Some people don't like Zynga very much. In the wake of news last week that the FarmVille makers laid off 5% of their worldwide staff (around 150 people), some people really don't like Zynga very much.
At least one person is channeling that hatred into a full-on threat, posting on the Anon-News forums that he or she has obtained access to some confidential Zynga files. The poster says that the files will be released on November 5 if Zynga does not "cease immediately the plan." What plan? It's not very clear.
Here's the full letter, all spelling, grammar, and sentence structure left intact:
We did launch phase 1 of operation maZYNGA with release of the confidential documents leaked from the executives of Zynga. On november the fifth we will release the key to the data files. Remember , Remember the 5TH of November.
Zynga customers and Facebook users , We are anonymous . During the last few days anonymous has been targeting Zynga for the outrageous treatment of their employees and their actions against many developers .
We have come to believe that this actions of Zynga will result in massive layoff of a thousand people and legal actions against everyone that speaks to the public about this plan.
It will also come to end of the US game market as we know it as all this jobs will be replaced in other more convenient financial countries.
With a billion dollars cash sitting in a bank we do believe that such actions are an insult to the population and the behaviour of corporations like Zynga must change.
Anonymous could not allow this to happen so it's starting to release confidential documents we have leaked on this plan
As we speak we are planning to release also all the games we've taken from their servers for free.
That being said we will stop the idea of the distribution of such games if Zynga will cease immediately the plan.
Now let's take this with some healthy skepticism, as just about anyone in the world could hop on an AnonNews forum and threaten Zynga. This sort of posting does not necessarily mean that there's a full-scale organized attack by Anonymous in the works: since the hacking "organization" is so amorphous and free-flowing, it's tough to tell if this is a threat with teeth or just some random person's rant.
And there isn't much proof to back up these claims: I tried downloading the files linked by the Anon poster, but they don't seem to be available anymore. The YouTube link is also down.
Also relevant: this flier (via @martinhollis). Click to see the whole thing:
Ouch. So what do you think? Should Zynga cease immediately the plan?
[AnonNews via Rock Paper Shotgun]
Now kiss! Rovio doesn't deliver sibling smooching in this first gameplay teaser for Angry Birds Star Wars, but they do give us Lightsaber swinging and pink Force-pulling, so I'll forgive them.
Is it possible for a pair of cartoon birds to possess a smoldering sexual tension? You probably shouldn't answer that. Just enjoy the strangeness of this bizarre crossover, due out November 8 on Android, iOS, PC and Mac.
Whenever starting one of these App of the Day pieces, it's sometimes good to have a lead sentence that eases the reader into the article. Not this time. I'll get right to the point: Punch Quest might be one of the most enjoyable iOS games I've played all year.
I guess the game would fall into the "endless runner" subgenre in which you try to make it (well, run, to be technical) as far as you can before being defeated, killed, whatever. It's become a worn genre, but Punch Quest breathes new life into it.
In Punch Quest, you have the endless runner mechanic, but there's a twist: combat. On the lower right, there's a "Dash Punch" button, and on the lower left, there's "Slam/Uppercut" button, which is akin to jump, but with punching.
The first couple of plays, it's easy to think that's all there is and to be completely unaware of how deep the combat is. You can level up and unlock new attacks, by spending "Punchos", the in-game currency you earn while playing. As you unlock each new move, combat becomes more and more interesting. The different paths you can take while playing makes the endless runner element more interesting, too, along with the several minibosses the game throws into the mix.
The gameplay is well done, and I really like the look and feel of the game. I mean, you get to ride a dinosaur that shoots a laser out of its mouth! But what really sealed the deal for me was that this free-to-play game never really pressured me to spend real money to get more Punchos. That, oddly enough, made me want to spend money to unlock things.
Actually, the game is so hands-off about that, you could really forget that this is a free-to-play game. It is, and it's wonderful.
Punch Quest [Free, iTunes]
Did you love the NES era? Sure you did. And even if you didn't, you do now, because that's how nostalgia works.
