Welcome to the industry! Come and tag along. When you think it can’t get worse, we always prove you wrong! We’ve got hundreds of fails…Some harmless, some not. And digging deeper always makes it worse than you thought. Welcome to the industry! Sit and grab a snack. Would you like to see big companies get all their data hacked? Wrong region? Well Too bad. Want early access? Haha, well…you’re paying 60 bucks for their beta test! Welcome to the industry, here it really rocks! Gambling’s legal when you play on Twitch or call it a lootbox! Surprises! Fun presents!…Are some of its names! Your kids put you in debt and it’s not to blame! Welcome to the industry! Charming and macabre! Where developers are overworked and then they lose their jobs! We’ve got scalpers and scammers and big exposés…And a bunch of Reddit users who screwed over Wall Street by buying a bunch of GameStop stocks— Welcome to the industry! Here, it’s pretty sweet! All the AAA big budget games releasing incomplete! Whether software or hardware, they enter the fray. They cancel all their projects, throwing millions away! Online distribution, execution up in smoke. Simultaneously, the companies are bigoted and woke. Where the shooters all are looters and the promised features neutered. Crappy ports for your computer! Fake reviewers, shaky rumors! We’re eternal with the journalists who tell you that you’re bad! Condemning games they’ve never played and gaming skills so sad! Normal mode too difficult? Pay so you can win! Filling all your games with different MI-CRO-TRAN-SAC-TIONS! Could I interest you in everything…‘cept for a game? We’re selling bits of everything, but not a game. Circuses of services are what this place became…trying to be everything, just not a game. Pay a buck to roll something? Part of the game! A little chance of anything, enjoy the game! Dummies give us money so we’ll always stay the same…Anything and everything comes with your game. – JoshScorcher
Every year video games bring joy to millions around the world through creativity, engaging gameplay, and compelling artistry. But they sadly bring more misery to those working within the industry as we have seen in both 2019 and 2020. This year would’ve been no different if it weren’t for several stories that prompted corrective action for some notorious crimes; Crimes that would make Harvey Weinstein jealous such as incomplete games, high profits with massive layoffs, sexual assault, workplace discrimination, predator protection, unregulated gambling, crunch, online threats, unreliable HR departments, court cases, scalping, poor management, data hacks, and unnecessary executive bonuses at the expense of the workforce. Shall we begin?
Chapter One A: The Activision/Blizzard Grand Slam
Starting off this controversial list is the Call of Duty developer Activision and its subsidiary World of Warcraft studio, Blizzard Entertainment. In the past two years, the company has been responsible for some of the most despicable employee treatment in the gaming industry, which is saying a lot. Two years in a row they boasted record profits while laying off hundreds of hard-working employees as the executives hoarded all the money for themselves with bonuses, regardless of a game’s success. This is the crucial element they never bring up when pleading poverty about rising development costs as an excuse to increase game prices to seventy dollars for the next generation. And wouldn’t you know it, they did it again for a third year in a row, firing 190 employees after boasting more record profits. The employees found out about their termination in a news article rather than from management itself. If anyone wants to bring up the excuse that many industries are suffering under the pandemic shut down, the game industry is not a victim. In fact since the world shut down, gaming has seen a rise in profits because people want entertainment that can last into the double-digits. In 2020, Final Fantasy VII Remake sold three and a half million copies on its release day and over five million copies by August 2020. In the case of Activision, the Call of Duty franchise has surpassed three billion dollars in net bookings. Many employees pointed to Activision’s Sports and Entertainment executive, Tony Petitti for the decrease in communication as he announced layoffs during interviews with the Sports Business Journal rather than with his own workforce:
“The cuts are due to a mixture of needing to reduce costs and also to re-allocate certain resources to other centers. We learned a lot about how the leagues can be structured for online play, and we’ll look to carry forward the best practices from that. In terms of timing, it’s a reaction to the realities of how the leagues are playing and what resources we need to allocate to best serve the league, owners, teams and fans”
Basically, Petitti is pleading poverty right after Activision bragged about how much money they made compared to their other fiscal years without COVID-19 boosting sales. As of now, Petitti has stepped down from the company.
Not helping the situation was a bonus given to CEO Bobby Kotick. At the time he was making forty million dollars compared to other higher ups and game development staff, but that changed when a loophole in his contract earned him a payout of two-hundred million dollars. All this right after firing people during a pandemic, as pointed out by several investors who rebelled against the decision despite not accumulating enough votes to withhold the bonus. The cliff notes edition of the article is that regardless of company performance, Kotick will receive the payout for increasing the shareholder price of Activision. A month later, Kotick announced that he would take a pay cut, but given that this decision was made after all the bad publicity, it comes off as a stunt rather than a genuine attempt to boost employee morale like when the late Saturo Iwata did the same following the Wii U’s poor sales.
