Monday, March 1st, 2010 will go down as a day of some infamy in the world of games.
It got off to a bad start when PlayStation 3 owners began reporting that they couldn't play games or go online, and, worse, were losing data.
Later, G4TV's The Feed blog began reporting that something odd involving missing studio heads and burly security people was taking place at Infinity Ward, makers of 2009's best-selling first-person shooter, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 .
First the PlayStation 3 bug.
As I'm sure most people who own one of Sony's "fat" PlayStation 3s now know, if you switched it on either late Sunday night or Monday morning or afternoon, you were probably unable to connect to the PlayStation Network.
Furthermore, some games wouldn't load, and if you were able to get a game to load you risked either not recording trophies (the PlayStation 3 equivalent of the Xbox 360's achievements) or losing all of your trophy data for some games. A couple of people commented on this blog yesterday saying that they experienced these problems first hand.
Newer "slim" models, which entered the market last summer, were immune to the bug.
Sony provided updates on its blog throughout the day, and even went so far as to recommend that gamers not use their consoles until the problem had been fixed.
The good news is that the bug fixed itself. Apparently, the internal clock in older model PlayStation 3s reckoned that 2010 was a leap year and inserted an extra day, February 29th, into the calendar. Once the clock switched over to the 1st of March at midnight GMT, the problem was solved.
I contacted Sony Computer Entertainment Canada today to see whether people who had lost their trophy data now had it restored. They were still looking into the matter and unable to provide comment, but noted that anecdotal evidence suggested that at least some people have had their trophy data restored.
So, in the end, it seems as though little harm was done. Still, it's a tarnish on the system's nearly flawless performance record, which until now has been one of its greatest advantages over Microsoft's issue-plagued Xbox 360. Indeed, some in the gaming community have already dubbed the brief event the ApocalyPS3.
Whether it will have any impact on the system's sales, which have been robust over the last several months, remains unclear.
Luckily for Sony, there has been a sizeable diversion to help gamers forget about the PlayStation 3 bug.
At 7:30 p.m. Pacific time last night, G4TV's The Feed put up a mysterious post stating: "Something's happening at Infinity Ward right now."
It went on to explain that an unnamed source at the studio had contacted G4TV to say that "'a bunch of bouncer-types' just showed up outside of the Infinity Ward offices unannounced. When approached by employees, the non-uniformed "bouncers" were unwilling to disclose why they were there."
The source also said that studio bosses Vince Zampella and Jason West hadn't been seen since meeting with Infinity Ward's parent company, Activision, that morning.
As the evening wore on, G4TV updated its original post several times, stating that Activision's Annual Report, filed earlier Monday, may have foreshadowed the events that were unfolding, as it suggested that litigation might be forthcoming in relationship to two of the studio's senior officers for "breaches of contract and insubordination." (You can see Activision's report online here. Go to Page F50 for relevant reading.)
Game blog Kotaku has done its part in covering the story as well, noting that Mr. West's Facebook page had been updated and stated that he was "unemployed," and that Mr. Zampella's LinkedIn page now shows an end date of March 1st for his employment with Infinity Ward.
Not much else is known about the Infinity Ward shakedown right now. I suspect all of the players have been ordered not to discuss what happened, so it will likely take time to learn the reasons why Activision has apparently taken such drastic measures.
And, much like Sony's PlayStation 3 bug, it's hard to tell what sort of lasting impact this episode will have on the Call of Duty franchise's long-term success.
Hardcore gamers tend to be loyal to the developers of the games they love. The next title in the Call of Duty series is being developed by Treyarch, so it ought not impact the game we see this fall. We'll just need to be patient and see what happens in 2011.
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