The games industry moves pretty fast, and there's a tendency for all involved to look constantly to what's next without so much worrying about what came before. That said, even an industry so entrenched in the now can learn from its past. So to refresh our collective memory and perhaps offer some perspective on our field's history, GamesIndustry.biz runs this monthly feature highlighting happenings in gaming from exactly a decade ago.
Manhunt 2 causes a stir
With the 2017 Electronic Entertainment Expo ready to kick off, you might think the 10 Years Ago column would be focused on its 2007 counterpart, but since that was the year publishers drastically down-sized the event and pushed it back to July, we'll have to wait until next month for that retrospective. As a result, instead of getting excited about the games that were coming out, we spent June 2007 excited about one game that wasn't coming out: Manhunt 2.
In mid-June, the British Board of Film Classification refused to classify the game, banning it from release in the UK. In explaining the ban, BBFC director David Cooke cited the Rockstar-developed sequel's "unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone," its "sustained and cumulative casual sadism," and "unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying and the sheer lack of alternative pleasures on offer to the gamer."
It went on to be banned in Ireland, while the ESRB gave it an Adults Only rating in North America, which at the time was essentially a ban as no major retailers would stock AO games, and Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony all prohibited AO-rated games on their platforms as part of their third-party publisher agreements.
Its hands effectively tied, Take-Two indefinitely postponed the game from its original July launch window while it considered its options. Ultimately, the publisher toned down some of the game's objectionable content, putting a red blurring effect over gory executions and removing a scoring system that essentially rewarded players for killing in the most gruesome way possible. Those tweaks were enough to placate ratings boards, as the revised game received an M for Mature rating in the US and was out in time for Halloween that year. The UK release took a little longer due to a legal scuffle between the BBFC and Rockstar, but it was eventually released there for Halloween 2008.
Mind Quiz, Resistance also causing stirs
Manhunt 2 wasn't the only game causing a stir over its objectionable content a decade ago. It was just the only game designed specifically to antagonize would-be arbiters of good taste.
While Rockstar Games was introduced to the limits of polite society, Ubisoft was also coming under fire for, of all things, a DS edutainment game. When players of the Brain Age knock-off Mind Quiz: Your Brain Coach did poorly on certain tasks, the game would rate their performance with an offensive term for the disabled. Once customer complaints hit BBC Radio, Ubisoft recalled the game, explaining that it was developed by a Japanese team and the publisher's quality assurance process simply missed the word.
Somewhere in between Manhunt 2 and Mind Quiz on the scale of "How likely is this game to cause an uproar" was Resistance: Fall of Man. Insomniac's PlayStation 3 launch title took place in an alternate history where aliens invaded after World War II, but the UK-setting hit a bit close to home for some people's liking. Specifically, the Church of England took exception to a portion of the game set in the Manchester Cathedral.
"For a global manufacturer to re-create one of our great cathedrals with a photo-realistic quality and then encourage people to have gun battles in the building is beyond belief and highly irresponsible," the Bishop of Manchester said at the time. "Here in Manchester we do all we can to support communities through our parish clergy, we know the reality of gun crime and the devastating effects it can have on the lives - it is not a trivial matter."
Beyond an apology, Church of England officials were reportedly demanding the game be recalled or modified to remove the cathedral level, with profits donated to the church's education department and anti-gun crime organizations around Manchester. Sony's initial response was to say it was taking the claims seriously, but stressed that it had received all permissions necessary for making the game. The next month, Sony took out a full-page ad in the Manchester Evening News to apologize for the game's depiction of the cathedral. The company pledged not to use the setting again in future games, but refused to withdraw the game from sale or make a donation to the Cathedral's preferred community groups.
All the stirs, half the time
- Apple launched the iPhone. It would turn out to be significant.
- Bill Gates told everyone about Kinect years before it was announced. It would turn out to be significant.
- Brash secured a staggering $400 million investment to make games based on film, TV, and music properties. It would... ah, never mind.
- Mike Wilson wrote a guest editorial for us about his indie publishing firm, Gamecock. The idea might have been ahead of its time; Gamecock didn't last, but Wilson had more luck the next time around with the similarly intentioned but much better named Devolver Digital.
- Dedicated handheld gaming was such a force in the industry 10 years ago that Square Enix took its prized Dragon Quest RPG series away from the console space and made it exclusive to the Nintendo DS.
- As rising development costs made platform exclusivity untenable, the race for platform-exclusive downloadable content began. Microsoft scored a major victory with Xbox 360-exclusive Grand Theft Auto IV DLC, but it cost them $50 million to seal the deal.
- Once upon a time, there was a business chain called Blockbuster Video. It was like a local Netflix for movies on physical media, and its preferences actually mattered to some people. It was a very different world back then.