As it’s tradition to bring up the best unreviewed games for each year, it is now tradition to look back on the gaming industry and examine how much it has “grown up” since that ironic Tim Sweeny quote back in February 2020. Like last year’s article, this will cover all the moments the industry made the news for a variety reasons, bet it a company swallowing a developer or enforcing crunch. And some of these might hurt even more with some unlikely contenders making the list.
Chapter One: Rated E For “Everyone“?
As we move into the next generation of gaming, companies from all walks of life are constantly pushing micro-transactions and lootboxes in their titles. This ensures that their brands continue to rake in profits during the post-release session. There have been many mature titles that have seen this Vegas style approach in how players pay for a chance to win upgrades, but what happens when you introduce said mechanic to a game that, according to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, is rated E for Everyone? Including small children? As covered in in the article Concerning the 2019 Gaming Industry, every game, not matter what rating it receives from the ESRB, will eventually fall prey to these predatory practices. Companies like Nintendo exercise the moral high-ground by refunding families that had their kids unknowingly spend thousands of dollars to gamble on a chance to unlock some high profile sports players in FIFA. Electronic Arts on the other hand is predictably corporate in their response by handing out a guide that taught parents how to control in-game purchases. In-game purchases, let me remind you, in a game that’s rated E for Everyone. And this year, it’s been taken one step further with the UK Interactive Entertainment Division and their new program P.L.A.Y.: an acronym that means Play with your kids, Learn about family controls, Ask what your kids think, You’re in charge. It even managed to rope in professional soccer player, Rio Ferdinand.
The problem with this program is that it scapegoats everything that’s happened with micro-transactions on parents without gaming companies taking any responsibility. Companies that promise to use self-regulation responsibly go out of their way to capitalize on any opportunity to get close to making a billion dollars. While good parenting should be a factor in deciding what kids can play, it doesn’t dismiss the fact that more and more game franchises are choking on this infectious practice, essentially boiling down to the video game equivalent of deforestation: the public say “Just play a different game”, gamers do exactly that, but by next year more franchises has been subjected to include micro-transactions for the sake of money. People get into video games as an alternative to gambling in the first place only to be cornered by these “time-savers”. What was once a safe alternative has now been the latest threat to both adults and children.
20 years ago, parents and politicians complained about violent video games corrupting the youth with its mature content. If they could see into the future how much companies are nickel and diming accessories that were once free, those complaints would suddenly fall silent. Did everyone forget that political figure Donald Trump himself blamed video games as the motive behind the El Paso mass shooting despite evidence of racial prejudice? One could argue that violent video games in 2020 like Doom Eternal are the safer choice for all ages because there are no micro-transactions.
But instead, this propaganda fails to enforce the idea that if micro-transactions are included in a video game, then it shouldn’t be rated E for Everyone. Because gambling, as defined by the Belgian government, is not for children (we’ll go into detail about that soon enough); It is strictly and adult pastime and should not be included in games that are, once again, rated E for Everyone. Otherwise it’s breaking the law. And no amount of showmanship in front of governments will disguise that fact that they’re not being ethical when it comes to this dangerous mechanic. To those who disagree, name five good reasons why a child needs to be supervised to play soccer or basketball games when you can buy an older version of Fifa or NBA games that are now a dime a dozen. The graphics might look like cardboard cutouts, but at least your child is safe from all the greedy monetization. If you want more proof, just remember that Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, a game rated E+10, had micro-transactions implemented a month after launch just to dodge any negative press. So when will enough be enough? If video game companies want us to think about the children, then they need to do the same by limiting microtransactions and lootboxes to mature games, thereby taking some responsibility alongside parents.
Chapter Two: Nintendo’s Cannibalism
2020 was a hard year for everyone that wanted to socialize with friends and family because of the Corona-Virus. Comparatively, introverts were living in a paradise thanks to Nintendo releasing some of the best games of the year such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Paper Mario: The Origami King and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Nevertheless, Nintendo has also been the cause of some of most mindboggling business decisions thanks to their legal addiction.
Nintendo’s first blunder was with the announcement of Super Mario 3D All-Stars: a collection of Mario’s most iconic 3D outings such as Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy, although why Super Mario Galaxy 2 wasn’t included is anyone’s guess. They first stumbled out of the gate by stating that this would be a limited release after making it available for pre-order, with plans to delist the game by March 31st, 2021. Normally there’s nothing wrong with having limited stock on a popular gaming item, but Nintendo has pulled this stunt time after time with the likes of the NES Classic and the SNES Classic, both of which have now ceased production unless anyone wants to pay scalper prices for the experience. All the while, Nintendo offers the same “apology” for underestimating the amount of pre-orders and promising to not repeat it again. The other problem is that, unlike the previously mentioned consoles, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is available both physically and digitally, which makes the limited release policy all the more confusing. It also didn’t help that the game was priced at sixty dollars while offering no bonus content like other affordable compilations such as Kirby’s Dream Collection for the Wii and the Megaman Legacy Collection. This wasn’t the only game to receive the limited release treatment, as the multiplayer battle royale Super Mario Bros 35 will also pulled after being an exclusive bonus to signing up for the Nintendo Switch Online service.
Now to those who say “Nintendo has the right since it’s their property”, answer this question: If this was done by Electronic Arts, Activision, or Blizzard, would you still say those words? No. Because these companies have proven that they are more than willing to sacrifice customer satisfaction if it means making as much money as possible. As popular as Nintendo is, they still exercise some questionable business decisions when they clearly have the resources and reputation to keep a digital item on the Eshop, otherwise it just come off as a cold calculated FOMO maneuver.
But that’s not all the ruckus they caused in 2020. With the corona virus confining people to their homes, several conventions were cancelled and had to move their events to live streaming. One of these is The Big House and their yearly Super Smash Bros Melee Tournaments they hold by using older copies of the game. However, with lockdown in place, there is no way to play this in an online environment except for an emulator known as Slippi, named after the Star Fox character. Nintendo took notice of people using Slippi and issued a cease and desist order to the group, much to the dismay of The Big House and the Melee community. You could argue that Super Smash Bros Ultimate already provides a place for people to play Smash Bros. However, Melee has grown a following for being tailor made for competitive fighting while Ultimate is more of a mere party fighter that doesn’t enforce its competitiveness like its predecessor. Things haven’t cooled down recently as there has been a new update on Nintendo’s long history with the Smash community.
This cease and desist order ended up doing more harm to the company’s reputation in the following months. Nintendo had scheduled to host a number of Splatoon events on Twitch in different countries. However after their poor handling of the Melee tournament, many gamers and participants in North America took to Twitch showing their support for the community by changing their team names to #FreeMelee. This in turn caused Nintendo to cancel the North American event because of “unexpected executional challenges”. Given all the coincidences linking these events together, it seems that Nintendo’s business arrogance is getting in the way of their reputation in how they don’t want to compromise. Since they have the resources to make a Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection and the Melee community has a large following, it’s incredibly petty on their part to act out in such a manner. Many companies and websites are offering free entertainment in the wake of the coronavirus as ways to cope with the ongoing pandemic, but Nintendo seems to have not gotten the memo. This is on top of their history of their unfair YouTube Policy and assassinating fan-made games when companies like Sega hire people like Christian Whitehead to create polished ports of their older games and new titles like Sonic Mania.
