It is always tragic when a love turns sour, especially one that has lasted longer than any other adult relationship. But in 1993, I lost my heart in an office in Slough. Electronic Arts invited a motley crew from GamesMaster, the TV show that I was presenting at the time, down to see what they claimed would be the future of gaming. A badly-lit office and a grey plastic table strewn with spaghetti’d cables did not promise much. But then a switch was flicked and the earth moved for me. Years before Tim found Dawn, I found Fifa International Soccer on the Mega Drive.
I’d had football game relationships before. Match Day was my first love when I was 12, and I shared my time between it and its cerebral sibling Football Manager. Kick Off was the one that got away, because I couldn’t perform when it mattered. I was considering settling down with Sensible Soccer, but then along came Fifa in all its 3D isometric finery, promising four players the ride of their lives. I felt I had torn through the fabric of time to spy on the future.
Over the next 29 years I would spend thousands of hours playing incarnations of that same game, through births, deaths and marriages, from Cockermouth, Cumbria, to Martin’s River, Nova Scotia. While everything else in my life changed, Fifa was there every single year, with slightly altered ball physics. But this year I won’t be buying Fifa 22.
It’s online gaming wot done it. I never bothered with that malarkey until I moved to Canada in 2009 and had no real-life friends to play with, other than check-shirted chaps who didn’t realise that NHL hockey games peaked in 1994. Puck that, I thought. I’ll play Fifa Ultimate Team over a wavering internet connection instead. But let’s face it: most things online are horrible, even when they were once intended to be forces for good. Twitter exposes hypocritical politicians while spreading socio-political hate. Your nan’s photos on Facebook are adorable, but it’s also a chasm of Covid misinformation that could actually kill her. Online gaming, which should be the apex of reaching out across the world to unite us in fun distraction from our daily shitshows, becomes just another way to be a shit.
A lot of the time, you don’t just get beaten online. You get humiliated. Someone will score a cheap goal, perform an excessive round of celebrations, and pass the ball around the back for the rest of the game. That was online Fifa this year. You might say, well, that’s what real football is. If you paid me Messi wages, I would suffer it, but I am supposed to be out here having fun.
Adding anonymous communication to competition was always a terrible idea for our insecure civilisation, and when I beat some faceless whoever and the words “GOOD LUCK SWEATING YOU F*G” appear onscreen? That is not the content I am here for. I have read about particularly bilious Fifa players threatening physical and sexual abuse on others if they lose. Of course, I can switch off my messages, but that doesn’t stop the knowledge that this is what human beings are choosing to do with their time. Perhaps it’s Trump, Covid, or environmental catastrophe burning down the world and releasing toxic clouds of misanthropic nihilism, but it’s all gone a bit Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant.
It makes Dave Perry’s infamous reaction to failing at Super Mario 64 on GamesMaster look positively noble. And this is where I feel a smidgeon of guilt. GamesMaster fostered competitive gaming. Before online play and competitive esports, I dished out my share of withering comments to the vanquished. I never thought it would get to this global level, any more than Tim Berners-Lee thought his internet idea would result in Two Girls One Cup.
Talking of ideas, here are two of the worst ones in gaming: microtransactions and loot boxes. Vile concepts in 2021’s economic wasteland. Loot boxes are basically gambling, gambling is addictive, and microtransactions are the most efficient addiction delivery system since the cigarette. I’ve been seduced by them in the past, they are so cleverly done – it is weaponised behavioural science. If loot box designers had been put in charge of Covid we’d have had just a few isolated sniffles.
Given that EA pulled in $1.62bn from Fifa Ultimate Team transactions alone in 2021, this is not going to change. But I can.
It’s not just about money, it’s about time. When I was doing press for the GamesMaster book that’s out next year, everyone asked if I still played video games. I said yes. But I realised I don’t, really. I just play Fifa. Sure, I’ll batter through blockbuster games of the GTA, Mass Effect and Witcher variety, but my own kids have urged me to play games they love, and I have ignored them because I’ve had to score three volleys in a rivals match to get my final swap for the Vidić icon card. How sad. I’ve had my pick of all the gaming cuisines out there and all I’ve really done is eat at McDonald’s.
Ironically, it’s things with great narratives that my kids have gotten into – games such as Outer Wilds, Edith Finch and Life Is Strange. I fell in love with video games because they told stories. You bashed buttons and whatnot, but Jet Set Willy was a story. Atic Atac was a story. Pyjamarama was a story. The only story Fifa tells is Sisyphus, pushing a boulder up a hill every day only to restart at dawn with another meaningless achievement to grind for. And Sisyphus didn’t have to replace Xbox joypads twice a year because he’d smashed them against the wall in an incandescent rage during Weekend League.
South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.
The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.
The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.
Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.
The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.
That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.
The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.
In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.
For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.
Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®
As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.
Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.
Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.
The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.
Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.
Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.
The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”
Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.
In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”
The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.
The Covid-19 pandemic once again dominated internet searches in Australia this year, as lockdowns gripped the two largest states, and people sought vaccines.
Google has compiled data on the most popular search terms from the previous 12 months, which showed Covid’s dominance in Australia was challenged by people looking for an escape in sports. The NBA, AFL, cricket, NRL, football, Wimbledon and the Olympics took out the top spots for most searched sport in Australia in 2021.
The Covid situation in New South Wales dominated news-related searches, with the Delta outbreak forcing the state into the longest continuous lockdown in 2021. Victorians, having endured the most number of days in lockdown since the pandemic started, did not appear to seek out information about the Covid situation in their own state nearly as much, with “coronavirus Victoria” coming in fifth in news-related searches, even behind Queensland at number three.
For the second year in a row, people Googled “how to make face masks” more than any other DIY-related search. As residents in NSW, Victoria and the ACT endured extended lockdowns, at-home activities like making your own candles, playdough, paper planes, and chatterboxes soared.
As Australia’s vaccination “strollout” gathered pace in the second half of 2021, people searched how to get their vaccination certificates, how to book their Covid vaccination, how to link their Medicare to myGov, and how to enter the Million Dollar Vax campaign.
The shocking disappearance of West Australian four-year-old Cleo Smith and the dramatic rescue over two weeks later was the second biggest news event searched on Google by Australians. The ongoing search for missing toddler William Tyrrell came in sixth.
The former federal attorney general Christian Porter’s name dominated Google search trends in the days leading up to a press conference where he outed himself as the unnamed minister in an ABC report about an alleged historical rape. He vehemently denies the allegations. In his now-settled defamation suit against the ABC, lawyers for Porter raised that after the report searches of his name “increased significantly and much more so than any other senior male cabinet members”.
The former minister, who announced last week he would not recontest his WA seat of Pearce at the 2022 federal election, appears eighth in the 2021 list of news-related searches.
Porter was the fourth most-searched person overall in Australia, behind Cleo Smith, Ash Barty, and William Tyrell. The new NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, came in sixth.
Bringing up the rear of news searches was the moment that shook Melbourne – literally – the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Victoria in September.
Interest in all things cryptocurrency was also reflected in Australian searches with cryptocurrency exchange Coinspot the ninth most searched term, and people searched how to buy Dogecoin.
Prince Philip was the most searched among those who died in 2021, followed by US woman Gabby Petito, and Australian entertainment giant Bert Newton.
Thanks to Jaden Smith and Britney Spears, people were searching for the meaning of the word “emancipated” more than any other word in 2021, followed by “insurrection” after the events at the US Capitol on 6 January, then it was “gaslighting”, Naidoc and NFT.
Despite emerging late in the year, Omicron came in sixth as people looked up the meaning of the latest Covid-19 variant of concern.