But do you love it enough to rock out to it Queen-style?
Because on a day like this, we could all use more singing cartridges and reminders that actually, a bunch of the games of our bygone eras really were a pain in the butt.
Today brings news, in the form of an official Square-Enix press release, that Final Fantasy XIV's "grand finale," which seems like an odd thing for a company to be announcing regarding their embarrassingly flawed, overly complex and just not very well-liked massively multiplayer online game.
But when Square refers to a "grand finale", they really just mean the end of FFXIV as players knew it, giving way to a reboot of the game under the banner A Realm Reborn.
The company says that character data from the current game will be saved "for the last time" on Halloween, October 31. This will be tied to a story event that will end the game world at midnight (Pacific tie) on November 11 and then transfer character data to FFXIV: A Realm Reborn.
If you are an FFXIV subscriber, you can apply to be an alpha tester for A Realm Reborn at this link. The publisher notes that "each phase will consist of multiple cycles of 'test and tweak,'" no doubt trying to assure people that the game will not be the mess the original FFXIV was.
In December of 2010, shortly after the MMO's release, Square-Enix chief Yoichi Wada apologized for the game: "While more than two months have passed since the official launch of Final Fantasy XIV service, we deeply regret that the game has yet to achieve the level of enjoyability that Final Fantasy fans have come to expect from the franchise, and for this we offer our sincerest of apologies."
Our Mike Fahey, who played FFXIV a lot, said the game's main problem was that it was just too complex, too loaded up with menus for performing even the simplest actions and had ill-defined classes. The new version, with more traditional classes, streamlines combat and crafting, he says, looks better.
It's called "Surprise" and it was directed by Guy Ritchie and it involves a lot of people blowing each other up, including Tony Stark. That's about all you need to know.
Black Ops II is out on November 13 for just about every platform you can think of.
Now I need your help. I recognize Robert Downey Jr. obviously, but I don't know who anyone else in this trailer is. Do you recognize them? Let me know below.
Anna Marsh and Sarah van Rompaey are a pair of video game industry veterans, having worked on big-budget titles including Tomb Raider Anniversary and Underworld. Together with graphic artist Gabriella Pavan they formed Lady Shotgun, a part-time game studio run by full-time moms. Here's their first game.
Buddha Finger is a rhythm game inspired by Nintendo DS hit Elite Beat Agents and the martial arts movies of the 70s, two of the finest things anyone can be inspired by. The ten-person Lady Shotgun team (six female, four not-female) worked part-time hours from home to craft the $.99 game, a schedule that would have been impossible to maintain in console development circles.
It's a nifty game. Almost as nifty as finding a way to be there for your children while still pursuing your passion. As a work-from-home dad, I can dig it.
Buddha Finger [iTunes]
Editor's note: A couple of weeks ago, we published a story about people who pirate Halo 4. The game has not been officially released, but people were pirating it left and right. A former video game reporter and critic in Russia named Tim Seyfelmlyukov read that story and reached out to me. There was nothing strange about all this piracy to him: in Russia, he told me, just about everyone pirates games. Intrigued, I asked him to write about his experiences in a country where he'd tell you that anyone who wants to play Halo 4 is already playing Halo 4.
In my former career as a game journalist I wrote quite a few game reviews. I had owned an Xbox 360 since 2008 and had a PlayStation 3 debug console-for reviewing early games-since 2010. I reviewed most games on the 360. Sometimes a week or two before release I'd get a copy with a "Not for Sale" yellow sign. I would play it a little bit, beat it, and then write a review.
Here in Russia while playing a review copy you can be 100% sure that half of your friend list is already playing the game. Some hardcore players have already beaten it (sometimes for full fledged 1000 Gamerscore). So how does the journalist feel when he's writing a review for a game everyone is already playing? It's quite strange and awkward. I think there were about 10 guys on my friend list playing Dishonored a week before release date. Last week there were a few guys playing Halo 4 in co-op sitting in a comfortable Xbox Live party fearing totally nothing. FIFA13 a week before the street date playing online? Sure! Resident Evil 6 a month before the release and with half of the achievements unlocked: check!