And just to add a cherry on top of this mess of a sundae, they got involved with a charity event for the wrong reasons. One Captain Alex Blake was creating special Joy-Cons in tribute to the late YouTuber, Desmond “Etika” Amofah, who sadly committed suicide on June 26th, 2019. All the proceeds from the Etikons would be donated to Nami, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness: a grassroots organization advocating for people who suffer mental health conditions. However, Nintendo being Nintendo issued a cease a desist order for supposedly infringing on their copyright. So not only did Nintendo resort to their tasteless tactics, they stopped a charity from receiving an important benefit. To those who say “They were in their rights. They can do what they want.” that would be justifiable…if this was a for profit operation. But because it was for charity and as a tribute to someone who suffered behind the camera, it comes off as incredibly distasteful distasteful level of the NFL using Stephen Hillenburg’s death to boost their Super bowl ratings. Nintendo is no stranger to charity and allowing this to continue would’ve saved their reputation after the poor handling of the #FreeMelee movement. But they continue to be the company that’s stuck in the past, never wanting to embrace change for the greater good.
Finally, anyone who owns a Nintendo Switch is aware of the Joy-Con Drift controversy that swept the nation. Well, Nintendo is now denying the incident even after suffering a class action lawsuit and spending a year offering customers free repairs by sending their Joy-Con Controllers to their support centers. As gaming becomes more expensive from the games to the controllers, this is just outright ignorance in the face of hard evidence.
So what we have here is a well respected company when it comes to their legacy properties such as Mario, Zelda and Pokémon who are more than willing to throw anyone under the bus even if they have noble intentions when it comes to their properties. YouTubers have known about this lethal mindset since the days of the Nintendo Partners Program that only existed to take away a portion of money earned by monetized videos. They have shown to be behind the times in terms of online play and embracing the future of free advertising through Twitch. How long until it crumbles under its own ignorance is anyone’s guess, but in all fairness it is only one of the many companies that thought there wasn’t enough sadness to be found in the year 2020.
Chapter Three: Blizzard’s Cold Shoulder – Reforged Edition
As if Nintendo’s legal addiction wasn’t bad enough, other companies decided to re-enforce their corporate mindset with a slew of new games. And to no ones surprise, Blizzard got a head start in January with the highly anticipated Warcraft III Reforged: a remastered port of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, one of the most beloved entries in the World of Warcraft series. Blizzard made hefty promises to redo everything from the ground up with current technology. However upon released, fans were more than disappointed at the lack of polish and promised features, as covered by Matt McMuscles in his What Happened? series a month after the fire started to die down. In fact, they review bombed the game on the Metacritc website in response to these broken promises. Not helping the situation was Blizzard’s backhanded bureaucracy that had the gal to claim ownership of all user generated content. It’s also been revealed that a team working on a remake of Diablo II was pulled to work on the Warcraft III remake, which has been revealed at Blizzcon 2021.
So how did Blizzard handle the situation? In the same half-assed manner as they did with the Blitzchung incident in 2019: by struggling to handle any with dignity. Blizzard went back and forth with their claims about wanting to preserve the graphics for the fans which went against their original intentions as evident of the cinematic cutscenes receiving the upgrade treatment. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you. This was followed by issuing another non-apology that didn’t convince as many gamers this time around.
Blizzard was already in hot water during 2019, but this incident set their bar even lower. Gamers who once defended the company when hundreds of people were laid off only to then have other people fill the roles of their former positions are now experiencing what it’s like to be treated like cattle. It’s clear that under the eyes of Activision, Blizzard has changed for the worse as they struggle to remake their older games while not offering any new IPs. Further proof is showcased in The Act Man’s video The Decline of Blizzard: A retrospective on the company’s decline after merging with the Call of Duty company.
Chapter Four: Gamestop vs The State of Emergency
No doubt the biggest killjoy of 2020 was the Corona Virus epidemic. Originating from China and then making its way to the rest of the world, it completely halted social interaction and the economy. By government orders, all non-essential businesses were to close down so as not to spread the virus. These include the likes of movie theaters, restaurants, taverns, churches, and video game stores. All except for one supposed non-essential business: GameStop. GameStop refused to comply with the shut down order by stating that it was an essential business right before the launch of high profile games such as Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing New Horizons. CEO George Sherman stated that the company would be supplying their stores with hand sanitizers only be proven wrong by employees who were told to get their own at the company’s expense. By that time, everyone except Sherman knew that sanitizer, along with toilet paper, were hard to come by because of people buying them in bulk during the beginning of the pandemic. Proof of the matter is a recording from Camelot331 who was able to acquire a conference call on the matter. Should the video be taken down by “any company” through a copyright strike (because that’s how YouTube works), the recording is archived by video game journalist Jim Sterling with his own take on the situation. It wasn’t until March 21, 2020 that GameStop finally complied with government order shutting down stores across the country, although they tried to paint the situation like they did it in good conscience, even though they planned to re-open a month later.
But if you thought disobeying government orders was bad, just wait until you hear how they treat their employees when it comes to work hours. In a time when many people found themselves out of a job due to an unforeseen epidemic with no way to pay for rent or put bread on the table, GameStop stoked the fires by pitting its employees against each other with a TikTok contest. The prize? More work hours during Black Friday: Something that was moved to the online space by bigger stores like Amazon in the wake of the pandemic. As you can imagine, this received polarizing feedback from the public and the contest was cancelled.
Ignoring the embarrassingly unethical TikTok contest, it’s surprising that the George Sherman hasn’t been arrested for violating these government orders, attempting to justify their initial stance putting its own employees in danger with the police and then trying to act like they were the ones who decided to close for ethical reasons. If this had been anyone else, they would’ve been sentenced to life in prison. Unless people are using physical game packages to substitute the meat in sandwiches, GameStop is not an essential business and it never will be.
Chapter Five: CyberCrunch 2020
As video games started to get more attention during lockdown, several companies benefited from the situation by releasing their titles when people were glued to their televisions. One of the most anticipated games of 2020 was CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077: an open world game where you customize your main character and take on a variety of missions against big corporations. Originally announced in May 2012, the game spent an entire console generation in development. CD Projekt Red has made some of the best games of the last decade, most notably The Witcher 3. However they’ve never been one to hide their toxic management when it comes to finishing their games.
Cyberpunk 2077 was supposed to be different in terms of development. It was supposed to be a game where the delays would benefit those who were already working long hours on it when the initial release date of April 2020 was changed to September. Unfortunately, at the announcement of the first delay, CD Projekt Red broke their promise by stating that crunch would be implemented in the final development stage. As the months drew nearer for the next release date, it was delayed again to November and then finally December. Even before release, a few groups of people received their physical copy of the game before December 10th, 2020, which allowed them to post spoiler videos on YouTube. The company contacted one Dreamcast Guy to take down his video until the release date.
