The Drake is Out of the Bag
A few days ago, a handful of lucky gamers received their copy of Naughty Dog’s massively hyped PlayStation 4 exclusive, Uncharted 4 – a full two weeks before the planned release date of May 10th. As reported by videogamer.com, Amazon UK is the source of the leak, with a handful of copies being sent out to some of those who preordered the game. There were also reports of copies being sent out in the US and Germany, as well. eBay is also a wash with Uncharted 4 listings, with Eurogamer finding this one in particular being listed for £90 (A$171). One person also reported walking into a CeX store, a UK-based video game retailer and was happily sold a copy over the counter for £55.
A day after this news broke, Sony’s President of Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida, posted a message on the EU PlayStation Blog, stating “a number of copies of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End were stolen while in transit”.
This is obviously a pretty serious issue. Not only for Sony PR, as they now have the mammoth task of trying to limit the damage, but also for consumers and media alike. Sony might have their work cut out for them, though. They may as well be trying to sweep back the tide with a broomstick, as the trickle of vital story information flows its way into the corners of the internet.
Whether it will permeate through to greater social medias circles remains to be seen, though Yoshida clearly hopes that players who do come across early copies respect this, stating, “…the unfolding story is such an integral part of the experience and for this reason we wanted to warn you to beware of the potential for spoilers to be posted by people with access to stolen copies of the game”.
Something most people don’t realise is that street date breaks aren’t exactly great for anyone involved, consumers included. Sure, the first reviews you see might be written by a kid named ‘Joseph T from Essex’, but that’s far from the worst thing that could happen. If this were 2006, before day one patches and the ‘always online’ generation, a street date break might not have been so bad. But what if that game goes through certification unfinished and requires a day one patch to bring it up to a more acceptable release standard? It’s a more common practice than you’d like to think.
Perhaps the biggest issue for consumers will be the ever-present threat of story spoilers – that scourge of the modern day consumer of entertainment. This is likely also a major concern for Naughty Dog, as demonstrated by in Yoshida’s post. This is meant to be Nathan Drake’s swan-song – his final foray in this grand narrative that spans four games that have so lovingly crafted over the years. As of right now, there are spoilers appearing on some forms of social media, including some of the eBay listings. The Uncharted Reddit page appears somewhat safe at the moment as the moderators work hard to keep things in check, but as we all know, the internet is a barren wasteland where even the most careful of users can have surprises sprung upon them.
Then I think about how an early release might affect a predominantly multiplayer game – granted, a problem that Uncharted 4 does not have, though we have seen it in the past before (Battlefield 3, anyone?). It’s pretty much useless without other people to play with, and you can bet your life that multiplayer servers wouldn’t be live until, at very least, a few days before release. On top of that, those servers may be locked to a patched version of the game, so even if the developers do happen to spin up a few before release, you wouldn’t be able to use them anyway.
Spare a thought or two for Sony’s PR, who likely had some big things planned in the lead up to launch, who will now be scrambling to work out some kind of contingency plan. If those events have to be cancelled, think of the knock on effect that can have on everyone involved. Many of these events hire entertainers, security, cosplayers, all of which will no longer get paid if these events no longer go ahead.
These cancellations flow on to retailers as well, many of whom will have had their own plans in place for a midnight release. A lot of money, planning and effort behind the scenes go into making these happen. Not that I’m worried about the effect on a corporate level – not in the slightest. I’m more agitated for the people whose job it is to put these things together, doing the actual work. A lot of real people work really hard on making this stuff happen. Imagine the frustration of watching that go down the drain because someone – whose only relationship with the game could be as superficial as hitting the button to ship the disc – went and pushed the wrong thing. Having that ball drop right at the end must be slightly heart-wrenching.
When it comes down to it, there is only one good thing I can think to come out of a street date break – that a handful of casual video game store employees might not have to front up and work all the extra hours a midnight release dictates. Or, they might still. Who knows?
It’s important to note that, at the moment, nothing appears to have changed regarding Sony’s plans for Uncharted 4’s release, both locally and worldwide, though we have reached out to Sony’s local arm to see what they have to say about the situation.
James Swinbanks is a Games Critic currently writing for GameSpot, although you’ll still occasionally see him popping up on Player 2, because frankly, he loves the smell of the place.