Now it’s true that a portion of the layoffs originated from live event jobs as Activision transitioned to online in the wake of COVID-19. Blizzcon was strictly online this year, and the employees received a ninety-day severance package including health benefits for a year, although a two-hundred-dollar gift card for Battle.net seems odd for a severance package given the cost of living in California. It also put into question the company’s “optimistic future outlook” to hire 3000 more employees in 2021 after cutting those who served in development. But that’s how the video game industry works these days: force people to relocate to an expensive cost of living area for a job with low security, pay them as little as possible while lazy higher ups get all the money, cut said developers when the job is done, hire new people for the next game, rinse and repeat. It’s a poisonous cycle that has gotten more attention with the release of reporter Jason Schreierer’s new book Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry:
“A big company may lay people off once the project is finished (only to rehire for those same positions a few months later) or to please shareholders in time for the next fiscal quarter (fewer employees mean a cleaner balance sheet)…Mass layoffs and studio closures have become as fundamental to the video game industry as Mario’s jumps or Activision’s lootboxes…Unlike Hollywood, in which workers shift between contracts as movies weave in and out of production, the video game industry sells the illusion of full-time employment. Job listings for massive publishers like Take-Two and EA advertise careers, not gigs…Video games are designed to bring joy to people, yet they’re created in the shadow of corporate ruthlessness.”
In a final report for this half of the chapter, more details emerged on the business politics concerning Warcraft III: Reforged, one of the most disastrous launches of 2020. The entire story behind the game is summed up in Matt McMuscles’s What Happened? video and an article from Bloomberg, courtesy of Jason Schreier. Despite Warcraft III’s legacy, Activision did not view the remake as top priority because it didn’t have many monetization opportunities. All the promises of new features like ranking ladders for multiplayer matches were left on the cutting room floor while the classic games team was disbanded eight months after launch. Without the team, the planned features were never implemented. To make matters worse, the original game is still disabled on the Blizzard website, forcing players to comply with the downgraded remake. One spokesperson at Blizzard admitted the behind-the-scenes problems:
“The central issue with Warcraft III: Reforged was an early, unclear vision and misalignment about whether the game was a remaster or a remake. This led to other challenges with the scope and features of the game, and communication on the team, with leadership and beyond, which all snowballed closer to launch. Developers across Blizzard pitched in to help, but ultimately bug fixing, and other tasks related to the end of development couldn’t correct the more fundamental issues. In hindsight, we should’ve taken more time to get it right, even if it meant returning pre-orders”
One Rob Bridenbecker was cited for his aggressive management style, giving unrealistic deadlines, and for taking out of country trips, thus not being present for the development.
That same publicity plagued the launch of another anticipated remake, Diablo 2: Resurrected. Yet another one of Blizzard’s classics to get a make-over, or in this case a dust off. First, Blizzard pulled support for peer-to-peer connections, prioritizing an always online game in an attempt to combat piracy. However, the launch was plagued with server issues on the same level of Diablo 3. Players were locked out of their character profiles after a short break and even all progression was lost after exiting the game. Blizzard offered updates via Twitter, but it lasted from a week to twenty days.
As Activision is one of the richest game companies in the world, their self-regulation has done nothing to help the employees who suffer under Kotick’s watch. These companies aren’t even learning from the mistakes from just a year ago, trying to release broken games while taking everyone’s money one too many times. And it turns out that Diablo 2: Resurrected would’ve be their only hope of escaping an even more devastating blow brought upon by management’s intentional ignorance.
Chapter One B: The California Lawsuit
If this was all that happened at Activision/Blizzard in 2021, it would’ve been business as usual, but both companies came under fire in a July bombshell that shook the gaming industry. The state of California filed a lawsuit against Activision/Blizzard for numerous accounts of employee harassment. The lawsuit described the company harboring a frat boy culture where rape jokes were allowed to prosper under the guise of comedy. Meanwhile, other forms of harassment included passing promotions to less qualified male colleagues who performed less professionally than their female coworkers (they played video games while the women picked up the slack) on the grounds of the possibility of the women becoming pregnant. Cube crawls were also overlooked where drunk/hungover males would harass and/or court female coworkers. Women were also criticized for picking up their children from daycare and were even kicked out of lactation rooms so that men could hold meetings. There was even a case where breast milk was stolen from the refrigerator. Additionally, females of color were micromanaged that no male employee experienced. When one asked for time off, she was ordered to write one page of what she would do with her time off when no one else had to go through that same process. And just like with Ubisoft, the complaints reported to Human Resources were not resolved as the department cared more about the company’s image rather than protecting their workforce. Finally, one female employee took her own life during a company trip after nude photos were passed around at a holiday party. During said trip, a male coworker brought butt plugs and lubricant in his suitcase. The abusers got away scot-free because many people in HR were friends with those accused, explaining why complaints fell on ignorant ears. Of course, Activision/Blizzard claimed that the allegations were false:
“The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past…The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today.”
This was disproven only a year ago when Blizzard employees shared their salaries in frustration over pay disparities between the workers and the executives who were giving themselves more bonuses with each passing year. In response to the story, World of Warcraft players, specifically from the guild Fence Macabre, held sit-in protests with their non-refundable game time. They also raised money for the charity Black Girls Code: a non-profit organization that teaches girls ages 7-17 about computer programming and digital technology.
Blizzard president, J. Allen Brack and former World of Warcraft senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi were cited in the lawsuit for allowing this culture to prosper within the company. Afrasiabi in particular has been described as harassing female employees at Blizzcon to the point where it became an open secret. Future reports uncovered details surrounding a hotel room known as the Cosby Suite. Named after Bill Cosby, who at the time was facing rape allegations, the room was cited as a place where Afrasiabi would take female employees. One picture showed not only Afrasiabi and Brack, but also executives from other companies such as Riot Games, Deviation Games, BonFire Studios, and Zenimax Online Studios.