Upon release, Cyberpunk 2077 received positive reviews among the big gaming websites, but underneath the glowing praise was something more sinister that would forever change how people view the CD Projekt Red. Those who bought the last gen console edition noticed many bugs and glitches that would normally be found in a Bethesda game. Some of these bugs were capable of crashing your save file. And things only get complicated from here, so strap yourselves in for the cliff notes version of this debacle. It turns out that the footage CD Projekt Red sent to reviewers was from the PC edition rather than consoles, which damaged their reputation upon discovery. The company apparently knew about this broken state, lied to their audience, and then attempted to apologize for the deception. Reviewers who gave scores lower than 10’s and 9’s were subjected to toxic responses, one of which posted gifs designed to hurt one reviewer with epilepsy. Gamers attempted to get a refund for digital copies after being told to do so by CD Projekt Red, but were denied by Sony, who after weeks of quarreling with angry customers eventually issued refunds, but also took the game off the PlayStation Network. Turns out that neither Microsoft nor Sony knew about the game’s broken state and the development teams within CD Projekt Red expressed their own disappointment with their bosses. As of now CD Projekt Red’s management is bracing itself for a class action lawsuits filed against them for all the ensuing events. Most recently the company has suffered a cyber attack holding their source codes and other company information for ransom. As a result of the attack, patch 1.2 has been delayed.
Taking away the hacking situation, this will go down in history as a prime example of why crunch is extremely toxic in the gaming industry. To it’s very little credit according to Jason Schreier’s book Blood Sweat And Pixels: The Triumphant Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made, Polish labor laws demand that workers are paid for their overtime:
“What this meant was that 2014 would be a year full of crunch for the polish company. It helped that at CD Projekt Red, unlike at most companies in North America, overtime was paid. Polish labor laws required it.”
But promises were made to improve working conditions after management blasted those who spoke out against this practice. Those promises ended broken down the line. Despite all the time sacrifices from the development teams, the game suffered from management’s decision to try and appease investors rather than wait till the console edition was in a working state. The workers were blamed for the unfinished game, and no one besides PC players were happy as toxicity was directed towards anyone who said anything bad about the game. All the goodwill CD Projekt Red built up by not giving into microtransactions and lootboxes disintegrated in just a week. And it’s anyone’s guess on how long it will take to put the pieces back together going into the next generation of consoles.
Chapter Six: The Randy Pitchford Disappearing Act
As if Gearbox didn’t suffer enough PR disasters in 2019, CEO Randy Pitchford has always been at the center of company practices and baffling decisions that would get anyone else fired, almost like his controversies were some sort of twisted reality show. Well, this new season of Randy Says goes back to their latest success, Borderlands 3: A threequel that has made the company one billion dollars in profit. Before delving into the matter any further, it’s important to know that unlike other studios, Gearbox employees are paid below-average salaries for their work, with the compensation being profit sharing when a title becomes a success. Forty percent of a game’s earnings go to employees while the other sixty percent goes into funding the studio. Hence why it’s more important that Gearbox games sell well compared to other companies. With Borderlands 3 raking in a billion dollars, the employees expecting big bonuses to celebrate the financial milestone. However according to a Kotaku article by Jason Schreier in April 2020, Pitchford broke the news that they would instead receive smaller bonuses, in the middle of a pandemic, where job loss has been at an all time high and people are struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table. The reason behind the decision is that apparently the game cost more to develop than expected, switching from the Unreal Engine 3 to the Unreal Engine 4 mid-production, increasing the budget of both the game and its downloadable content. Strauss Zelnick, the CEO of Gearbox’s parent company Take-Two Interactive had this statement on the matter:
“We expect lifetime unit sales to be a record for the series.”
Very professional except for an additional quote from Pitchford who told employees that if they were unsatisfied with the outcome, they were welcome to quit while making promises to give employees advance royalties on future 2K games. As you can see, Pitchford has not learned anything from playing the victim in all his 2019 coverage. Especially after screwing over Sega during the development of Aliens: Colonial Marines and allegedly pocketing twelve millions dollars for himself before production on Borderlands 3 began. And according to several employees (the gaming industry has a fetish for blacklisting those who spill company secrets) a good chunk of that bonus came out of the profit sharing.
Recently, Gearbox has been acquired by Embracer for 1.3 billion dollars as they continue working on a film adaptation of their flagship series Borderlands. Directed by Eli Roth and co-starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Cate Blanchett, the film has secured Kevin Hart as Roland and Jack Black to voice Claptrap. Since they are now owned by another company, it’s unknown if Pitchford will remain CEO given the amount of PR damages he’s caused in the past. Only time will tell if his new boss will tolerate him as much as Take-Two Interactive does. Regardless, this is another reason why there needs to be unionization in the gaming industry.
Chapter Seven: Nvidia’s Evaporating Cloud
In the new console generation, there’s a push towards the digital models in both affordability and convenience as the battle between physical and digital media seems to be favoring the latter. The Xbox Game Pass has proven that gamers will subscribe to a gaming equivalent of Netflix so long as it’s affordable and provides access to a large quantity of titles. And it seems like other companies are trying to grab a piece of the streaming pie. Nvidia is one of those companies. Combating competition such as Google Stadia, Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud gaming service is a force to be reckoned with, bringing may titles to its platform and being able to connect your multiple accounts to its service like Steam and Epic Games. Unfortunately once GeForce Now left its beta stage, not all developers were on board with having their expensive games available for streaming, even if players bought a digital copy of their games. Companies like Activision/Blizzard, Capcom, Electronic Arts, Konami, Bethesda, and more pulled their games from the service, even though many have said that the future of gaming is in cloud service. Many companies have already created their own streaming platforms: EA has EA Access, Sony has PS Now, and Ubisoft has UPlay. For an industry that’s pushing for digital sales, streaming services, and disintegrating the idea of game ownership, this feels like value contradiction. People have already bought games on Steam and Epic Games, and this unity of all your accounts feels like what Google Stadia should be. But because developers are interfering with customer satisfaction for the sake of money. It’s another sign of corporate greed that can already license out their games to streaming services like Xbox Game Pass, yet they choose to create their own while offering so little content for so much money. Not only does it divide the market, but it also divides the multiplayer base when cross-platform play is still in its infancy. This system would’ve brought everything together, but it is now torn apart bit by bit until there’s barely any money to be made for anyone.
Chapter Eight: Avengers, Disassemble!
During the pandemic, video games saw a rise in popularity as the only entertainment that could keep its audience captivated for triple digit hours. However, one game not only shattered the goodwill of a legacy developer, but also the reputation of one of the biggest successes of the franchise era. Marvel’s Avengers was the latest superhero game developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. From the get go, people were put off by how the characters resembled watered down versions of their cinematic universe counterparts, not helped by the lack of recruiting the same actors for their roles. Rubbing more salt in the wound was the marketing that made on thing clear: this was going to be another service, complete with microtransactions, battle passes, and costumes advertising Verizon. By this point, the news of Spider-Man’s exclusivity to the PlayStation edition was overshadowed by more concerning matters.
As a quick mini review, Marvel’s Avengers was okay as long as you stick with the single player campaign. The story is a basic fanfiction inserting a blank slate character into the group, but it has moments of comedy, drama and action. The combat is fun for a popcorn beat-em-up and the abilities are a treat to pull off for each character. The problems begin with the aesthetic choice, basing the character designs around the cinematic universe rather than an original style. It’s very distracting not hearing Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, or Chris Evans play these roles, although voice actors Nolan North, Troy Baker, Travis Willingham, and Laura Bailey are magnificent in their own right. There’s also a fair amount of bugs present from the framerate to loading textures. Finally, the fighting starts to get repetitive because the enemy variety is one-note by only supplying robots as obstacles. Nothing about this screams a decade longevity when compared to the competition in the live-service boom. Marvel’s Avengers received mixed reviews upon release, and the player base plummeted across all platforms after the single-player campaign was finished. Despite being the best selling game of September 2020, it cost Square Enix 63 million dollars in losses. As of 2021, Marvel’s Avengers has lost 98 percent of its player base.