What's the problem with the gaming industry in Russia?
First. The games are expensive. Like very expensive. The ordinary price for the console version of Max Payne 3 in a local retailer like "Eldorado" or "Technosila" is $85 (2700 rubles). You can search the web and find some barely legal shops which sell it for $48 (1500 rubles)—mostly imported copies from Europe. If you are truly short on money then it is possible to dig a little deeper and find some forums like Xboxland and Xboxrussia where you can buy a used copy for a super cheap price of $28 (900 rubles). That's how it goes as far as legal way of obtaining games.
But I have to say that all of the above-mentioned ways are applicable only to big cities like Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and alike. If you are "lucky" enough to live in a small city with 500k population you're gonna be stuck with this price scheme: $85 for a new game in local retailer and $50 for a used game. In Moscow the average monthly salary is 52.000 rubles ($1650), according to Moscow officials, but in most of the Russian cities people make their living with 17.000 rubles ($540). Not really suitable to fork out $85 for a game while paying for rent and loans, is it? So most Russian gamers pirate.
Second. Is it hard to pirate a console game? The answer is no.
You have to jailbreak your PS3 or mod your Xbox 360. The average price for such service is about 1500 rubles ($48). There are hundreds of people who do it extremely fast. They don't fear anyone and do it openly in some shopping malls.
Then, you need to get a game. With the Russian Internet being quite good now—a stable 20 Mbps or higher connection is present in almost every city—a console game can be downloaded from thousands of torrent trackers and file sharing sites in 45 minutes or even less. Next, you need to burn the game and upload it to your HDD. So there has to be a PC for this stuff. If there is none, you just go to a local, unofficial gaming shop and buy a pirated game already burnt to a DVD with printed artwork and a box with cover. It's a no-brainer as there are lots of such shops that sell pirated games, music CDs, DVDs and other media almost openly, especially in big "tech" malls such as "Gorbushka" and "Savelovsky" in Moscow. The price is about 300 rubles ($10). And this would be almost legal because the shop even issues a receipt.
And if you want to do it at home, the process is totally simplified. Just buy some blank dual-layered DVD+Rs, download games and burn them with special software. It's even possible to play online. Your Xbox has been banned? No problem, you sell it for $100 on your local Xbox forum or on the Russian Craigslist wannabe named "Avito", buy another one there in nearly mint condition for $160 and mod it for $48. Here you go, until the next ban. Sony and Microsoft do sell their consoles officially in Russia. But nothing stops people from reselling them. Banned Xboxes are really cheap and are often used for offline play and also for Freeboot modding—JTagging and enabling games and homebrew that boot right from harddrive. On forums and through online auctions old Xboxes from 2007 or 2008 cost around 5000-7000 rubles ($160-$224) rubles depending on condition and accessories included. Slim Xboxes cost around 7000-9000 rubles ($224-$288), also depending on what's included, sometimes even with Kinect. The new official Xbox is 10000 rubles ($320) for the 250GB version and 14000 ($450) with Kinect and 250GB. The pricing is quite the same for PS3 - 11000-15000 rubles).
So let's dig into some figures. All of them are unofficially provided by my friends and former colleagues in publishing companies, retailers and platform holders. There are about 1.7 million Xbox 360s and about 1 million PS3s sold in Russia. My sources told me that the current install base is estimated as 1.2 million 360s and 700 thousand PS3s (some consoles were broken, some exchanged). There were more Xboxes sold because it was always easier to mod them and still play online. Jailbroken PS3s mostly can't get online. And now check this out: the best-selling games like FIFA and Call of Duty sell 3000-10000 copies per platform. Only 500-1000 copies of games like Enslaved or Shadows of the Damned are sold in Russia. The most popular officially-sold games are the family games (dancing, racing sims, kids and other Kinect stuff) beside such huge hits in Russia as Call of Duty and FIFA.
