It would be an understatement to say that this hasn't been a good start to a new year for Sony. While they may continue to project optimism and positivity, the fact is that their motion controller is being beaten handily by the competition, and the release of their platform's biggest shooter, Call of Duty: Black Ops has been anything but smooth.
Things won't be getting any easier, as Infinity Ward has placed the blame for the proliferation of hackers and cheaters in Modern Warfare 2's online component completely on their shoulders. Now it seems that one Activision rep has been frustrated to their breaking point, and responded to complaints filed by one online blogger by stating that if the uproar continues, the publisher may remove online multiplayer support for the PS3.
It's taken quite some time for the console to be split open, but players who took part in the multiplayer component of Modern Warfare 2 know firsthand how well hackers have prospered on the platform.
Given how widespread the phenomenon has become, it has to be assumed that at least part of the blame lies on the security and vulnerability of the PS3's programming and connectivity. It's no surprise then, that when pressed for an explanation for just how out-of-control the hacking has become for online multiplayer in MW2, Infinity Ward's creative strategist Robert Bowling named Sony as the guilty party:
"Sony has recently acknowledged a breach in security on the PS3 which resulted in games to become exposed to exploits and hacks...Modern Warfare 2 is no exception to this security exploit and we understand that some of you have experienced problems with stats and other issues associated with this.
"Games rely on the security of the encryption on the platforms they're played on, therefore; updates to the game through patches will not resolve this problem, unless the security exploit itself is resolved on the platform."
Hackers and cheats can be spotted and reported, but when their numbers reach a certain point, the risk of having your stats erased or your gaming experience compromised can make any game almost unplayable. Bowling made it clear that it's the PS3 causing the problem, and no solutions are possible other than playing exclusively with friends to avoid hackers.
So it would seem that from Infinity Ward's point of view, they're washing their hands of any responsibility for the state of MW2 on PS3, since they can't make the system any less hack-able with patches or updates. Since Black Ops is the Call of Duty that's presently making headlines, one might think that the main priority for Treyarch and Activision is to keep the online component of Black Ops up and running.
If you own a PS3 and Black Ops, you likely know that things aren't going any smoother. The game shipped with a laundry list of bugs that were exclusive to the PS3, and instead of celebrating the game's record-setting launch, Treyarch was immediately tasked with fixing as many as possible.
Regardless of their tireless efforts to get the PS3 version of the game playable, connectivity issues persist. There may be some PS3 owners who are enjoying as glitch-free an online experience as those who bought the game on Xbox 360, but it only takes a glance at any of the involved parties' forums to see just how big an issue the multiplayer has become.
One internet blogger, Jason Koblovsky contacted Activision to voice his frustrations over how difficult it has become for some players to enjoy the online component of the game. While players might expect to receive a standard reply detailing the fact that the company is aware of the issue and working to resolve it, Koblovsky got something else entirely. Activision's Senior Support Representative Dov Carson had this response:
"Well I have nothing else to offer and I too follow forums and have many friends who play and enjoy the game for all of its features. As an avid gamer, I would also disagree with any legalities involving a single aspect of a game as online experience may change at any time. The publishers have the right to shut down the servers for their game at any time as well which based on the number of reported posts from users may be a viable solution over the free PSN.
In any event, if you would like to send your game disc into us, we can either;
a) Exchange for a sealed (unopened) copy of the game that you can take back to the retailer
b) Swap for another platform
c) Exchange for another Activision title of equal or lesser value.
These are the options that we are able to offer to you as a one time courtesy.
Let us know how you would like to proceed."
Not a lengthy statement, but certainly sure to draw up some anger and controversy from the affected gamers. One might interpret the response as an Activision employee simply stating that the company can't be held responsible for a game's online experience. If that's the case, then who is responsible? Is it Sony's fault once again, or is Activision trying to ignore the problem in hopes that it will die down?
Koblovsky interpreted the message as the publisher trying to say that the online aspects of the game promised to all platforms are not legally binding where ownership is concerned, and a message to those complaining that if they didn't stop their outcry, the publisher would pull PSN support entirely. It's hard to decide what is more unbelievable in this case: the fact that Activision may have shipped a game that simply could not deliver on the multiplayer promise that was made, or that they thought no one would notice.
Activision reminding players that they reserve the right to refuse online access to an entire platform is likely to draw some serious controversy from the PS3 community, since the free access is a major reason for the hardcore fans to purchase the PS3 version of the game. The fact that Carson explicitly stated that shutting down servers was a viable option for the "free PSN" is troubling, as the same move would presumably run into far more problems with a paid service like Xbox Live. If those of you who remember the publisher promising that the game's multiplayer would always be free are confused, it's understandable.
Whether Carson's reply is a glimpse at Activision's thoughts on the matter or simply an isolated incident is unknown, but this doesn't bode well for the platform. Activision has made it clear that they aren't afraid of making enemies, but if this is a potential solution for the Black Ops problem, then Sony is giving gamers a very good reason to stay away from their console.
We won't jump to any conclusions, but Carson's response and the lack of Activision voicing its acknowledgment of the issues is not what players would expect from an industry leader. We'll keep you posted on any decisions or updates, and hope that this story can have a happy ending when all is said and done.
If you have any desire to experience the connectivity issues for yourself, you can pick up a copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops for the PS3 today. Or you could pick up a copy for the Xbox 360 and PC. It's up to you.