What’s more embarrassing is that one year earlier, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 already accomplished what this failed: a unique style separate from the Cinematic Universe, cooperative gameplay that relied on friends, and a unique story that combined various iconic moments from the comics. While it might be perfect, it offers players more content than what could be found at launch of this cash grab. Thankfully, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales by Insomniac games would go on to cement the positive goodwill of superhero games, even managing to sell 4.1 million copies across both PlayStation systems. But it’s clear that the live-streaming boom is starting to take its toll on the industry with everyone rushing out their own version of Fortnite. Unlike the billion dollar success, developers thinks they can replicate it without knowing what made it special in the first place, putting more emphasis on the monetization than the gameplay. Now it’s starting to backfire with the player base falling when they discover that there are more shops than gameplay. And that sad part is this isn’t the first company to suffer the consequences of this copycat technique.
Chapter Nine: Captain Naughty Dog Crunch
Here’s a studio I hoped would never make this list, but it turns out that even the most revered companies can hide their illegal practices underneath the interviews and groundbreaking technology. Naughty Dog is no stranger to the public with some of the most recognizable games of all time: Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, Uncharted, and The Last of Us. They were the gaming studio people praised for their dedicated work ethic, with many striving for a career at such a well known company. However, near the initial release of The Last of Us Part 2, several former employees began voicing their distaste for one of the biggest titans in the gaming industry, commenting on how the company culture changed during the PlayStation 4 era. How everything went south after a good chunk of veterans, including Bruce Straley, left after Uncharted 4 went gold, as covered in a Kotaku article by Jason Schrier:
“Of the 20 non-lead designers in the credits of 2016’s Uncharted 4, a whopping 14 – 70 percent – are no longer at the studio, which has had wide-ranging effects on the development of The Last of Us Part 2…”
With all the veterans gone, crunch tactics were implemented with each new title as production on The Last of Us Part 2 was mismanaged without experienced mentors. Animators were contracted to help despite having no technical knowledge of video game coding. The lack of training led to more delays with management straining the workforce with piles of new work again, and again, and again, without learning from any of their mistakes. All the while forcing an employee to sign illegal contracts that kept their paychecks dangling like a carrot. It’s nowhere near as bad as other studios like Blizzard, Activision, or Electronic Arts, but in a time when gaming journalism is advocating for unionization in an abusive industry, it’s disheartening that Naughty Dog would resort to these practices. Co-President Evan Wells had his own words on the matter in the book Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made, also written by Schreier, discussing the development of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End:
“We crunch on all of our games for sure. It’s never mandated. We never say ‘Okay, it’s 6 days a week, okay it’s 60 hours a week.’ We never change our 40 hour expectation or our core hours, which are ten thirty am to six thirty pm. People put in a lot more hours, but it’s based on their own fuel, how much they have in their tank. It’s certainly a hot topic, one that I don’t want to dismiss as unimportant, but I feel that it’s never going to go away. You can mitigate it, you can try to make it less impactful in the long term, make sure people have a chance to recuperate and recover from it, but I think it’s the nature of an artistic endeavor where there’s no blueprint for making a game. You’re constantly reinventing the product. People just naturally do it. Because we hire a particular type of person who’s motivated and passionate and wants to leave their mark on the industry. That’s why they come to Naughty Dog”
But this was only the beginning of the company’s troubles as the game was delayed indefinitely from its May 2020 release following the corona virus outbreak, only to have story leaked online a few weeks later. At first it was reported that a disgruntled employee was the culprit, but it turns out the unknown hackers breached the security of an older Naughty Dog game to gain access to the content. Following the leaks, Naughty Dog and Sony abused YouTube’s DMCA system by taking down any videos covering the leaks, even those who didn’t bring up spoilers were caught in the crossfire. It got so out of control, that they ended up copyright striking their own channel. Meanwhile, gamers were sending vicious messages to Druckmann blasting the “political content” that was revealed in the leaks. In the end, both companies were forced into a corner and announced a new release for June 19th, 2020.
In spite of the bad press, things progressed as normal. The Last of Us Part 2 released on June 19th and things started to finally come together as it received critical acclaim…from gaming journalists. The community however went through a different experience. Part of that is because journalists were contacted by Sony and Naughty Dog imposing a strict embargo on the game where they were not allowed to discuss spoilers beyond the beginning hours. Reviews were left vague, people bought the game, and the reaction was less than satisfactory. In fact, gamers review bombed The Last of Us Part 2 on Metacritic only a few hours after release. This was enough to have the website update its policy on when you can post a review. But even then several high profile content creators like Angry Joe didn’t agree with all the 9’s and 10’s coming from the likes of IGN.
From then on, everything spiraled into a dumpster fire. Several high profile reviews sites were contacted by Sony who were not satisfied with their reviews. Those who didn’t like the game were baselessly accused of being sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or virgins without evidence. Actress Laura Bailey was targeted by toxic fans because she played the most divisive character in the game, Abby. Even voice actor Troy Baker, who wasn’t even caught in the cross-fire, defended the game on multiple occasions. And yet after all the negativity, The Last of Us Part 2 sold over four million copies, scooped up many game of the year awards (much to the annoyance of those who voted for Ghost of Tsushima), and Druckmann was promoted to co-president of Naughty Dog. Currently they are collaborating with HBO on the tv series adaptation starring Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie.
From the description, the fact that this crunch cycle has repeated so many times within Naughty Dog’s is not healthy for those who are currently working there and to those who left. Lord knows that management isn’t going to take anymore steps towards fixing this issue after all the shady stories were revealed by former employees. As for the leaks, its unfortunate that it happened at the same time that Schreier published his article. And while I can’t defend the game as a whole, the toxicity directed towards everyone who worked on it as well as the complaints about the diversity are completely unjustified. But it also highlights how poorly Druckmann and Sony handled the situation by viewing everything in black and white; Copyright striking innocent YouTube channels and embracing an restrictive embargo during launch. It also shines a light on why triple A games get high scores as a way to appease studios, while people like Angry Joe who stated his honest opinion will likely never receive anymore review copies in the future. It’s shady journalism at its worst and is now a cautionary tale to those who wish to cover the entertainment industry. Going back to Wells’ comment on how crunch may never be eliminated from game development, why shouldn’t unionization be implemented if crunch is here to stay? At the very least, employees would be fairly compensated for working unreasonable hours at any big budget company. Voice-actors have SAG-AFTRA for their line of work while developers don’t have anything equivalent while working more hours. The Last of Us Part 3 is most likely on the horizon in the next console generation, but we have to ask when will management learn from past and let go of this last minute resort?
Chapter Ten: Google Stadia’s Sinking Ship
While companies like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo push forward with their new consoles, Google has been the center of attention for reinventing how people play games with Google Stadia: a cloud gaming service that promised accessibility on a number of supported devices where you can play games without downloading them or using a bulky console. This comes off the heals of other gaming companies embracing subscription services. However, the price for a higher internet connection following the gutting of neutrality in the United States at the time raised several red flags as you could only stream 4K content at a premium cost. Unfortunately, the troubles don’t stop there as the launch library consisted of games that had been released for several months at least and a couple years at most. That’s on top of other consoles having these games on sale while Google failed to provide their own exclusives. Not helping is the fact that if you want to own any games, Google couldn’t promise that the titles you buy would stay in your account. Even developers couldn’t find any incentive to port their games to the platform.