Reports reveal that Brack attempted to talk with Afrasiabi about his behavior, but it did little in the long run as he continued with unwanted groping. Following the story break, several other developers confirmed the news via Twitter:
“JAB pulled all of the women into a room the day after this happened and asked us about our concerns. At the time I thought it was an appropriate response. He reassured us that actions had been taken(tm). I wasn’t certain if I wanted to share this, but I think I had better. During that meeting with JAB, when he pulled all the ladies of WoW into a room after Alex Afrasiabi’s embarrassing verbal vomit in 2016, I asked him a question, ‘What does zero tolerance mean?'” – Jennifer Klasing, former Blizzard employee.
Meanwhile, Brack sent an email to Blizzard employees responding to the allegations, essentially painting himself as morally superior despite all the evidence leveled against him, using words like Gloria Steinem to give the illusion that he cared about human rights. Given how he has issued one non-apology after another in the past for both the Blitzchung incident and Warcraft III: Reforged, nobody bought it for a third time as Kotaku interviewed Blizzard employees who had their own statement on the email:
“Personally, I was not satisfied by it. I wanted to hear an explicit admission by leadership that we have a problem, followed by concrete steps to fix it. Instead, it felt like a bunch of empty words. The part about Gloria Steinem was particularly confusing to me. J. Allen Brack worked alongside Afrasiabi for years, and it’s hard to believe he wasn’t aware of his behavior.”
Not helping the case was a video that surfaced covering Blizzcon 2010 where a female asked the executives, including Brack, for in-game outfits that didn’t resemble a Victoria’s Secret catalog. She was blown off by Brack after cheers and boos clashed. In another stark contrast to management’s response, former Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime issued his own statement that, while not letting him off the hook, still admitted leadership failure and a willingness to take steps towards accountability:
“I have read the full complaint against Activision Blizzard and many of the other stories. It is all very disturbing and difficult to read. I am ashamed. It feels like everything I thought I stood for has been washed away. What’s worse but even more important, real people have been harmed, and some women had terrible experiences. I was at Blizzard for 28 years. During that time, I tried very hard to create an environment that was safe and welcoming for people of all genders and backgrounds. I knew that it was not perfect, but clearly we were far from that goal. The fact that so many women were mistreated and were not supported means we let them down. In addition, we did not succeed in making it feel safe for people to tell their truth. It is no consolation that other companies have faced similar challenges. I wanted us to be different, better. Harassment and discrimination exist. They are prevalent in our industry. It is the responsibility of leadership to keep all employees feeling safe, supported, and treated equitably, regardless of gender and background. It is the responsibility of leadership to stamp out toxicity and harassment in any form, across all levels of the company. To the Blizzard women who experienced any of these things, I am extremely sorry that I failed you. I realize that these are just words, but I wanted to acknowledge the women who had awful experiences. I hear you, I believe you, and I am so sorry to have let you down. I want to hear your stories, if you are willing to share them. As a leader in our industry, I can and will use my influence to help drive positive change and to combat misogyny, discrimination, and harassment wherever I can. I believe we can do better, and I believe the gaming industry can be a place where women and minorities are welcomed, included, supported, recognized, rewarded, and ultimately unimpeded from the opportunity to make the types of contributions that all of us join this industry to make. I want the mark I leave on this industry to be something that we can all be proud of.”
After the post, several Blizzard employees, current and former, shared their stories and disappointment for him protecting the sexual criminals, with a post on reddit compiling the responses. In another newsflash, an additional email leaked to Schreier from one Frances Townsend. Previously the Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush from 2004 to 2007, she joined Blizzard in March 2021. In the email, she talked about knowing what was going on in Blizzard despite her shorter tenure compared to the employees that have been revealing their stories to the media. She claimed the accusations to be false just like the rest of the current management at Blizzard, but past gaming news has disproven this with articles highlighting the wealth inequality and the lack of action from HR. In fact, more than 2,500 employees signed a document condemning the email, calling out her lack of experience within the company and how executive treatment greatly differed from groundwork employees concerning payment, work ethic, crunch periods, and job security:
“Normally, I would say my tweets don’t represent the views of my employer. Today, I can definitely say my employer’s statements do not represent my views, feelings, or core values.”
“I’m unhappy with the corporate response up to this point. I don’t feel it represents me or what I believe in. Many of us have said this internally. It feels worth saying publicly.”
“I stand with the AB victims & believe their stories. To claim that these stories are ‘factually incorrect’ or ‘untrue’ is a slap in the face to current & former employees & does not represent my core values.”
Taking out the politics in her career, she’s only been with Blizzard for several months compared to the employees who have been there for years, yet she took it a step further by tweeting an article on the problems of whistleblowing, only to delete it and shut down her Twitter page. But in a shocking revelation in November, it was revealed that her email was written by Bobby Kotick himself, while Townsend was used as collateral damage to protect the head of the company.
Following this, Activision/Blizzard’s stock dropped while employees went on strike on July 28th, with a list of demands to improve the working conditions:
1. An end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, present and future.
2. The adoption of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and promotion policies designed to improve representation among employees of all levels.
3. Publication of data on relative copmensation (e.g. equity grants and profit sharing), promotion rates and salary ranges.
4. Company wide diversity equity, including a task force to hire a third party to audit ABK’s reporting structure, HR department, and executive staff.
