Bitter 339

There was a lot of talk about the impending release of the game at school the next day, and much discussion about the cost of the helmet. More details were being released all the time, and all the big websites were competing to get the news first.

Video clips were everywhere, but they didn’t really do the game justice. They made it look like any other high-end video game. The clips all came from APE, and didn’t feature any players actually interacting with the game, which Britta found odd. Most of them seemed to be of the same places from different angles.

Even though the cost of the hardware was high, no one seemed to be too upset about it. They accepted it would be a lot for the kind of performance that was being promised, and most people were just relieved it wasn’t more. Whoever was responsible for choosing the price had clearly done a good job of making it feel affordable, but still high enough to make it feel special.

When she got home, Dad told her they’d come to collect her helmet while she’d been at school. She wasn’t particularly upset. It wasn’t like she had planned to use the helmet even if she’d been able to keep it. Dad still had his rig. Whatever deal he had made with them still stood. He was annoyed about them terminating her contract, though.

Mum wasn’t.

“Think of how much we got out of them,” she said. “That’s a lot of money.”

It was £20,000, and it was sitting in an account, ready to pay Britta’s university fees. Or at least part of them.

“They should have honoured their commitment,” said Dad, sulkily eating his dinner. “We had a contract.”

“Do you really think they didn’t slip in a clause to make sure they could do this? There’s no point fighting them on this. They wouldn’t have done it if they weren’t sure they’d get away with it.”

Mum was probably right, but she seemed more relieved than anything. Britta was no longer strapping herself into a fantasy world every night, and that could only be a good thing in her eyes.

Britta was fine with it. She had made a lot of money for doing very little.

The next day at school, the tone of the conversations about the game had changed. It turned out there were only going to be a limited amount of places available for the initial release.

Four million. Worldwide.

Each region had its own allocation. The UK had under a hundred thousand. Eighty-five, to be exact. That was way clearly going to be well below demand.

More helmets would be released over the coming months, of course, but the initial run would only be available to a lucky few.

It wasn’t just in school that people were raging about the limited release, it was everywhere.

Fortunately they weren’t planning on selling the helmets through stores. That would have led to riots. You had to register online, and if you were selected at random, your helmet would be delivered to you on the day the game went live.

It was also revealed that you couldn’t share helmets. The person who first used it was the only one it would work for.

Britta wasn’t sure if that was an unavoidable constraint of the hardware, or a marketing decision, but that also made people mad. For what was ostensibly a very expensive toy, to only be usable by a single person seemed very restrictive.

Anticipation and excitement had started to turn into something else. People seemed to be very willing to assume the worst, and were already looking for who to blame for their imagined disappointment. They were all hoping to be among the lucky few, and they would celebrate if they made the cut, but they were also ready to reject the process if they didn’t benefit

Britta watched developments with interest. Even if she had no interest in playing the game anymore, she was curious to see how others would relate to this strange, pretend world. They really had no idea what they were in for. She couldn’t wait to see their reaction to an alternative reality.

The other thing Britta realised was that the influx of players would mainly be very aggressive, overly competitive boys. She hadn’t really spent much time with other players when she’d been active in New World, but she had seen signs of the kind of toxicity you got with most MMOs. That would increase exponentially with the new players coming in.

Just reading the online forums, it was already obvious people were going to treat the game like a battle arena. Do or die.

Everything was about how to become the strongest, most powerful, unrepentant badass. The only reason to be in this kind of game, it seemed, was to become some kind of egomaniac, the kind that ran horrible regimes in third world countries. They wanted the best, most glitzy gear, all the money they could get their hands on, and an army of minions to slaughter whoever opposed them.

In the real world, that kind of person would be a terrifying dictator who regularly committed war crimes. In New World you’d be a top ranking player.

Britta didn’t bother to register for a chance to buy a helmet. Maybe if the game turned out much better than she anticipated she might consider buying one somewhere down the line, but there was no rush.

A lot of people reacted the same as her. They were happy to wait. See how good it really was, and then, when the initial wave of interest had died down a bit, prices dropped, then they’d look into it.

Then they’d weigh up the hype versus reality.

Then they’d think about whether it was worth the money.

Then the first gameplay footage was released, and everyone lost their minds.

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