Meanwhile, many of the promised features at launch on November 19th, 2019 were instead delayed to uncertain dates such as Stream Connect, State Share, Crowd Play, Voice Chat, Family Sharing for your purchased games, and correct input button responses. And that’s if you were lucky enough to get your access code in the first place, as well as having a Chromecast device that doesn’t overheat to the point where it can cook eggs. And when all else fails, there’s always the go to corporate excuse of the “roadmap”: a “plan” to improve upon everything that should’ve been up to snuff by launch day, which is becoming more common in entertainment as companies attempt to regulate themselves. In this case, director of product management Andrey Doronichev responded on the matter by comparing it to the “Early Days of YouTube”.
But wait, there’s more. Because the reception of Stadia was so polarizing, Google made Pro Subscriptions free to the public for three months, thus swindling money from those who were loyal to the product from the start. Those who already bought the system were given an additional buddy system to give to a friend, but did it help? Not really. The player base kept decreasing and even the latest Chromecast didn’t launch without the Stadia app. Eventually, Google started cutting costs by closing in house productions, putting an end to any potential exclusives in the works. None of these developers were warned about the shut down souring the already complicated business relationships. Furthermore, a port of Terraria was cancelled due to Google’s inability to communicate with Re-Logic CEO Andrew Spinks after he was locked out of his Google account. In recent news, Google Stadia faces a potential lawsuit after lying about its 4K gaming support, as provided by the website classaction.org. It’s also unable to fix one of its exclusive games, Journey to the Savage Planet, after laying off their in house studios.
It is embarrassing for Google to justify the missing features and lack of exclusives, offering corporate responses that lead to more questions than answers. Cloud gaming seems to bring more problems than it’s worth. We just covered GeForce Now and how its customer friendly structure makes it the definitive cloud gaming service. But with developers pulling their titles from the platform, the industry is crumbling in on itself in an attempt to make the most money without understanding how this technology works. One could say we allowed this to happen with video games first in terms of tolerating unfinished products: No Man’s Sky, Sea of Thieves, Evolve, Cyberpunk 2077, and Fallout 76. Now this practice is making its way into consoles where people pay to beta test new technology without all the promised features. This is wrong on all levels because when people used to buy consoles, it came with 85% of advertised components. Sure, it took a few years to get the complete edition, but that’s still milestones ahead of what’s being done now. Remember the 3DS and how long it took to reach it’s final form like some Pokémon evolution? Now manufacturers and developers are trying to make this the new normal: Charging so much money for an incomplete product that has a “roadmap” to the eventual finish line. Isn’t that what downloadable content is for? Whatever the case, this needs to be regulated so that customers can expect better quality for future products, less it be another casualty to add to the Google Graveyard.
Chapter Eleven: The Sins of Electronic Arts
If you thought this would be the year Electronic Arts would escape controversy, then you must have been living under a rock for the past decade. Turns out not even a pandemic could stop the company from retaining its title as one of the worst places to work for. So, where to begin concerning the sins this company has committed in 2020?
First, being the leading company in predatory practices, they attempted to insert commercials into full price video games. Fresh off of re-labeling microtransactions as “Surprise Mechanics”, EA implemented these commercials in UFC 4 two weeks after launch. And this time, gamers took more notice than before when Activision did the same thing with microtransactions in Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled.
Second, the reworking of the disasterious Anthem and the consequences that followed. As many gamers are aware, Anthem was a disasterious production, launch, and patch-up in 2019, laying out roadmaps on how features will be integrated down the line. However in early 2020, EA announced that the entire game will be overhauled. Throughout the year, Bioware posted several updates after EA put Christian Daily in charge of the now titled Anthem Next. After several more updates, Daily left the team and was put in charge of the upcoming Dragon Age 4 in December 2020. Meanwhile, Bioware veterans Casey Hudson and Mark Darrah left the company. With Anthem Next left without a leader, EA executives spent a week deciding if the project was worth salvaging or if it was time to pull the plug. In the end, Anthem Next was shutdown, although EA stated that they will keep the original game running for time being.
Third, even when making lots of money with microtransactions, lootboxes, Electronic Arts still sought to give executives more bonuses whether or not their games did well. But this time they had a new enemy to deal with: shareholders. In 2020, several investment groups denied EA’s request for more executive bonuses, citing an addiction to executive overpay and employee lay-offs.
Fourth, the numerous lawsuits they face concerning lootboxes. Electronic Arts has been know for enforcing monetization to the point of insanity. That is, they were known for it until they were dragged to a court of law and feebly attempted to change the wording of their practices. Afterwards, several countries brought their legal power down on them for encouraging this practice all over the industry. Electronic Arts stated that they disagree with the notion that lootboxes are a form of gambling, but their failure to present evidence on the matter has led to lawsuits in both Canada and the Dutch court. Of course, advertising lootboxes in kids magazines didn’t help their cause and now they stand in a precarious position as they prepare for their days in court.
On a side note, gamers started turning on each other when it was announced that EA was ending support for Star Wars Battlefront II: a game that has a long history of going back on its word concerning microtransactions, setting a world record for the most downvoted quotes on Reddit, and having people play forty hours just to unlock legacy characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Many media outlets covered the negative backlash after Belgium investigated the title and came to the conclusion that lootboxes were a form of gambling. EA removed the heavy monetization and announced that support for Battlefront 2 would be ending. However, a petition was created for the purpose of “saving Battlefront II” despite the ongoing support through patches and updates. It sought to undo all the progress made in pushing back these toxic monetary mechanics from beloved titles. Recently, Electronic Arts has lost the exclusivity rights of the Star Wars video game license as Disney decided not to renew their contract, opting instead to allow other developers an opportunity to create their own games within the universe.
Surprisingly, that’s not as many sins compared to the past, but that’s still a lot to answer for, especially when it comes to the executives. This further enforces why the gaming industry needs to be unionized if it wants to be monetized. EA executives are constantly seeking bonuses while complaining about expensive development costs. And that’s before slashing jobs left and right after boasting record profits. If these executives wanted to have enough money for game development, they would take a pay cut from their own salaries just like the late Saturo Iwata did when the Wii U cost Nintendo a lot of money. Instead they keep all the money for themselves and let the workers pay the price when anything goes wrong. If there were unions in the gaming industry, there would be limits on executive bonuses and pay cuts coming from their pockets whenever a game flops. That way, they can feel the sting they’ve been dishing out to their employees for the last decade. Their addiction to lootboxes and microtransactions is also starting to backfire. It feels like it was only yesterday that EA was stubbornly sticking to their practices without the fear of regulations catching up to them. Now they are taking precautions in their own words just so they don’t end up in court. One hopes that they are found guilt in court so that some kind of regulation starts to control the gaming industry for a change seeing as they can’t be trusted to regulate themselves and would rather see microtransactions make their way into E rated games. If that’s the case, we could always relabel regulations as random encounters.
Chapter Twelve: Activision Farm
Trailing behind Electronic Arts is the other infamous studio of the year, Activision/Blizzard. A company that celebrates record profits by laying off hundreds of employees only to hire new employees for those recently vacant positions. Meanwhile, the executives revel in bonuses, regardless of whether they’re fairly earned or not. Headed by Bobby Kotick, who’s been cited as one of the most overpaid CEO’s of all time, Activision has been at the center of more controversy as the years have gone by centering around the overpaid CEO, executives, and struggling employees. This year is no different.
