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Gaming Roundup – Publishers Behaving Badly

Hello! Welcome to the latest Geeky Brummie Gaming Roundup!

This week, publishers are getting into trouble. Plus a bunch of new releases!

Valve Get Fined

Valve have been fined by the EU for geo-blocking a number of games on their platforms. The European Commission found that around 100 games had been blocked across EU borders, with games sold in Czechia, Poland, Hungary and other Eastern European countries being blocked from being activated in other countries.

The practice appears to have been done to prevent customers in higher income EU countries from purchasing games at the cheaper prices. However, this violates the principles of the EU Single Market, and unless content blockers are applied due to specific regulations (for example, harsher restrictions on certain game content in Germany) there can be no restrictions for digital goods across EU states.

Valve will be appealing the decision, as they claim the EU is wrongly stating they didn’t comply with the investigation, that the decision only applied to 3% of the platform’s titles and they believe the responsibility for the geo-blocking lies with individual publishers and not with them as a platform. Confusing this issue is the fact that many of the geoblocks came from codes from third-party sellers rather than on the Steam platform itself, which does suggest Valve have a strong argument here.

The Commission also went after five major publishers, including Capcom, Bandai Namco, Focus Home Interactive, Koch Media (the owners of Deep Silver) and ZeniMax (owners of Bethesda), for similar practices, although they have received lower punishments due to their cooperation in the Commission’s investigation.

CDPR Sued

Speaking of owners of major PC storefronts facing legal trouble, CD Projekt Red are facing multiple class action lawsuits and an investigation from the Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection. Yes, it’s about Cyberpunk again.

First of all, those lawsuits. Two separate class action lawsuits have been filed in California on behalf of CDPR’s investors. The claim is that investors were misled by CDPR over their ability to deliver a high-quality video game based on the Cyberpunk tabletop system, as the final product did not meet expectations and led to platform holders to adjust refund policies or pull the game entirely, as Sony did.

But that’s not all, as the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) in CDPR’s home country of Poland has launched an investigation into the company. They are currently monitoring the rollout of patches to the game, and if they fail to deliver the product they promised at launch, the company can be fined up to 10% of their entire 2020 income. Which might explain why CDPR have shifted focus from DLC to patches.

All of this arrives at the same time as Bloomberg’s latest report (paywall) into the state of development. It’s a damning report, one that states a similar environment to that of EA’s disastrous live service Anthem. Announced in 2012, the game didn’t actually enter development until 2016, with the 2018 gameplay being “fake” according to one developer. There were concerns raised multiple times that the game would not be complete by 2020, but the higher-ups insisted that the devs could work their “magic” to make it happen. It was also originally envisioned as a third-person title and abruptly switched partway through development.

CDPR’s response to this, from Studio Head Adam Badowski, did not help matters, as it largely pointed to the high ratings for the PC version from various outlets (many of which were provisional assuming the bugs would be fixed in a day one patch), and said the staff testimonies only came from a handful of people, many of whom no longer work there. Which of course raises questions about why they no longer work there, but seemingly this wasn’t considered in making the response. This response also came after a refusal to offer comment in the article directly, which is not a good look.

Essentially, it’s not been a good week for CD Projekt Red.

And now, here’s Mat with the esports roundup! Welcome back, Mat! -LP

Dota 2 Pro Circuit Returns

Thanks Leigh! To mark my return to esports round ups in 2021 I am bringing you an exciting blend of drama, intrigue, and of course, people considerably younger than me winning lots of money!

For the unanointed the DPC is effectively like the leagues in football where pro teams across the world compete in certified tournaments to score points that place them in the running for Valve’s official top tier competition, The International.

This year’s competition is slated to start on January 18th, and will consist of 2 seasons, leading up to The International 10. Each season will consist of a six-week League portion leading up to a Major. After two seasons, there will be qualifiers for the remaining slots for The International 10 happening in Stockholm in August.

Valve officially suspended the DPC at the back end of last year due to coronavirus after months of non-committal statements and systematic cancellation of tournaments; including the postponement of their flagship TI10 (The International 10) which currently has a prize pool over $40m.

Their handling of the coronavirus situation was met with mixed reception from teams, sponsors, and fans alike (your handsome reporter included). While it is reasonable that they suspended the DPC rather than expend resources to try to adapt it in the case of competitors like League of Legends, it was their lack of commitment one way or the other which had a big impact leading to months of uncertainty, an exodus of sponsors and a swathe of pro teams, most of whom are relying on the income to live, being left in the dark.

Valve also announced that they will not be using the previous season’s DPC points to seed teams into the leagues due to roster and performances changes over the hiatus period. Instead, they will be selecting the top 4 teams in best form from each region to be directly qualified to the Upper division, while a series of qualifiers, closed and open, will determine the remaining 12 teams in both divisions.

Again, this is sensible in some regards but harmful in others depending on how you look at it. On the one hand it makes sense because you want the absolute best to compete each year and as the game evolves with new mechanics, heroes and patch fixes and talent emerges you want to make sure that the teams invited are at the top of their game now not last season. However, its also a blow for smaller teams who climbed last season now having to start again.

The start of the DPC is slated for 18th January 2021 – for full dates and schedule check out the blog on the official site.

