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Modern Warfare 2, as with seemingly all popular online games, has been savaged by a number of glitches and hacks that have allowed cheaters to unfairly get the better of their opponents. While cheating in an online game is quite pathetic, the underhanded behavior in Modern Warfare 2 has at least served a purpose, providing an interesting contrast between how Microsoft and Sony handle its own respective online network.
When news of the notorious "lance glitch" first spread, Microsoft was quick to act the chivalrous hero and come to Infinity Ward's aid, promising account suspensions for anybody who dared exploit the glitch and working presenting a united front with the developer. Meanwhile, Sony seemed almost unaware of the exploitation, with a rep stating that "I don't believe we are banning people for using the glitch."
When I suggested that maybe Sony ought to be more bothered about the glitches and working closely with its developers, the usual suspects shouted me down, declaring it was "not Sony's problem" and that I was merely trolling by suggesting that dealing with cheaters on PSN may be in Sony's best interest.
I argue instead that cheaters in Modern Warfare 2 IS Sony's problem, and hope to convince you of that very argument in the following paragraphs.
On a technical and short-term level, I do agree that gameplay issues with Modern Warfare 2 are not Sony's problem. It's true that Sony's real responsibilities begin and end with providing a platform with which customers can take Modern Warfare 2 online, and that dealing with in-game issues rests on Infinity Ward's shoulders. I can't debate that. Sony is under no obligation to do anything but keep the PlayStation Network up and running, especially because it's free. Microsoft went above and beyond, but even so, it's beholden to its Xbox Live subscribers thanks to the fee it charges for online play. Sony is not tied to its service in such a manner.
That said, however, I believe that Sony is dropping the ball by being so casual and hands-off with the PlayStation Network. Sony is absolutely not responsible for hacking in Modern Warfare 2, but it is clearly in Sony's best interest to keep the PSN as free from glitches and cheating as possible. It's not just about Modern Warfare 2, it's about making sure the PS3 is a convenient, useful, and fun resource for the many PS3 owners out there.
From a pure business standpoint, it's good for Sony to build relations with Infinity Ward in the same way Microsoft has done. The manner in which Microsoft deals with developers and publishers is one of the few things that the Xbox 360 platform holder does right. In fact, Microsoft has even gone so far as to say that it thinks online shooters like Modern Warfare 2 are better on the 360, simply because the level of support and developer interest is unparalleled on Xbox Live. The way in which Microsoft pimped MW2 left little doubt in peoples' minds that Microsoft considered the game a de facto Xbox 360 exclusive, despite being a third-party multiplatform game.
By standing alongside Infinity Ward and pledging to suspect cheaters on Modern Warfare 2, Microsoft has endeared itself to the developer of 2009's biggest and most successful videogame. In no stretch of the imagination could this be considered anything but a great business move. Getting Infinity Ward -- and by extension, Activision -- on side is smart, and sends the message that Modern Warfare 2 is better supported on the Xbox 360.
The perception that Xbox Live is a better service on which to play Modern Warfare 2 is something that I would definitely regard as Sony's problem.
Beyond that, however, being on the ball with this sort of thing is something that can only benefit Sony in the long-term. By practicing inactivity, Sony has essentially told cheaters that the PSN is the place to hang out, where they can break the game without retribution until Infinity Ward gets out the next patch. This is great for the exploiters, but no so great for those who are trying to play PSN games as intended. Eventually, the PSN will get a reputation as the Lord of the Flies of online services, and that's not something Sony should encourage.
It's already happening, too. One particular hack that affects MW2's leaderboards is exclusive to the PS3, and most likely because those who are doing it know that they can get away with it. On the PS3 version of MW2, players have been able to log in thousands of days' worth of playtime, and they are aware that Sony won't even so much as warn them.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare suffered from the same problem. While the game ran relatively smoothly on the Xbox 360, the PS3 version was swamped with glitches and hacks. Less than a year after the game's release, the original Modern Warfare was essentially overrun with cheaters who could fly, shoot without needing to reload, walk through buildings and activate a God mode. This was a problem unique to the PlayStation Network, and Sony did not lift a finger. Sure, as many of you say, it's not Sony's obligation, but is it Sony's problem? If the company doesn't want a reputation as haven for hackers, then I'd say yes. Yes it is Sony's problem.
The trouble with PSN games is that they seem to be thrown onto the network and then left to their own devices. They may get supported for a short while, but once they're done with the maps packs and add-ons, the game can rot for all Sony cares. Another example is what was once my favorite online shooter, Killzone 2. It used to be a smooth, fun, addictive experience, but I recently logged into the game for the first time in months to find that it was truly the Wild West. Within seconds of spawning, I was shot down by a member of my own team who had been camping in our own headquarters and was systematically taking down allies with a shotgun.
On the few occasions I escaped the teamkiller, the rest of the game was a mess of grenade spam and pure, unadulterated chaos. The last time I had played Killzone 2 before this moment was back in July, when the Napalm & Cordite map pack had been released. In all that time, not a single new update had been released via PSN. No patches, no fixes, no additional team balancing. Nothing had been changed, despite the clear indication from a minute of playtime that changes were desperately needed.
This is a game Sony had published, so it was under an actual obligation to make sure the game was worth buying and playing this time. Neither Sony nor Guerrilla even remotely give a crap about Killzone 2 anymore, however, and the game has simply been allowed to degrade. Based on my recent experience with Killzone 2, I could no longer recommend it to a new customer. That, my friends, is definitely Sony's problem.
Sony seems intent on remaining as hands-off as possible with the PSN, and in a few ways I can understand that. By not being heavy-handed, Sony theoretically makes the PSN more open and free for both developers and consumers alike. However, just looking at the popularity of Xbox Live tells us that consumers and developers prefer security over perceived freedom. Sony's lackadaisical attitude toward online gaming is one of the key things keeping the PSN behind and making the PS3 a less attractive prospect to online gamers. Sony maintains no presence on its own service whatsoever. It lacks the tightness of Xbox Live and the community support of PC gaming. It's the gaming equivalent of limbo, stuck between two networks that have a sense of identity and structure, and at least some rudimentary form of policing.
Another fine example of Sony's failing hands-off attitude is the PSP Mini pricing structure. By letting developers set their own prices for PSP Minis and offering zero incentive to developers who want to offer cheaper games, the Minis service has become an over-expensive joke, with some games released on the PSN costing twice as much as iPhone versions of the exact same title. While the App Store offers real miniature gaming experiences for a handful of dollars, the majority of Mini titles start at five bucks, and often aren't even worth that.
Again, it's not technically Sony's "problem" that PSP Minis cost so much, and Sony itself has shirked responsibility and essentially told it's the fault of the developer if they can't be "competitive." However, Sony forgets that the PSN is, itself, in competition, and if games on the PSN aren't competitive, then the PSN isn't competitive either. You know why Walmart is one of the most successful stores in the world? Because it knows how to sell a product -- cheaply. Consumers don't care who is responsible for pricing, they care about getting the best deal. Walmart offers those deals -- sometimes at a loss -- with an eye toward long-term benefits. Sony does not seem to understand this, nor do the short-sighted people who believe that pricing, online security, and the adequate policing of servers have nothing to do with the platform holder.
They have everything to do with the platform holder. While Sony has no moral requirement to look after PSN users and help keep Modern Warfare 2 a fun and cheat-free game, I say that if Sony wants people to take the PlayStation Network seriously, then this is very much a priority for the company. Until then, the PSN has a reputation as a place where cheaters can do what they want with no reprisal. That's Sony's problem, that's your problem, that's everybody's problem.
Unless you're a cheater, of course, then the only problem you have is that you're a dick.