Those who didn’t protest were asked to not work, though the company tried to save face by giving everyone paid time off and Bobby Kotick eventually made a statement on the matter:
“I have asked the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace. This work will begin immediately. The WilmerHale team will be led by Stephanie Avakian, who is a member of the management team at WilmerHale and was most recently the Director of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement.”
Most of the statements in the response conflicts with the evidence of the company cutting jobs while celebrating record profits, overpaying executives while underpaying development staff, and all the allegations that took place under his leadership that allowed management to get away with predatory practices. The employees weren’t convinced as many were quick to bring up that the company WilmerHale was in fact an infamous known for union busting tactics at Amazon. Additionally, more stories were published detailing employee experiences including a woman at a job fair being asked about the last time she was penetrated. Other reports revealed that some men were assaulted and that an IT worker installed a camera in a bathroom to spy on employees. All this culminated in the exile of J. Allen Brack on August 2nd, 2021, being replaced by former head of Vicarious Visions Jen O’Neal and former Microsoft Corp employee Mike Ybarra. Yet the employee demands were still not met.
Things didn’t stop there as the companies were hit with a second lawsuit from investors who were unaware of the toxic work culture. Several sponsors like T-Mobile, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, State Farm, and more pulled their funding amidst the allegations. As if things couldn’t get any worse, the first lawsuit expanded in light of evidence that Human Resources was illegally shredding documents and the company was coercing, surveilling and intimidating protesting employees.
This also affected game content since some characters were named after these now revealed predators. Following the revelation of the Cosby Suite, more people were ousted including Diablo 4 director Luis Barriga, World of Warcraft designer Jonathan LeCraft, and lead designer Jesse McCree. Those who have played Overwatch know that a character is named after the final developer: a Clint Eastwood-esque gunslinger named McCree. Following the report, the character was renamed to Cole Cassidy in order to erase any traces of the former designer in spite of fan backlash. A backlash that was so bad that Activision removed their name from the marketing of Call of Duty: Vanguard with their own justification:
“Call of Duty has continued to expand in an incredible universe of experiences. This was a creative choice that reflects how Vanguard represents the next major installment of the franchise.” – Activision PR
Eventually another newsflash continued the ongoing saga. On September 20th, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission launched their own investigation into the company and subpoenaed many executives, including Kotick. The company was forced to turn over whatever documents were not shredded while several current and former employees were subpoenaed with the company cooperating with the procedure. As for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit, Activision/Blizzard settled the matter by paying $18 million, which received backlash from the employees given that the company is worth $72 billion. This makes the millions mere pennies by comparison as they regurgitated the same claims of spreading diversity and equality, despite none of the abusive executives being charged for their crimes. Things seemed to work out in the employees favor until an oversight led to the possibility of the lawsuit being dropped. A turf war broke out between the DFEH and EEOC over conflicts of interest, as two lawyers from the EEOC that went to work for the DFEH were in conflict with new legal partners at the EEOC, which would allow Activision to continue destroying evidence leveled against them.
In the end, Activision/Blizzard caved into most of the employee demand. Not all of them, but enough to warrant a compromise for the greater good. But another bombshell by Kristen Grind from The Wall Street Journal revealed that Kotick knew about the frat boy culture within the company, yet did nothing to fix it, going so far as to threaten employees with death threats. This led to more than a hundred workers walking out, demanding Kotick be replaced and adhere to their demands for a third-party review on the matter. Kotick attempted to cloak the newsflash by giving employees a week off for Thanksgiving, which many found too coincidental. The company’s stock plummeted again, and management’s response once again denied any truth on the matter:
“We are disappointed in the Wall Street Journal’s report, which presents an inaccurate and misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO. Instances of sexual misconduct that were brought to his attention were acted upon. The WSJ ignores important changes underway to make this the industry’s most welcoming and inclusive workplace and it fails to account for the efforts of thousands of employees who work hard every day to live up to their – and our- values. The constant desire to be better has always set this company apart. Which is why, at Mr. Kotick’s direction, we have made significant improvements, including a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate conduct. And this is why we are moving forward with unwavering focus, speed, and resources to continue increasing diversity across our company and industry and to ensure that every employee comes to work feeling valued, safe, respected, and inspired. We will not stop until we have the best workplace for our team.”
Kotick even attacked The Walstreet Journal:
“Anyone who doubts my conviction to be the most welcoming and inclusive workplace doesn’t really appreciate how important this is to me.”
In the article, a former employee of Sledgehammer Games, a subsidiary company under Activision, reported that she was raped in 2016 and 2017 when a male supervisor, Javier Panameno, pressured her to overconsume on drinks during company events. This reveals that the incidents didn’t take place at just Activision or Blizzard, but across other subsidiaries owned by the giant developer. Upon reporting the incident to Human Resources, the supervisor suffered no consequences. Those familiar with the situation cited an email threatening to sue Activision as well as police reports, while the company settled the matter out of court:
“Mr. Kotick didn’t inform the company’s board of directors about the alleged rapes or the settlement.”