So my fellows in different retailers are saying the same thing: "The consoles are selling quite ok but the games are treated like an additional commodity, accessories. Nobody is interested in selling them". That's why all the big retailers are filled with such games as Fallout 3, Tekken 6, old Need for Speed installments and other old stuff. People don't buy games at big retailers. And shops are totally uninterested in selling games.
But if you watch forums, gaming sites, ask your friends, look at your friend lists, everyone is playing Call of Duty, Battlefield, FIFA, Need For Speed, Borderlands, GTA. So if people don't buy these games, it's obvious they pirate them. If asked about pirating games almost anyone says: "Games are expensive, I can't afford them but I want to play them." Since there is almost no law enforcement going after people playing pirated games or distributing them on the web, people do it everywhere in Russia. Most of them are even proud of cutting their costs and fucking over "greedy developers/ publishers." The problem, some will say, is industry "greed."
After years of talking to hundreds of people and seeing thousands of forum comments I can say that the majority of gamers who pirate games don't understand that developers don't want to make games for pirates. If they don't get money they don't make games. It's that simple. But everyone is laughing and saying "let the stupid Americans pay for their games."
Things are getting better. My sources in the retail and modding community are saying that everyone is tired of modding their Xboxes and PS3s. So Russians are now cautiously getting into used games. It's really easy to buy some used games for the price from $10 (like Mass Effect or Call of Duty 4) to $48 (Dishonored, Darksiders 2). Gamers are starting to understand and cherish the online services which are unavailable for their modded consoles. (Even those 360s with modded harddrives that are running Halo 4 these days might get banned; so for some it becomes less of a hassle not to pirate.)
If games become more affordable then people are going to buy them a lot. Look at PC gaming. PC games are priced a lot cheaper in Russia (though region-locked ,sometimes), not to mention those legendary Steam sales. For example: Borderlands 2 for PC costs in retail about 600 rubles ($19) and Xbox 360 or PS3 version will empty your pocket for 1800-2600 rubles ($58-83) depending on your luck. That's why PC gaming is really strong in Russia. And that's why barely anybody buys console games.
And you know what happened this morning? Black Ops 2 was pirated because some shops broke street date.
Moscow-based Timur Seyfelmliukov has been a gamer since 1993. He started writing amateur articles about games when he was 15. In 2010 he became an editor of the dedicated gaming section in Lenta.ru, the biggest Russian-language news site. Beside his main job he covered games for Russian media outlets including RIA Novosti, RIA TV, Digit.ru, Games TV, Xboxtra and Gamemag. Now Timur is the head of PR in Boomstarter, a Russian crowdfunding platform created after the huge success of Kickstarter. Though busy at his main occupation Tim is still a passionate gamer and sometimes give his opinion about games to Russian media.
Top Pic: The Kremlin, at sunset, via the Flickr feed of John Leach.
Maybe you held off from getting and playing Skyrim last year, thanks to either the tingling of your wizardly instincts or an emptiness of wallet. Whether you waited or couldn't get it a year ago, you can get a Premium edition of Bethesda's hit action/RPG hybrid.
According to Examiner.com, the enhanced release of The Elder Scrolls V will be packed in with a bonus disc with behind-the-scenes content, trailers, walkthroughs, five music tracks and a 600-page e-book. The Premium Edition reportedly also comes with a map of the game's environs, a t-shirt with the dragon emblem and postcards featuring concept art.
Amazon.de lists the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the Premium Edition at €59.99 (about $77.36) with a PC counterpart costing €49.99 on the PC (approximately $64.47). The product has a release date of December 7 on the online retailer listing.
Bethesda Softworks—publisher of Skyrim—has told Kotaku that the Premium Edition will be only available in some territories in Europe, with the U.K., Benelux, and Germany the only ones announced so far.
First images and details for premium edition of ‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' [Examiner.com, via Polygon]