#139: Rumour and speculation

Too many games are being leaked ahead of time, sources say, in a trend that could have drastic implications for hype levels across the multibillion-dollar videogame business.

Are you a football fan? If you’re not then congratulations, you are missing out on a lot of needless agony and frustration. If you are, then you will already know the exquisite pain of the transfer window — the period twice per year where players are able to be bought and sold, and move between teams. Timed to coincide with the summer downtime between seasons, and the winter break after Christmas, they occur at a time when the sport itself has rather faded into the background. The conversation around it abandons the usual discussions of form, results and and all that, and instead is dominated by talk of pounds and euros, of personal terms and image rights; of rumours about who’s going where, and which club has swooped in to hijack which transfer; about which player was spotted at which airport, whose beamer was parked at which club’s training ground, and who has failed a medical because of their famously brittle knees.

Needless to say, it is exhausting and as boring as old piss, and I hate it. While I would certainly like my team to use this opportunity to strengthen its squad, I do not need to read the endless soap opera of the super-rich that underpins it all. The amount of money swirling around football has been deeply distasteful for years, of course. But with all that’s going on in the world at the moment I’d really rather not know that my team is preparing a nine-figure bid for some young superstar, and offering to pay them three hundred grand a week. Like, I could do without that knowledge, I think, even if it does mean sorting out our problems at centre-half. And I certainly do not enjoy spending two months trying to distinguish honest reporting from stories that have been planted by agents to engineer better deals, or dreamed up by some wannabe in-the-know type seeking Twitter clout. Just wake me up when the season starts, please. Thank god it’s only twice a year.

In games, however, this stuff is increasingly constant. Over the past week or so I have read unofficial, anonymously sourced reports that EA is making a Black Panther game; that the next Assassin’s Creed will be set in Baghdad; that Immortals: Fenyx Rising is getting a Polynesian spin-off; that the next Monster Hunter will be subtitled Paradise; and that Ubisoft is about to cancel Roller Champions (something the publisher has since denied). There is probably some stuff I have missed, but honestly I got so bored typing that lot that we’ll leave it there. I think I have made my point.

The games media has never been so dominated by this sort of rumour-mongering. I understand why, sure: we’re in a pretty quiet time for news, and often these rumours are things that website editors have privately heard but been unable to verify. And to the limited extent of my understanding of (or interest in) this sort of thing, it seems the modern-day brand of in-the-know leakers have a pretty good success rate. But that’s neither here nor there. Obviously it’s better that this stuff ends up being true than just wasting everyone’s time, but I personally don’t get much out of a rumour that a certain game is being made, or has been delayed, or is about to be cancelled. All it really tells me is that Person X has a pretty good contacts book, which I suspect is precisely what we’re supposed to learn from it. Early in my Edge career a colleague explained to me that ‘Man Says’ was rarely a good basis for a news story (particularly if it was an analyst; these were the days when Michael Pachter seemed to be in every third website headline). The 2020s version of that, it appears, is ‘Thing Exists’. Nah. Wake me up when there’s a trailer.

I appreciate that the impenetrable veil of secrecy around the game industry can be frustrating. And I of course understand the sort of anti-establishment, stick-it-to-the-man thrill to be had from taking an illicit peek behind the curtain. But there are often very good reasons for game companies to want to keep their projects quiet. It’s not just about power and control; it’s also about managing expectations, understanding the folly of making promises you might not be able to keep in an industry that is changing all the time, and where products take years to make. It’s not uncommon for years of work to be thrown out as projects fall into trouble, or market conditions shift (just ask Ubisoft). And in the absence of proper framing, people can often jump to the wrong conclusions. Take Multiversus, the Warner Smash Bros thing that leaked last year and everyone decided looked shite. Warners ran a closed beta over the weekend and it set a new record for fighting-game engagement on Steam, because it turns out that, contrary to the consensus that formed around the leak, it’s actually very good indeed.

Personally I am quite happy to wait until game companies have something to show me, or at least something they are prepared to talk about a bit. I think often, and have probably written before, about the former journo colleague who once told me a few days before E3 that he knew every single game that was going to be announced at the show. Why do this to yourself? It’s like rummaging through a pile of receipts to try and work out what you’re getting for Christmas, and making the day itself far less exciting as a result. I think of this incessant leaking in the same way.

