Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It’s Only a Game

When real-world problems intrude, games don’t seem so important. Video game sales in Japan have plummeted after the earthquake there. With so much cleanup work to do and with the prospect of rolling blackouts because of a shortage of electric generating capacity, it is harder to imagine spending time and electricity on games.

Today’s revelation of a security breakdown in Sony’s online gaming services, which have been shut down for a week, may do more lasting harm to the video game business, though. Information on the 70 million PlayStation network subscribers was exposed by a flaw in the network. The information obtained by unauthorized network users included names, addresses, and birth dates and may have included credit card numbers and expiration dates. Today’s hot new game, then, is “Spot the Fraudulent Credit Card Transaction,” and so far, gamers don’t seem the slightest bit happy with it. At the same time, millions of subscribers are sure to decide that they are safer canceling their online gaming accounts, taking momentum from an already fading pop culture phenomenon.

Online poker may take a similar, if smaller, hit from the latest revelations of money laundering, fraud, and other troubling practices in the industry. Meanwhile, problems in professional sports, most notably right now the National Football League’s labor crackdown, continue to erode the audience for game broadcasts. Games are supposed to be fun. It doesn’t take much of a hassle to cancel out the enjoyment of a game and push people away.