Panameno was fired two months later and found work at Zynga Inc., only to immediately resign when The Wall Street Journal questioned the company about the executive. When questioned about the matter, Kotick also claimed that any cultural issues were isolated at Blizzard Entertainment that he apparently resolved years ago, going against all the evidence presented since July. Of course, another spokesperson attempted to defend the CEO:
“Mr. Kotick would not have been informed of every report of misconduct at every Activision Blizzard company, nor would he reasonably be expected to have been updated on all personal issues. Activision sometimes fell short of ensuring that all of our employees’ behavior was consistent with our values and our expectations.”
That was disproven in The Wall Street Journal citing an incident involving Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting being accused of harassment in 2017 after a night of drinking. Witnesses stated that human resources launched an investigation in 2019 with a recommendation of terminating Bunting, only for Kotick to intervene on Bunting’s behalf spearheading his success in leading the Call of Duty games. Bunting was giving counseling and allowed to remain at Treyarch. A quote from an Activision Spokeswoman was cited on the matter:
“After considering potential actions in light of that investigation, the company elected not to terminate Mr. Bunting, but instead to impose other disciplinary measures.”
Bunting eventually left the company when the Wall Street Journal asked about the incident.
Despite promoting Mike Ybarra and Jen O’Neal, the latter stepped down from the position on November 2, 2021. O’Neal wasn’t offered equal pay until she tendered her resignation. That’s right, it took a resignation letter to instill equal pay within the company. The news drew backlash from the public as well as the CEOs at Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. O’Neal cited pay disparity and tokenism as the reasons for her departure:
“It was clear that the company would never prioritize our people the right way. I have been tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against.”
This contrasts against the 2020 U.S. Pay Equity Review from Blizzard in October citing commitment to equal pay that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of sex:
“In the 2020 analysis, the firm compared the compensation of men and women while accounting for variables that impact pay, such as role, location, tenure, and job classification (exempt or non-exempt), among other factors. The analysis shows that women and men who performed comparable work at ABK earned essentially the same amount of compensation (with women coming in at a penny above men for every dollar of compensation). Those results are reassuring, and we’re committed to ensuring that compensation remains equitable in 2021, and beyond.”
Kotick stated that he would be willing to step down if he couldn’t turn things around quickly, which nobody bought at this point. Further pressure mounted when several US State Treasurers from California, Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon, Delaware, and Nevada criticized the company’s response and handling of the situation. Then in a hypocritical move going against their supposed support for workers, Activision subsidiary studio Raven Software laid off Call of Duty Warzone QA testers in December 2021, after months of promising a pay restructure. Many employees took to social media voicing their complaints:
“I am gutted right now. My friends in QA at Raven were promised, for months, that Activision was working towards a pay restructure to increase their wages. Today, one by one, valuable members of the team were called into meetings and told they were being let go. These people were asked to relocate to Madison, WI to work here. Now they are out of a job on January 28th. Our QA team does incredible work, but this will not only increase their workload but crush morale. If any industry friends have open positions, please share them. If it isn’t clear, this is bullshit. It’s unfair to these people to string them along, promising something better, and then let them go. I am infuriated right now.” – Austin O’Brien
This has not only destroyed the morale of our workforce, but obliterated trust in the company that has been routinely asking us for patience in improving our work lives. – ABetterABK
Within a day of its report, more than sixty workers held a walkout protest demanding contract workers receive full employment after moving to a new state for work. Activision responded with the following statement:
“Activision publishing is growing its overall investment in its development and operations resources. We are converting approximately 500 temporary workers to full-time employees in the coming months. Unfortunately, as part of this change, we also have notified 20 temporary workers across studios that their contracts would not be extended.”
This coincides with reports that the free-to-play game made $1.91 billion in twelve months. As workers began to unionize, they were threatened by emails form management, specifically one Brian Bulatao told employees to “consider the consequences of your signature”, essentially attempting to bust employees from unionizing.
Near the end of the year, former employee and co-founder of ABetterABK group, Jessica Gonzalez, revealed that Geoff Frazier, her former boss, constantly harassed her while HR took no action despite the reports:
“This was the first thing I said to HR…the fact that he was allowed to do the shit he was doing for so long was unacceptable. I’m sure my report wasn’t the only one. I was just loudest about it. I made sure multiple people were aware of his targeted harassment towards me”
Frazier was later revealed to be part of a right-wing discord server under the profile name Nebu where he objectified female coworkers, disparaged the LGBTQ community, and engaged in all manner of toxic behavior. As of the start of 2022, everything has yet to be resolved…until January 18th, 2022 when Microsoft announced that they would buy the studios for $69 billion. This shocked everyone who watched the story unfold over the last year. The Wall Street Journal reported that Kotick may leave the company once the deal goes, through he’ll still get a golden parachute on the way out:
“Just so that everyone’s aware, if Microsoft/Xbox wants to get rid of Bobby Kotick when the deal is done, Kotick will get a minimum $250 million payout.” – CharlieIntel
But in one final revelation, it turns out that Kotick considered buying online news websites such as PC Gamer or Kotaku in order to churn out positive coverage of Activision.