With Activision/Blizzard and Electronic Arts constantly pushing for more executive bonuses, there seems to be no end in sight on when enough is enough. In 2019, Dennis Durkin was paid 15 million dollars just for accepting the then vacant position of CFO. But the endless avarice has now comeback to bite the company as shareholders were outraged that Activision asked for more bonuses citing poor leadership performance after employee lay-offs. Of course, the company poorly attempted to justify their position on the matter. In response to the corporate reasoning, Activision/Blizzard employees came together with a spreadsheet of their salaries as a way to protest the unfair payments, further proving the gigantic wealth gap between the digital proletariats and the overpaid bourgeoisie.
This was a longtime coming for the company after years of amassing too much money to those who don’t deserve it. From the description, it sounds like a workplace that’s akin to the Dilbert comic strip, where the hard working people are subjected to torment by those who are stupid, don’t lift a finger, are paid more than they deserve, and are in a position of power. If employees can’t even afford to eat, then Activision/Blizzard deserves all the bad press surrounding them whenever they report on record profit year after year after year. They always talk about how video games are too expensive to make as the reason behind microtransactions, lootboxes, and other monetization methods. Yet they never bring up that gaming jobs are always in areas with high costs of living like California or how many executive bonuses are hoarded for themselves. These CEOs and executives work very little while getting paid millions at the expense of their workforce and we the public are supposed to feel sorry for them when they “can’t afford to keep employees”? It’s almost like the game industry’s adaptation of Animal Farm: no matter who does the hard work, only those at the top who put in little effort are the one reaping the benefits. Let this stand as another example of why the gaming industry needs to be unionized: One, so that employees can have more job security, and be able to afford cost of living in these expensive work areas. And two, so management can be put on a leash so that they don’t run off with all the money and actually put it towards game development.
Chapter Thirteen: The Epic Apple Google Clash
By now everyone has played Fortnite at least once, which has brought Epic Games out of the shadows and into the spotlight after developing the unreal engine and the first Gears of War trilogy. Fortnite is credited as the game that started the boom for live service multiplayer battle-royales in the same way Super Mario 64 did with platformers back in the 90’s. It’s on every console known to gamers: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, the next generation consoles, you name it. That is until 2020 when Epic Games got into a legal dispute with Apple after releasing their cash cow on IOS devices. Epic and Apple reached an agreement that would allow Epic to port their game to IOS devices in exchange for thirty percent of the profits being paid to Apple as for distribution costs. However, an update for the game was patched with a payment system that would have all proceeds benefiting Epic Games rather than sharing thirty percent with Apple. Given how much money microtransactions make for companies these days, Apple was furious about this as it went against their app store policy. In retaliation, Apple took down the game from their devices. Shortly afterwards, Epic Games responded by suing apple and even going so far as to creating a satire of the famous 1984 Apple commercial kicking off the #FreeFortnite movement on social media. Founder Tim Sweeney requested Apple allow their Epic Games store app on IOS devices claiming it would stop Apple from monopolizing the market. He even went so far as to compare the battle with the Civil Rights movement, only to subsequently face backlash. Afterwards, Google also banned the game on their platforms only for Epic Games to immediately sue Google. Any developers who used the Unreal Engine for their games would also suffer the same consequences. Apple on the other hand gave Epic Games until August 27th to either fix the update or banish all their games from the app store. After a long court hearing, a judge ruled that Google is not allowed to ban the Unreal Engine from their devices, but at the same time Fortnite would not be reinstated on IOS devices unless it pays the 30 percent commission fee. As of now, the lawsuit is still ongoing and it’s anyone guess when this dispute will be resolved.
Epic Games is by no means the victim here. They seemed too ready to sue both Apple and Google for interfering with Fortnite’s expansion. If anything, Apple is the real victim along with its customers who could only afford to buy one electronic system. Given how other stores commission the same amount for allowing games on their storefronts, Epic Games is out of their league in trying to get special treatment for their billion dollar title. Then again, if they can buy many games to become Epic exclusive, why couldn’t they hold the market hostage?
Chapter Fourteen: Console Launch Calamity
2020 is the last year people will dedicate themselves to their PlayStation 4’s and Xbox One’s as a new generation of consoles launched on November 12th for everyone to enjoy. At least everyone would be enjoying them if both Sony and Microsoft didn’t botch the launch. With everyone stuck inside, there were no lines outside retail stores waiting in anticipation for next gen consoles. Instead, everyone was inside waiting on social media for pre-orders to be announced for both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X. Sony said it would give people time before announcing when pre-orders will go live, only to have the pre-order session start a day earlier than anticipated on all websites. And wouldn’t you know it, the Xbox Series X suffered the same fate. In response to the lack of communication, Sony issued an apology to everyone for the mistake, but unfortunately this was the start of a slippery slope that will go down in history as one of the worst console launches of all time.
Several pre-orders from Wal-Mart and Gamestop were being delayed due to console shortage. Eventually, many pre-orders were cancelled. The reason behind the shortage is that Scalpers used bots to buy consoles in bulk just so they could re-sell them at premium prices. These scalpers created multiple accounts online and bypassed the system in order to secure these now valuable items. They came out saying they had no regrets only to play the victim when they were unable to sell anything with their ridiculous prices using excuses like “trying to feed families” and attempting to get YouTuber to do ad spots. They even attempted to impersonate YouTuber 8-Bit Eric to sell consoles. This happened not once, but twice.
Several attempts did end with scalpers being caught. Twenty million Grinch-bots were blocked by Wal-Mart in thirty minutes. A thousand orders were cancelled in the UK. But from here on out, it becomes Hunger Games competition with consoles being loaded in stock at stores, and people risking tooth and nail to acquire one. This happened in both the UK and the United States. Those who bought from scalpers risked getting a stolen console they could not activate. Several Amazon delivery drivers were taking packages to resell. One driver was fired after getting caught stealing a boy’s birthday present on camera. Numerous gangs broke into moving cargo trucks to steal these electronic commodities. Wal-Mart employees were recorded on TikTok buying multiple consoles with employee discounts. Even a family holding a baby got into a fight with police officers over the new console.
By the end of the year, scalpers made twenty-eight million dollars in profit on Ebay for PlayStation 5 consoles and Forty-Three million dollars when encompassing the Xbox Series X and several new graphics cards. Meanwhile the UK government started taking steps towards outlawing bots to stop scalpers from accumulating anymore consoles. The United States has yet to adopt this action. The scalpers continue their business 2021, but have recently been throwing hissy fits for being “portrayed as the bad guy”.
