunnel Snakes. They re greasers in the classic mould, with leather jackets, slicked quiffs, and bad attitudes.
This is Fallout s thing, of course. Its world is a kitschy retro-future, as predicted on the pages of pulpy 1950s science fiction. But replaying the game recently, it struck me just how little sense the Tunnel Snakes make, even in this fantastical, stylised universe.
Think about it. They re greasers—a subculture that emerged around a passion for motorcycles, hot rods, and kustoms—in a closed-off bunker of narrow tunnels, where where there are no roads or vehicles to speak of. Then there s those matching leather jackets they all wear with the intricate snake emblems on the back. Where did they get them? How did they make them?
According to Fallout lore, Vault dwellers wear matching blue-and-yellow jumpsuits with the number of whichever one they happen to live in printed on them. So why are the Tunnel Snakes wearing these jackets, and where do you get a biker-style leather jacket in a place that, presumably, has limited raw materials and no means to produce them? Where did they get the leather?
Jesus, who cares? you re probably thinking to yourself. They put greasers in because it s a 50s thing, and Fallout is a riff on 50s American culture, and they needed some kind of antagonist for the player during the Vault sequence. Yeah, sure, I could suspend my disbelief—and they are pretty funny, I suppose—but, to me, they re indicative of a larger problem in game design: style over function.
Stanley Kubrick was a filmmaker known for his obsessive attention to detail. In the documentary Stanley Kubrick s Boxes , journalist Jon Ronson digs through crates of archive material from the production of the late director s films, revealing the meticulous, fastidious research that went into their creation.
Mind-bending sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey demonstrates this perfectly. Everything in the film—from those great, spinning space stations to the infamous zero-gravity toilet on Heywood Floyd s shuttle—was designed with its function in mind. Kubrick and his team thought about how these things would actually work, and their designs were informed by science and astronautics, not by what looked cool.
It looks cool" is, unfortunately, the only thought that goes into a lot of video game designs—the costumes in Assassin s Creed being a prime example. The hood is an elegant, recognisable visual link between the games, but can you imagine sprinting and climbing around the Caribbean in Kenway s elaborate pirate get-up? Or hopping across the sun-battered rooftops of Constantinople in Ezio s frilly layers?
Alta r s white robes made more sense in the first game. There were fewer layers, increasing his mobility and keeping the Middle-Eastern heat at bay, and he could blend in with those groups of robe-wearing scholars. But with every game, more bits have been added to the costumes, and now they just look over-designed. They re supposedly a secretive, underground order of hired killers, yet they all wear matching hooded uniforms and elaborate belt buckles in the shape of their logo.
There s a bit in Aliens: Colonial Marines where you discover that Weyland-Yutani have—surprise, surprise—been conducting sinister, top secret experiments in the famous derelict ship. Except all the equipment and storage crates littered around the place bear their logo. Not to mention the fact that the crashed ship would have been destroyed by the explosion at the end of Aliens along with Hadley s Hope. Gearbox tried to retcon this in some follow-up DLC, but I m not buying it. They just thought, hey, wouldn't it be cool if you got to visit the derelict? And that s where their thought process ended.
To a lot of you, this will sound like nitpicking insanity. Just play the game, idiot! Who cares about all these dumb little details? you re screaming at your monitor, red in the face. Well, I do, obviously. But beyond my own tedious appreciation for practical, considered design, it ultimately makes games better.
Ridley Scott s Alien is one of the most remarkable feats of production design in film, and still stands up to this day. Have you seen the Blu-ray? It looks beautiful, and hasn t aged a bit, despite the chunky late 70s tech and flickering CRT monitors. This is thanks not only to the directing eye of Scott and the horrifying psychosexual art of H.R. Giger, but also concept artists Chris Foss and Ron Cobb s contributions.
I resent films that are so shallow they rely entirely on their visual effects, and of course science fiction films are notorious for this, said Cobb in 1979 s The Book of Alien. I've always felt that there's another way to do it: a lot of effort should be expended toward rendering the environment of the spaceship—or whatever the fantastic setting of your story should be—as convincingly as possible, but always in the background. That way the story and the characters emerge and they become more real.
This is why 2001 and Alien still look amazing, despite being, respectively, 45 and 35 years old. The interior of the Nostromo was so believable, Giger said in Famous Monsters magazine. I hate these new-looking spacecraft. You feel like they re just built for the movie you re seeing. They don t look real. Cobb, Foss, and Scott, like Kubrick before them, thought about the practicalities of the things they were creating, and they ve become timeless as a result—something I hope to see more of in games as they slowly leave their adolescence and become a more confident, refined artform.
So maybe it doesn t matter where the Tunnel Snakes got those leather biker jackets, or if they do indeed rule. But if video games are ever going to create worlds as enduring and convincing as the films mentioned here, and countless other examples I could list, they re going to have to start thinking about their designs beyond just aesthetics and the shallow concept of cool.
As Sega and Gearbox scrap over liability in the class action lawsuit from folks who bought Aliens: Colonial Marines and felt more than a mite deceived, it’s getting a bit messy. Sega have dug out a big bag of internal e-mails to establish who exactly is responsible for some of the misleading marketing, including the E3 2011 demo that looked better than the finished game. Naturally they’re saying Gearbox were complicit, and that at times Gearbox president Randy Pitchford was “doing whatever the fuck he likes”. Oof.