Today's hot-button controversy didn't take long to emerge, courtesy of eagle-eyed gamers who alleged that Xbox One demos for FIFA 14 and UFC now carry a £3.99 price tag.
Surely that could't be true? Eager to find out and discovering nothing untoward on the browser marketplace, I fired up my Xbox One and...
Oh. Cue some fairly understandable accusations of gaming's emergent bogeyman getting up to their old tricks in new ways... though this time, they're probably on the level about falling victim to an Xbox Live error beyond their control.
And, erm, I also need to find my DSLR.
Twitter user AussieLegend and NeoGAF member WarpathDC are widely credited for breaking the news, revealing that FIFA 14 and EA UFC demos were now commanding a £3.99/$4.99 price tag. This will not stand. This is outrageous! This is... just an "error in the system" according to Polygon, who heard from an Australian EA representative. Apparently the prices will return to £0.00 within a few hours.
Panic over. And yet, looking around, I'm seeing plenty of gamers and even a few pundits suggesting that EA actually planned to quietly roll out premium paid-for demos, and have now been caught red-handed, so to speak. It's rather fashionable and usually 100% justified to prepare oneself for the worst when it comes to Electronic Arts, but this time I'm inclined to believe the publisher.
Had EA intended to start charging for demos, they'd have done it properly and hit the ground running with moustache-twirling gusto. Demos would unlock extra content in the full game or even facilitate microtransactions, and more to the point, EA's demented obsession with buzzwords would mean that they'd stop referring to "demos" in the first place. They'd become "Ultimate Tester Packages" perhaps. "First Strike Content." Whatever the name, you'd better believe that their PR department would be ready with a finely-rehearsed statement, not a vague admission of Microsoft cocking up.
Speaking of Microsoft, you'd also expect the initiative to roll out on all platforms, not just the one.
I also don't buy into the idea of EA somehow 'testing the waters' and conducting some camouflaged market research, despite it seeming depressingly plausible at first glance. They may be cynical and mercenary -- all major publishers are -- but they're not stupid and have to know how precarious (if not completely toxic) their reputation with gamers has become. Pulling a stunt like this now, following the Dungeon Keeper debacle, would be a monumentally idiotic decision.
Factor in the small matter of Xbox Live occasionally encountering similar database errors, such as when numerous indie games disappeared from the marketplace for a week last year, Fable III became erroneously free for several hours and other flubs, and it's more likely that we're talking about a gremlin as opposed to a power play.
So, basically, this is almost certainly just an accidental "error in the system," not the start of the next Project $10. Relax. Nothing to see here.
Or in other words, let's not chalk up to malice what can probably be attributed to incompetence. Yet.