Can you see why this will go down as one of the worst console launches in history? Neither Microsoft nor Sony were prepared for the online market in both customer pre-orders and fending off scalpers. Retail stores allowing early pre-orders have doomed these consoles to be out of stock until the pandemic subsides. Its’ been reported that without console usage, the PlayStation 5 won’t be able to grow as thousands of consoles lay dormant at the mercy of scalper prices. Meanwhile, customers have shown just how far humanity has fallen. When a family is willing to endanger their own child for a console, then they’re on the same level of those who shot people for PlayStation 3 back in 2007. As for the scalpers, they brought all the consequences on themselves if they’re complaining about being portrayed as the bad guy. They saw these consoles as the latest valuable item and ruined everyone’s pre-orders by stealing them. Then they try to justify their actions by claiming that they’re feeding families, even though they jacked up the prices of PlayStation 5’s everywhere and can’t sell anything, which leaves them with credit cards to pay off with money they don’t have. For god’s sake, they stole a YouTuber’s identity to find buyers and even failed to deliver consoles once they had people’s money. That’s on top of still making a large profit from the racketeering. So, yes. Scalpers deserve all the negative attention they are complaining about. Hopefully this will be remembered in the future if any other consoles wants to release during these difficult times.
Chapter Fifteen: Frogwares Comeback
In a case concerning an indie studio, developer Frogwares pulled The Sinking City from Steam after a legal dispute with its publisher. Having previously suffered from another toxic publisher, Focus Home Interactive, the developer has filed a lawsuit against Nacon/BigBen for contract breaching, copyright infringement, and much more. Publishing rights were granted to Nacon during the development of The Sinking City. This would offset distribution costs Frogwares was facing as they were nearing completing of their game. It’s important to note that Nacon had the publishing rights, but they didn’t own the game’s copyright. Yet Nacon went out of their way to advertise that they owned the rights to The Sinking City. Not helping Nacon’s case were the delayed payments during production as the developer continued to hit milestones. Later on, Nacon bought another indie studio and demanded Frogwares to turn over the source code to The Sinking City, fully aware that they did not own the copyright. Upon refusal, payments from Nacon ceased being delivered for four months and the publisher refused to communicate with the studio when sales forecasts were requested. Following the release on June 27th, 2019, Nacon sent a letter to Frogwares stating that financial milestones were cancelled, essentially robbing the studio of any potential profits made from development. This prompted Frogwares to initiate legal action against Nacon in August 2019, only to receive incomplete and undocumented payment. Nacon additionally lied about one of the console manufacturers not paying royalties for more than five months when in-fact they did (no specifics on the manufacturer were given). Frogwares logo was removed from physical game boxes with Nacon replacing them on the cover. Several games were also created with The Sinking City IP, unbeknownst to Frogwares. Following eleven more months of silence, Frogwares decided to terminate their contract on April 20th, 2020. Nacon no longer has the publishing rights let alone the idea that they owned the property, but that didn’t stop them from using the emergency laws in France to protect businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic while also withholding any owed payments. What Nacon failed to take into account was the rise in game sales during the pandemic thanks to digital stores, thus their business was not suffering. At this point the publisher still owed the studio one million euros ($1,215,400 U.S. dollars after conversion). Nacon attempted to reject the termination in court on July 17th, 2020 only for the judge to rule in favor of Frogwares, but the publisher took their immaturity level to a new low by still pretending that they own the copyright to The Sinking City.
It’s bad enough that bigger game companies like Electronic Arts and Activision are already spreading misery in the world in how they treat their employees, but this is ridiculous even by publisher standards. It’s safe to say that Frogwares is completely within their legal rights when Nacon tried to pull one failed escape clause after another. The publisher is still operational, but one wonders if they will be black listed from the industry for the negative coverage. Surprisingly, this is the one case where the Epic Games exclusivity deal helped an indie studio rather than hindering the release. Without that deal, Frogwares would’ve gone bankrupt, but with all the legal evidence in their favor, Frogwares could expect a generous financial compensation for what they experienced. Whatever they plan to do with it for the future, there’s hopefully nowhere to go but up from here.
Chapter Sixteen: Ubisoft’s Predator Protection Program
In our penultimate chapter concerning the game industry is Ubisoft: the company most famous for Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Watch Dogs, and most recently their own predator protection program. But before getting into the elephant in the room, let’s turn our attention to their latest subscription service that, despite being subscription based, thinks it can get away with fooling people that it’s not a subscription service by stating that it isn’t a subscription service. Trackmania is the latest reboot that has been modeled into a subscription service where an annual fee giving you access to more features. Despite its financial structure, Ubisoft has gone out of its way to convince people that it is “not” a subscription service, and doing a poor job at it. Sure, and people watch porn for the plot.
But that’s nothing compared to the bombshell that dropped near the end of Jun 2020. Ubisoft experienced a PR nightmare on a level that surpasses any gaming studio to date. Several veteran employees of Ubisoft were accused of fostering a toxic work environment involving sexism, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and sexual assault. According to those who work at Ubisoft, the higher ups were always aware of the toxic environment these people created and yet did nothing to punish them for their unprofessional behavior. These individuals include Assassin’s Creed Valhalla director Ashraf Ismail, freelance writer Chris Avellone, former Rainbow Six development managers Justin Kruger and Craig Robinson, Vice Presidents Tommy Francois and Maxime Beland, Canadian Studios Head Yannis Mallat, HR head Cecile Cornet, and Chief Creative Officer Serge Hascoët. The final name is said to have had a close friendship with CEO Yves Guillemot to the point where there was no way he would ever face corporal punishment. He is also cited as the primary reason why many gamers have noticed that Ubisoft’s recent titles are indistinguishable from one another, cancelling a number of original IPs in favor of sequels that repeat a formula rather than reinventing it. Employees who didn’t like Hascoët’s behavior were told to either cope with it or find another job. It’s clear that HR did nothing to help the employees opting instead to protect the company from any bad publicity. Ubisoft tried to save face by pushing their video game marketing to the forefront with its Ubisoft Forward presentation, as well as a video on diversity to mask all the bad press. CEO, Yves Guillemot, dodged all questions relating to the matter.
This is the gaming industry’s equivalent of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston sex abuse scandal in the early 2000’s, except the executives get away without any punishment. It’s too coincidental that Ubisoft is taking action after this went public. There’s no telling if the company would’ve taken action in the first place without this crucial variable. The fact that management knew about this for years is also inexcusable. This is also a prime example of why people turn to social media than HR these days if they need to post a workplace complaint. Since many of these higher ups were immune to corporal punishment, HR is more concerned about protecting the company than employees. As for the anonymous interviews, it’s become standard for the gaming community to blacklist employees who disclose damaging information about a company to the point where they are unable to find work elsewhere. Yves Guillemot’s inability to take responsibility for any of this adds more salt to the wound. As of now Ubisoft has launched an investigation in their own company, but one wonders if outside regulations would be less biased and place Yves Guillemot under arrest for his crimes. At this point, Ubisoft shouldn’t be allowed to launch anything within their company that they can control. But we’ll never know because corporations regulating themselves will always have the power to divert attention and bury any bad publicity surrounding them.
Chapter Sixteen: Miscellaneous Casualties
This final chapter covers several smaller incidents stacked on top of each other to give everyone the idea that these incidents are commonplace in the gaming industry. And while they might not reach the same levels of Ubisoft’s fall from grace, they still harbor grief, greed, and abuse.
Konami vs Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls
Following the disappointing sales of Metal Gear Survive, Konami began developing a new game for the mobile market Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls. This sought to return to the classic roots of fighting monsters and demons. It was first released in Japan and Canada before preparations were made to cover the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Konami pulled the plug on the service less than a year after launching in September 2019. Those who had already downloaded the game would still own it until September 9th, 2020 while gems that would’ve served as premium currency were locked away. No official statement was given on why the game was shut down although there has been speculation on Reddit that the microtransactions were being ignored by a majority of players. In the same year, Koji Igarashi’s Bloodstained series has been accepted as the proper spiritual successor with Curse of the Moon 2 receiving much more love and attention.