Pittsburgh Knights Wins the 2021 SMITE World Championship

Hi-Rez Studios has announced that team Pittsburgh Knights has won the 2021 SMITE Pro League World Championship, taking home the $400,000 first prize after a year of intense competition.

SMITE is a 3rd person MOBA which pits mythical pantheons against each other and is one of the most popular and longer serving esports of the genre.

This Season 7 of the SMITE World Championship (SWC) was contested by a global roster of incredible professional, semi-professional and amateur teams competing together across both PC and console for a chance to win a piece of the $600,000 prize pot.

This year’s SWC finals – held entirely online – saw Ghost Gaming, Radiance, Pittsburgh Knights, Radiance, Renegades, and Sanguine Esports duke it out for the final crown. With Pittsburgh Knights and Ghost Gaming progressing through the quarter and semi-finals, the stage was set for the grand showdown.

Season 7 of the SWC was only one feature of what Hi-Rez Studios’ considers has been the best year for their incredibly popular mythical MOBA. Announced at last week’s Hi-Rez Showcase event, SMITE’s Season 8: Dawn of Babylon will be even better, with an all-new evolving Babylonian pantheon Conquest map (first in 3 years), new Gods (including Tiamat and Gilgamesh), new battle passes, new collaborations and plenty more esports action throughout the year.

Season 8 will also usher in a new era of the SMITE Pro League, with Hi-Rez Studios revitalising the structure by bringing all eight Pro League teams in-house. This will give teams and players many more opportunities for direct sponsorship and increased revenue.

For the final rankings and all the action from the SMITE Pro League World Championship please visit www.smiteproleague.com. To catch up on all the announcements from the Hi-Rez Showcase, including a schedule of panels and announcements, please visit www.hirezshowcase.com.

Riot Reveals DDoS Attack on LoL

Finally, I will bid you adieu with some drama. Riot Games’ League of Legends tech lead Brian Bossé revealed on Twitter last night that Riot had been hit by a DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attack.

Clash mode is the casual in-game tournaments which allow players to form 5-man teams and compete for in-game rewards like cosmetics. While no stranger to having the odd problem here and there, last week’s problems were considerably more severe. Riot were hit with a deluge of reports from players of outages and problems including regular disconnects, severe lags, crashes, and players unable to log in. This led to the developer cancelling matches and refunding tickets.

The official reason was “unresolved network issues” until Brian revealed the DDoS attack on Twitter. A DDoS is the classic move by internet trolls of flooding a server with malicious internet tracking causing it to overload causing problems and eventually crash. These attacks can be carried out for a variety of reasons, to take down fake news sites, bring internet villains to their knees or, as is likely in this case, just for the amusement of the attackers.

Brian went on to explain that Riot is working internally on some solutions but cannot share specifics due to the risk of attackers using that information to tweak their attacks in the future.

That’s it from me, now back to my cave to carry out more DDo- I mean spreading love, joy and panda memes across the internet. Back to you Leigh! -Mat Lovell

New Releases

Thanks Mat! And now, here are the latest releases!

Phoenotopia: Awakening is a Metroidvania released for the Switch back in August and is this week seeing a Steam release. It’s all about a girl who finds herself as the oldest member of her community when all the adults get abducted by aliens, and then has to venture out to get them back. It looks pretty cute, with deceptively difficult gameplay.

There’s a couple of Early Access titles released this week on Steam. Dyson Sphere Program is a space empire building sim, where you find uninhabited planets and colonise them. Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights is a side-scrolling action RPG where you play as a little girl named Lily who can call upon the spirits of fallen knights to help her combat the horrors of this Souls-like world.

Orange Cast (PC) is a third-person sci-fi shooter that proudly boasts inspiration from The Expanse, although looking at the main character I can’t help but see some possible Dead Space influence too. And Redout: Space Assault (PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One) is an arcade space combat title that looks like Star Fox with more realistic environments.

Speaking of spaceships, Everspace 2 got an Early Access release on Steam. The sequel to 2017’s critically-acclaimed space combat game, Everspace 2 promises more of the same but in a bigger universe with more ships and battles. If space combat is your thing, I’d definitely give it a look.

Hitman 3 (PC via Epic, PS4/5, Xbox One/Series X/S, Switch via cloud, Stadia) is the big release of the week, and it looks set to maintain the quality of the first two games in the rebooted trilogy of assassination games. It offers even more refinements to the formula along with a host of new environments to act as your murder playgrounds, including Dubai, Berlin and…uh…Dartmoor. It’s also now got PS VR support (although no VR support on PC yet). Should be a fun one, this.

Game of the Week

In the spirit of trying to highlight games that aren’t the big releases, I will not be making Hitman 3 Game of the Week, despite it being the obvious choice. Instead, here’s a neat-looking indie pick that I think deserves your attention too.

Ocean’s Heart (PC via Steam) is a top-down adventure set on an archipelago kingdom, where you play as a girl named Tillia as she searches for her missing father. It’s clearly taken inspiration from the Zelda series, with its GBA-styled visuals, Wind Waker inspired setting and Breath of the Wild inspired promo art.

It looks like a solid adventure though. The visuals are well-crafted in all their retro goodness, and there’s a charm to the game that makes it look appealing.

And that’s it! Thanks for joining me and Mat for your gaming roundup this week, and we’ll see you next time!

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