As we discussed amid the settling dust of not-E3, part of the reason this year’s festivities were so uninspiring was that these days, if a game doesn’t get announced early to help with recruitment, it gets leaked. It is revealed not on a shiny-floored E3 stage, but by some fella with a podcast you’ve never listened to, or a column on a website you’ve never read. Then it spreads around the internet like wildfire because it’s quiet out there and there’s nothing else worth writing about. Remember that first Elden Ring trailer? Imagine what would have happened if we’d known nothing about it and this popped up at E3 2019:

We’d have all lost our bloody minds. Obviously this is an extreme example, but we’re doing a version of it to ourselves three times a week at the moment, and I’m really not sure it’s worth the bother.


Lots of excellent responses to last week’s edition on the mild mental crisis I endured while playing Powerwash Simulator, which I wrote amid a heatwave and definitely am not embarrassed by now that weather conditions have normalised. Oops.

  • “These musings hit me at all the right angles. I am a game designer. I am a dad. I am the owner of a lightly used power washer,” writes Anthony in a comment so well written I am honestly quite jealous of it (you can read the whole thing here). “Whatever the innate pleasures of Powerwash Simulator, it seems lost on those of us who actually have houses, gardens, cars, driveways, and all things that need washing. Dreams tend to take us, inward and outward, towards different unlived realities. Many people who live and breathe games routinely traverse worlds unimagined. I'm not so surprised that they dream of escaping to the mundane.” Cor.
  • “Simulation games, or software that gets a great deal of debate over whether they are ‘games’ at all, have been a specialty for me for many years,” offers shrapnel1977 in the Hit Points Discord. “I've always maintained that to engage the escapist brain they need to be simulating something that is generally beyond reach of most of us. Racing a Formula One car, flying a Boeing 747 or helicoptering medical supplies to city rooftops are all someone's job. When these jobs are modelled to a high degree of fidelity on your PC they have elements of work about them, but the key is that those jobs are out of reach for the majority, and that is what can make them engaging.”
  • “Probably not the intended reaction,” writes Edd, “but this article did prompt me to pick up a power washer (20% off at Homebase at the mo, in case anyone else is as behind on their dad jobs as me).” Thank you for this important notice, Edd. Some good Karchers on offer. (What have I become.)


  • A fun update for those who enjoy laughing at NFT projects stepping on rakes. Last week Mojang announced it would forbid all blockchain-related developments in Minecraft, which was bad news for the folks behind NFTWorlds, which had set up a Minecraft server and plastered it with all the usual Web3 guff. The irate project owners have now vowed to take on Minecraft head-on. “We’re creating a new game and platform based on many of the core mechanics of Minecraft, but with the modernization and active development Minecraft has been missing for years,” the crew thundered. “This is not a rewrite of some open source Minecraft clone, which likely would violate the EULA or still risk legal action, this is entirely from the ground up.” Haha, sure. Best of luck with it.
  • Here’s some fun PSVR2 UX stuff. I’m particularly taken with the see-through view, as someone who’s taken off way too many headsets over the years to check where the controller / coffee table / dog is.
  • Not much else, honestly. Some stuff got leaked, some bits got delayed, the usual. I enjoyed this Seamus Blackley thread about how a planned sequel to Jurassic Park Trespasser ended up getting turned into the Jurassic World movie, so maybe go read that.
  • Oh actually there’s this brilliant Vanity Fair story from a few weeks ago, about a retro game store that got burgled, and the race to track down a priceless collection before it was too late. Incredible stuff.
  • One more: Roll7’s Rollerdrome sounds absolutely terrific, though I suspect that much of that is, as ever, down to Donlan, who could probably make the football transfer window exciting if he really put his mind to it.

There you go! I shall now sashay, all elegant and catlike, into childcare mode, because one is on school holidays and another is, in a real departure from recent form, off sick again. Starting to suspect he’s learned to puke on command when he fancies a day off. I really wouldn’t put it past him. Anyway! Have an excellent few days, and I’ll see you all on Friday.