Games, gatherings and scandals: My year in tech – Nick Cowen

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It’s always tricky to try and size up an entire year in its dying embers in December. To be frank, it’s hard to take stock of what happened in January through to March when the tech news of the latter half of the year looms so large in the memory.

Scandals – All your data are belong to us

This year, I think, was defined by the realisation that we’re all so vulnerable in the digital space. The news that a group of hackers called the Shadow Brokers had made NSA hacking tools available via the Dark Web, came just a few weeks before computers across the world were hit by one of the largest ransomware attacks in memory.

The Shadow Brokers went on to set up an exploit service; for a monthly fee of 100 Zcash (that’s roughly ) subscribers get a lucky dip dump of tools aimed at “high rollers, hackers, security companies, OEMs, and governments.” As if the internet wasn’t that much of a bandit country already…

Both Yahoo and HBO fell victim to data breaches and closer to home, the Guptas saw a ton of incriminating data fall into the hands of The Daily Maverick. Perhaps the most worrying story this year didn’t even involve a breach; around 60 million South Africans saw their personal details leaked by a Real Estate firm, that had uploaded this data into a forward-facing, un-secure server.

Naturally these stories gave rise to the ongoing debates on encryption – should authorities be given a back door (NO THEY SHOULD NOT!!) – and the laws to protect personal data. While POPI is set to be signed into law next year, it’s important for people to realise personal responsibility for data is still a factor and it begins and ends with each individual.

As my esteemed colleague Brendyn Lotz pointed out early this year, it’s no longer okay to not understand how the internet works.

Games – Loot boxes and lush titles

The scandals didn’t stop at the door of the videogames industry. There was the usual rubbish that comes with this territory – some of the community slagged off segments of the media for not being good at Cuphead and PewDiePie was an idiot on more than one occasion – but EA’s loot crate PR disaster was probably the year’s low point.

Star Wars The Last Jedi trailer

Following a rather poor response to Star Wars: Battlefront II‘s beta, fans became outraged when they realised the game’s loot boxes essentially amounted to a pay-to-win mechanic. After a searing backlash, EA removed microtransactions altogether, but the flames of this fire have yet to be snuffed out. Now, several countries – and the state of Hawaii – are investigating as to whether loot boxes constitute gambling.

Right now, it’s probably safe to say that EA isn’t popular in the industry, because if the hammer comes down on loot crates, it’ll effect a ton of other publishers – Blizzard/Activision among them. And to think, none of this may have happened had EA not exhibited such unbridled greed.

Horizon Zero Dawn Review

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. This year saw the release of some of the best games of recent memory. I’m not going to list them all here – you can check out the htxt staff picks and honourable mentions elsewhere – but my top four titles were pretty easy to pick out. In no particular order they are:

And while I’m not a Nintendo fanboy, I have to say that 2017 was easily the year of the Switch.

Nintendo Switch

While Microsoft and Sony continued to battle for space under the television set, Nintendo quietly sidled up with a home console that doubles as a portable game machine and party centrepiece to boot. The fact that it has some of the best games on it released all year doesn’t hurt either.

Gatherings – great and small

Away from the consoles and scandals, there were some rather great events hosted in Johannesburg this year. Both ICON and GeekFest have grown in size and stature since their inceptions; this year both needed to move to bigger venues – the former was held at Gallagher Convention Centre and the latter at Montecasino.

The rise of esports continues unabated; not only did it dominate a lot of the proceedings at rAge this year, it was the centrepiece of RUSH in the year’s bridge down at the Sandton Convention Centre. Both events were well attended and it was heartening to see the local pros get support – even if some people were less than supportive.

Speaking personally, the best finds this year were small gems. This year, Joburg’s oldest comic book store joined forces with Animeworks to form The Nexus in Randburg. Not only does it offer a fantastic selection of games, toys, comics, books and hardware, The Nexus has become something of a gathering point for geeks, offering a space for tabletop games, card games and it even has a very decent restaurant. Try the milkshakes. You won’t be sorry.

DeeTwenty was another great discovery. Here was a place that hosted Hearthstone tournaments, WOW raids, Magic The Gathering Nights and its myriad rooms offered role-playing fans a space to adventure to their heart’s content. Sadly, it closed late this year.

For my money, the highlight of this year was Fak’ugesi Digital Innovation Festival, which took place in Braamfontein this September. This week-long festival drew makers, coders, programmers, game designers, artists and creatives like moths to a floodlight, but it was mainly aimed at giving the uninitiated a place to get stuck into tech.


The curious could try their hand at making robots at Market Hack, redesign Jan Smuts leading up to Nelson Mandela Bridge using Minecraft and attend myriad talks from some of the country’s tech leaders. They could also play a stack of indie games at A MAZE, the games festival that combines art with play – easily my favourite event in the Joburg tech calendar.

This has been a very full year and I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store.