Focus Interactive and LimeStone Management Must Die
Sony’s State of Play on August 6th 2020 brought a multitude of highly anticipated games to both PlayStations, one of them being Aeon Must Die: A beat-em-up with a stylistic cel-shading approaching setting it apart from other games. However after the trailer was released, stories began to surface concerning tax evasion, crunch, worker abuse, stolen copyright, unpaid overtime, and sexual harassment from the management of indie developer LimeStone Games as well as publisher Focus Interactive’s unprofessional response on the matter. Groups of former employees leveled serious allegations against CEO Yaroslav Lysenko, CTO Oleg Churikov and top company shareholder Maxim Velichko. During development, crunch was implemented for the sake of meeting unrealistic deadlines from the toxic management, unwilling to accept a shorter game instead demanding the team put in workaholic hours before the fiscal year deadline, on top of side projects meant to bring in more funding, on top of withholding regular and overtime payments. After leaving LimeStone Games, several employees contacted Focus Interactive on the matter, stating that the soon to be revealed trailer contained stolen work from contracted unpaid animators. The original trailer was uploaded by an employee and contains alternate images due to animation copyright. The employee had their own statement on the matter as well as documents from their abused coworkers. After the publisher talked with LimeStone Games management by leaking the documents, everything went quiet. Focus claimed they didn’t have time to go through the allegations, but they still made a public announcement. Management also sent threatening letters, legal accusations, and terminations to the rest of the staff, while blacklisting their records. As if Ubisoft wasn’t bad enough in terms of company abuse, LimeStone Games and Focus Interactive have been developing a reputation for being the indie equivalent of these harmful companies. The employees want to keep working on Aeon Must Die, but management at both companies are making it difficult to both work and make a living at the same time. Now that the word is out about the behind the scenes drama, consumers are left with a moral obligation on whether or not to buy the game. Only time will tell.
Red Candle Games vs China
Taiwanese developer Red Candle Games is one of the many indie studios that have come to fruition in the past decade. Its second game Devotion, a psychological horror experience, has been received love on all platforms. However upon release in the Chinese market, things started to sour as the game was review bombed for containing an Easter Egg of the meme comparing China’s president, Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh. The above photo contains an interactive poster that, when translated into English reads, “Xi Jinping, the Winnie the Pooh moron.” As it’s widely known, the Xi Jinping Winnie the Pooh comparison has become a mainstream joke to the point where the bear is now banned in the country. 2018’s Christopher Robin didn’t not release in China nor did the character make an appearance in the Chinese release of Kingdom Hearts 3. Going back to the report, Red Candle Games apologized for the incident, but removed the game from Steam. Authorities in China then revoked the business license of publisher Indievent, who released the game in China. Adding more salt to the wound was the digital games website Good Ol’ Games, who were in talks to bring the title to their platform. However, GOG decided not to list the game in their store in the United States. Normally, it’s common to have entertainment go through edits in order to appease the Chinese government, but to have their influence be the reason behind a game delisting in the United States speaks volumes on how the country’s power is starting to govern decisions in western culture.
There may be more indie studios in the gaming industry now more than ever, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t fall prey to bigger studios. In 2019, Star Theory Games was developing Kerbal Space Program 2: the sequel to the first highly acclaimed space simulator. However in 2020, Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier published an article confirming that three months after cancelling a contract, Take-Two Interactive began poaching the staff of Star Theory Games to work for their own company, Intercept Games. Employees received an email from Likedin stating that the game was pulled due to “compromising business circumstance” right before offering them to come work for the newly formed company. Before the shuttering of the studio, founders Bob Berry and Jonathan Mavor we in negotiations to sell the studio, but could not come to an agreement with Take-Two Interactive. Employees were encouraged to stay with the company, but during negotiations a third of its staff left to work for Take-Two. Brain Roundy attempted to justify the coup with his own statement, but people still called out Take-Two for its sorry/not sorry statements.
Alex Hutchinson, Tom Tillis, and Twitch Streamers
With the rise of Twitch on the internet, video games have reached an all time peak of popularity where both new and older titles can gain free marketing while content creators can interact more with their audience. But there is one person who threatens this harmonic relationship: Alex Hutchinson. Co-founder of Typhoon Games, Hutchinson has gone on record stating that Twitch streamers should be required to buy a license to stream games. This statement has been ridiculed by nearly everyone when he lied about being involved with Google Stadia. In fact, Google themselves went out of their way to distance his quote from their company. As of recently, Twitch has enforced copyright laws in favor musicians while games like Cyberpunk 2077 give players the option to use public domain music should they stream the game. However, government lawmakers such as Republican Tom Tillis are using their political power to make it a felony: Something that’s already a monumental undertaking when making YouTube videos.
Seventy Dollar Games
With the arrival of next gen consoles, video games are expected to showcase some new graphical improvements with the latest technology. Unfortunately, companies like Electronic Arts and Activision will try to find new ways of raking in more money by any means necessary. And these new consoles presented another opportunity as many companies announced that next game video games would increase from sixty dollars to seventy dollars. Many defended the decision stating that ballooning game budgets justify the price increase, while others shot them down as if they were mallards in Duck Hunt:
If anyone wants to argue in favor of 70 dollar games, consider everything that’s been covered in the article from job cuts, unnecessary executive bonuses, microtransactions, lootboxes, paid beta testing, record profits, and employee salaries. Then ask yourself, “Where do these price hikes really go towards when all is said and done?” Remember, Bobby Kotick gets 30 million dollars annually and his company is always asking for more money for the higher ups, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. How much of that money could pay hungry employees? How much of those unnecessary executive bonuses could actually go into development rather than to people who are already set for life while their workforce has to choose between paying rent or eating? If not, you might as well be asking people “Won’t someone think of those poor, overly paid executives?” (Sarcasm).
The United Kingdom Liberation Front
It’s hard to think of a time when predatory monetization wasn’t infecting every game on the planet. Companies are justifying their inclusion in games suitable for children while failing to take any responsibility by shifting the blame on parents. But the game industry has a new enemy to battle going into the future: The UK parliamentary. While everyone is busy trying to figure out how to implement microtransactions, the United Kingdom is taking actions towards regulating lootboxes in gaming after spending several months clashing with companies in court on the matter. Companies have stated that they disagree with the notion that lootboxes are gambling mechanics, but have failed to provide evidence supporting their claim.
And to those who still claim that they’re not a form of gambling, take into account this trailer for the video game NBA 2K20 and think of all the times companies have denied these mechanics as gambling:
G2A: Keeper of Stolen Keys
Finally, we wrap up with the always controversial G2A: a company infamous for selling stolen keys to unlock games on digital store fronts such as Steam and Epic Games. The company has come under fire over the years for claiming that fraud keys were not a problem to the point where developers preferred people pirate torrents of their games rather than buy from G2A. Recently they have been playing the victim when they were caught paying off journalists to write favorable reviews of their website. They were also discovered to sell more fake keys on their website when they offered indie developers compensation if they could prove that their website was selling stolen keys, as proven by these videos chronicling the history of their claims on fraud keys:
The Complete History of G2A’s Fraud Claims
You can’t claim it isn’t a problem when you admit that there is a problem.