The 2008 Booby Prizes

BY The Editors  //  January 1, 2009

How not to do it.


hey came, they saw, they royally goofed. Game and Player presents our second annual Booby Prizes to 2008's most delectable disasters. Consider this an encouragement: take time to think, read up, plan it out and do it right so you don't end up on our next list.

The Please Play With Me Award: PlayStation 3

You know the kid — he was a bit too nice and there was something just slightly off about him. He'd always be standing alone in the corner of the playground, just hoping that someone would invite him to join in their game of kickball. That's sort of how the PlayStation 3's been looking for most of 2008. Despite being the best console available on a number of fronts, Sony just can't seem to convince customers that their system is worth purchasing.

There are a number of reasons for this. A rather shoddy stable of exclusive titles (compared to the competition) stands out, as does one of the most befuddling pricing structures the industry has ever laid eyes on — while a new PS3 can now be had for $200 less than at system launch, that savings has arrived at the cost of features and functionality. Add to this a flagging economy and poor receptions for the few flagship software titles that have shipped, and you've got what looks like another dismal year for Sony's gaming empire.

Ken Kutaragi Award: Robert Kotick

Falling somewhere in between apocrypha like Bill Gates' "64k ought to be enough for anybody" and George Armstrong Custer's "We're looking at, what, a few dozen Lakota and Cheyenne?" are the battery of statements made by Sony's former PlayStation flag bearer, Ken Kutaragi, whose professional habit was to divulge what executives sometimes think of entertainment consumers, i.e., nothing. Activision Blizzard CEO Robert Kotick may not be as prone as Kutaragi but golly, he sure knows how.

Right around the holiday season, apparently, Mr. Kotick enjoys reminding the general public that his company's franchises are to "exploit," and the more amply "exploited," the better. Now, the word can mean "to use productively," and you are welcome to try that definition in conversation with, say, your wife. Meanwhile, analysts cite brand fatigue as a factor in Activision Blizzard's tepidity on Wall Street — so if the market pans Guitar Hero DCCLIII and its Rick Astley Adult Contemporary Single-Bundle for Keytar, consider Robert Kotick the prime suspect.

It's Log!™ Award: Army of Two

If great ideas were Dostoevsky novels, gimmicks would be large-font, triple-linespaced essays from Cliff's Notes. Electronic Arts succeeded in redefining that fine art of incoherent attempts with Army of Two, a contribution to cooperative campaign gameplay as influential as a shooter titled Gun That Fires Out Barrel and Also Hits Targets. Lead characters Salem and Rios were funny to listen to, but then the game wasn't a simulated locker room. Featuring soporific combat and challenges contrived for exactly two people — released in the same year as titles whose developers appeared to spend time contemplating when sidekicks are a) useful and even b) fun — Army of Two was such a conceptual letdown it should never, ever, ever be granted a sequel but confound it, probably will.

Insult to Injury Award: Vampire Rain: Altered Species

Remember the original Vampire Rain that released on the Xbox 360 last year? No, you say? Well, that's probably because it was one of the worst games yet to grace the console. When developers announced they were giving it another go, to say that the bar was set pretty low would be an enormous understatement.

Altered Species was released and frankly, the title was the only thing altered. Having corrected nothing from their earlier flop, hopefully being honored with a Game and Player Booby Prize will get them started in the right direction -— preferably one without more Vampire Rain.

The Case of the Disappearing Swag Award: Fable II

For a few years now, gamers have looked forward to the freebies that were destined to ship alongside the hottest A-list titles — Bioshock's Big Daddy figurine and the bonus disc that accompanied The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker stand out as some of the best preorder promotions of all time. Publishers have caught on to the fact that some diehard consumers would actually be willing to pay extra for such promotional goodies, and the "Collector's Edition" was born.

This is all well and good, but when one pays $10, $20 or even $50 more for an enhanced product, they expect it to be enhanced. When Microsoft fell flat on their faces with this fall's Fable II Collector's Edition, those who'd shelled out extra cash months in advance were understandably miffed. Let this be a lesson to you, video game publishers: if you can't guarantee pack-in extras, you might want to go back to making them, you know . . . free.

Parent Impersonation Award: Leland Yee

Meet California State Senator Leland Yee, who is impelled by conscience and legislative vigor just as helpfully as a cordite charge hurls one sub-critical mass of uranium at another to produce a nuclear chain reaction. While a state assemblyman, Mr. Yee authored a 2005 bill prohibiting the sale, to whomever he determined unfit, of video games exhibiting whatever he judged inappropriate. The gaming industry, he declaimed, "is not concerned with the health and welfare of our children," and by "our children," he meant yours.

The bill was signed into law but a San Jose district court interloped with a decision going on and on about speech rights. Yee et al. appealed and the Ninth Circuit obliged to review the 2007 ruling. Moved by restless indignation, Yee celebrated this Christmas season by publicizing bullet points on what shoppers shouldn't buy their loved ones. How much does Leland Yee care about dubious social science? Enough to blackjack civil liberties and put that poor kid behind the counter out a thousand bucks.

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