In this laundry list, the people in charge knew about everything and yet did nothing to except issue one non-apology after another to save their careers. Take a shot every time management claimed to embrace diversity and your liver would be defunct in 10 minutes, especially after pulling the same stunt with Blitzchung back in 2019. It’s odd that every action covered in this story took a news report for any change to be implemented. And even then, it feels more like an action to save face rather than changing things around for the better. One wonders if this never would’ve happened if Ubisoft didn’t bear the brunt of their own failure to protect employees from similar circumstances. Just like with Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood, the gaming industry experienced the ripples of the #MeToo movement where hundreds of stories involving sexual harassment were made public. The question is why did it take a lawsuit for the executives to do anything? Would they have done it if they were never under any legal pressure? And more importantly, why is it the man in charge of the company, Bobby Kotick, still gets to walk away Scott free no matter what circumstances comes in the near future? If he stays, then this buyout was just a distraction from the bigger pictures. If he leaves, he will not be held accountable for his actions and still make a ton of money upon his exit. It’s a situation that will have a questionable ending to say the least when all is said and done, but hopefully this finally sees actions behind the scenes where the workplace is made safer under Microsoft’s eye (hopefully the new owner allows the employees to unionize). If not, then this whole year was a waste of time.
Chapter Two: EA Gate
When talking about controversies in the gaming industry, Electronic Arts is alwys going to make the list; At this point, it’s a commandment. The company became notorious several years ago when it’s legal department claimed in a court of law that loot boxes aren’t gambling, but instead “surprise mechanics”. In the years since, they have faced opposition from countries such as Belgium and the UK who define their microtransactions as a form of gambling, even when a former executive claimed they were a long way from the idea. Despite recent successes such as the high sales of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and announcing a remake of Dead Space, Electronic Arts suffered the usual backlash associated with the worst the gaming industry has to offer for both its employees and customers. A Eurogamer article interviewed Chris Bruzzo on the state of the gaming industry, specifically the saturation of microtransactions in FIFA. Many of Bruzzo’s statements contradicted one another as if he were re-enacting the Frost/Nixon interviews. For example, he played the victim by accusing Deputy Editorial Director Wesley Yin-Poole of attacking the ground employees when everyone was aware of terrible management that demanded impossible deadlines in order to ship a game as quickly as possible. The interview concluded on an infamous quote from Bruzzo considering that many of EA’s sports games are rated E for Everyone:
“Kids should not be spending in our game.”
Let that sink in for a minute along with a reminder that in the same year, EA advertised lootboxes in a kids magazine.
Moving on to March 2021, an employee was caught selling rare FIFA ultimate team cards for thousands of dollars on the digital market. Screenshots and tweets revealed that this has been an ongoing market for several years inside and outside the United States. Streamers chimed in on the matter:
“So we grind/trade/open packs and can’t touch these PIM players, but EA employees sell them to people secretly for $1,700? LOL I respect the grind, but my god…”
EA responded to the situation several days later:
“We are aware of the allegations currently circulating within our community related to FIFA 21 Ultimate Team items. A thorough investigation is underway, and if we identify improper conduct, we will take swift action. We want to be clear – this type of behavior is unacceptable, and we in no way condone what is alleged to have happened here. We understand how this creates concern about unfair balance in the game and competition. We will update the community as we get more clarity on the situation.”
Many found this statement ironic and others saw the employee as comparatively innocent and cost effective given EA’s poisonous history with embracing microtransactions in console games. The investigation led to even more outrage when it revealed that a breach in EA accounts led to the online black market. But while EA tried to paint themselves as the moral party claiming FIFA ultimate team is not a play-to-win experience, one gamer debunked the statement with their own experiment. Twitter user ScudzTV calculated how long it would take to acquire an elite soccer/football team through grinding as opposed to spending money. Turns out it would either take two and a half years of non-stop gameplay or $110,000 if you have such deep pockets:
“Lets talk @EASPORTSFIFA. You claim that everyone can get all players they desire without spending money on the game…here’s my dream team, a mere 100-million-coin team. So, this is “achievable” & here are my options according to you; One, Play games…100 million coins of gameplay. Assuming an average of 1,500 coins a game (accounting for weekly rewards) that’s a mere 66,666 games. At an average of 20 minutes a game, that’s a mere 22,000 hours of gameplay or 916 days of gameplay 24/7. REALISTIC? Two, “monitoring the market”…100 million coins of trading, assuming an average of 10,000 coins profit per trade. I need to make a mere 10,000 trades. Assuming I trade 10k every 10 minutes, I will need to trade for 1,650 hours or 69 days of trading 24/7. REALISTIC?? Three, Spending £££…100 million coins from FIFA Points Assuming an average of 100,000 coins profit per 12k FIFA Points spend I need to purchase 1000x 12k FP at a cost of £79.99 per 12k, I will need to spend a total of £79,990 on FIFA Points. REALISTIC?? You need to understand, the options you put in front of your community do NOT allow everyone to achieve whatever they desire in your game within reasonable limits. You have put the high-end content behind an extreme paywall or an unachievable time wall. The stance you take is unethical, you are, One, encouraging your community to spend HUGE amounts of time playing your game at detriment to mental health, or two, encouraging your community to spend (for most) an unethical amount of money at detriment to financial health. If profits are your aim, then congratulations you win, and do continue the way you are. However, if compassion for your community and running a game that offers a fair playing field for the best is your aim, then you are failing miserably. Shame on you @EASPORTSFIFA“
Given that EA releases a new FIFA game every year, this contradicts the claim of player choice when the grind is intentionally grounded to a halt (more on that with Square Enix later). As if choking on their hypocritical statement wasn’t bad enough, the company was hacked in June when 780 gigabytes of data was stolen, including the FIFA and Frostbite source code. Several Cybersecurity experts elaborated on the seriousness of the situation:
“Source code could be, theoretically, be copied by other developers or used to create hacks for games.” – Brett Callow, Cyber Security and threat analyst at Emisoft.
“Anytime source code gets leaked, it’s not good. Hackers can comb through the code, identify deeper flaws for exploit, and sell the previous code on the dark web to malicious threat actors.” – Ekram Ahmed, spokesperson for cyber security firm Check Point.
Those who reached out to EA for comment received the following response:
“We are investigating a recent incident of intrusion into our network where a limited amount of game source code and related tools were stolen. No player data was accessed and we have no reason to believe there is any risk to player privacy. Following the incident we’ve already made security improvements and do not expect an impact on our games or our business. We are actively working with law enforcement officials and other experts as part of this ongoing criminal investigation.”
The hackers were interviewed and showed everyone how easy it was to break into EA’s servers, buying stolen cookies for ten dollars and using it to gain access under the guise of an employee while fabricating a story of losing their login information. Further reports revealed that EA’s management was warned about the security risks yet did nothing to prepare for these incidents:
“We inspect the entire internet but as gamers, we are customers of EA. So many of our employees play FIFA and other games. We love EA so we wanted to contact them to help because their online presence is significant. What we found is the ability to take over assets of EA. It is more than just taking the assets of EA, it is about what can be done with these assets because we know EA. We know that if somebody can send emails from the domains of EA to us, the customers, or to suppliers of EA or to employees of EA, then that’s the easiest door to the company. It isn’t even a door. It is somethings simpler.” – Ori Engelberg, Cofounder of Cyberpion
EA defended its action saying that several cyber security companies were only selling their services rather than reporting the risks despite evidence saying otherwise. Weeks later after failing to secure a buyer, the hackers resorted to ransoming the data, going so far as to publicly release it in parts for free on the internet.
To add insult to injury, the game Battlefield 2042 made headlines for all the wrong reasons starting with the trailer and open beta. Problems arose when players commented that the open beta was littered with bugs and glitches to the point where a delay should’ve been necessary. Then came launch day and boy did it set off many explosions. All the glitches and bugs from the beta, including crashes, remained intact with many complaining how far removed from Battlefield this new entry was with its army characters acting like they were playing at Chuck E. Cheese rather than surviving a harsh war-torn battle. Xbox players were the most vocal with the game crashing their console:
“This has nothing to do with Battlefield. No scoreboards, no classes, no destruction, no servers, no stats, no chat. The weapons, oh my god, they literally only have four ARs. What the f%$k is this? It tries to be a mix of Warzone, Fortnite, Rainbow Six Siege, Apex and so on. The cringe after game lines. This is an unfinished, unpolished, broken game. Do not buy this until everything is fixed.”
Battlefield 2042 became one of the worst reviewed games of the year. Adding to the tone inconsistency was a leak revealing holiday themed content, including reindeer paintings on tanks, red-and-green-colored helicopters, and a militarized Santa Claus, complete with a machine gun and a war-torn coat. In any other game this would’ve been a welcome holiday treat, but until this latest installment the Battlefield series prided itself on realistic human designs and gritty war scenarios compared to the quirky, stylized Fortnite. Further tweets proved that despite QA testing voting against the inclusion, management still went ahead with the implementation. Dice Eventually responded with a Twitter thread clarifying the intended usage, stating they were created months in advance for future games. Reports also revealed that the general manager left Dice after the launch. By the time 2022 dawned up on the world, players jumped ship to the equally despised Battlefield V. Even a Steam game known as Clownfield 2042 grew a bigger fan base, with bugs and glitches proudly marketed.
Finally, the biggest blow to the company came in the latter half of the year concerning its affiliation with FIFA. With players accusing EA of using a copy/paste strategy with every new installment of the soccer/football franchise, and how much money the games rakes in every year, FIFA re-negotiated their contract asking the gaming giant for a billion dollars to lend their license. EA refused and thus announced a possible rebranding of said franchise with FIFA deciding to make their own sports video games. On a related note, EA did retain a business relationship with FIFPRO which licenses athlete likenesses to gaming studios. This marks the first time in nearly two decades that the monopoly on sports games has been broken. Before creating the EA Sports series, the likes of NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, and MLB Slugfest pushed beyond the boundaries of realism for more fantastical experiences.
Electronic Arts is no stranger to controversies at this point. In fact, they’re the leading example when it comes to the worst the industry has to offer. But to sink below the quality standard when it comes to protecting children from predatory practices as well as people’s online data is a new low. Our society becomes more reliant on technology with each passing year that this negligence is no longer tolerable as companies dish out the same non-apology to the public. Even the worst companies prepare themselves for the growing cyber-attacks in the digital age, but if Electronic Arts wants to set a new low bar each year, they’ve got nothing to lose except the title of the worst company to work for. Ironically most of the stuff concerning microtransactions was foreseen by Nintendo’s Hiroshi Yamauchi during the 1990’s, as documented in the book Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan:
“The father-in-law would, every few months, talk about how we’d all soon be playing online games and trading stocks from our SNES, and then nothing would happen. There was at least one decent size network test to let people play the Minnesota state lottery via the SNES. It was scrubbed because ten year olds would likely end up gambling, and with their parent’s money.”
Chapter Three A: The Sony Arrogance
Ever since the PlayStation 3 beat the Xbox 360 in the seventh-generation console war, Sony has been a fan favorite for their customer friendly approach in providing highly acclaimed exclusives and throwing shade at Microsoft for their war on used games. This year saw the tables turn with the arrival of the PlayStation 5 and changes in leadership goals. In February, the company suffered a lawsuit when customers complained about stick drift on their dual sense controllers. Said customers were forced to pay shipping costs in order to repair their drifting analog sticks. The lawsuit was filed by Chimicles Schwartz Kriner & Donaldson-Smith. In addition to the lawsuit, Chimicles warned customers to back out of Sony’s forced arbitration clause that would disallow consumers to pursue their claims in court. This comes off the heels of the infamous Joy-Con drift that plagued the Nintendo Switch and also led to a class-action lawsuit. The matter has yet to be settled as of the end of 2021.
A few months later, McDonalds Australia partnered with Twitch to give away fifty specially branded PlayStation 5 controllers. Unfortunately, Sony intervened stating that McDonalds did not seek permission with them to authorize the item. Thus, the fifty controllers were never given away and are now collectible items. A spokesperson from McDonalds Australia elaborated:
“Unfortunately, McDonalds’s stream week has been postponed and won’t be going ahead this Sunday. We are unable to confirm a new date for the postponed event at this time…Sony PlayStation has not authorized the use of its controller in promotional materials related to the proposed Stream Week event and we apologize for any inconvenienced caused.”
As technology continues to develop, we’re seeing a shift towards digital media over physical media with weekly discounts luring customers to the PlayStation and Microsoft stores. But seeing as we’re only two generations into prioritizing online markets over traditional retail, the question of long-term preservation has been of little concern in favor of short-term profits. That came ahead in March when Sony announced that the digital storefronts on the PlayStation 3, PSP and PS Vita would be shutting down. No plans were implemented to preserve the titles that were not brought over to the PlayStation 4, which means that many PS1, PSP, and PS Vita games would become obsolete. Patches for several games were brought into question as gamers scrambled to buy titles in danger before they became lost to time like the PS1 edition of Resident Evil 3. They invested a lot of money in these past consoles which begs the question of why digital games are being prioritized when physical copies can last longer. It also ignited the discussion of both gaming preservation and emulation: the latter being a touchy subject in the gaming industry. While the likes of PlayStation Now have preserved several collections, the fact that they’re only available through a cloud subscription rather than individual purchase speaks volumes on how much the industry has changed, not to mention how rare games from older consoles are more expensive.
Eventually Sony retracted their decision after the backlash. Jim Ryan, the CEO and President of Sony Interactive elaborated:
“Recently, we notified players that PlayStation Store for PS3 and PS Vita devices was planned to end this summer. Upon further reflection, however, it’s clear that we made the wrong decision here. So today I’m happy to say that we will be keeping the PlayStation Store operational for PS3 and PS Vita devices. PSP commerce functionality will retire on July 2, 2021 as planned. When we initially came to the decision to end purchasing support for PS3 and PS Vita, it was born out of a number of factors, including commerce support challenges for older devices and the ability for us to focus more of our resources on newer devices where a majority of our gamers are playing on. We see now that many of you are incredibly passionate about being able to continue purchasing classic games on PS3 and PS Vita for the foreseeable future, so I’m glad we were able to find a solution to continue operations. I’m glad that we can keep this piece of our history alive for gamers to enjoy, while we continue to create cutting-edge new game worlds for PS4, PS5, and the next generation of VR. Thank you for sharing your feedback with us – we’re always listening and appreciate the support from our PlayStation community.”
But even that didn’t stop Sony from pulling more shady business practices. On October 27th, 2021, they disallowed customers to use credit/debit cards and PayPal to make purchases on the older console, opting to force consumers to buy PSN gift cards to make any purchases. Even several PS Vita developers expressed disappointment in Sony’s treatment of their library, informing them the same time they informed the public of the closure:
“You are finding out at the same time as we are, I was working on Vita specific tasks this morning.” – LillymoGames
Furthermore, other developers expressed contention for Sony’s treatment of Indie developers. Having grown an audience over the years for prioritizing creativity and finishing a game before shipping, many slammed Sony for their lack of communication and fair treatment compared to Nintendo and Microsoft, forcing them to beg for promotions on a blog, charging a hefty fee and a portion of your earnings to be promoted on said blog (which wasn’t popular to begin with), and limiting invite only discounts.
“Ok, I am mad enough to burn some bridges. Because honestly, what’s the point of a bridge that I am not allowed to cross” – Ian Garner
“Alright, I’m gonna unfortunately throw my hat in here as well. We **love** our Platform X friends, and I’m a former Platform X employee myself, but we cannot move the needle on the platform. Less than 3% of sales as a company are on PX” – Matthew White
“This thread mirrors our experiences exactly. Draugen has been out for over a year on consoles. When was the last time it was discounted or featured in a sale? And it’s definitely not for a lack of trying. It’s disheartening.” – Ragnar Tornquist
“Yeah, PlayStation sucks for indie devs. We’ve sold like trash on there compared the other big consoles. Also, we make more sales on Switch alone than we do on PS I’m pretty sure.” – Jay Tholen
“There’s a thread going round today that lots of people are sharing The reason you don’t see more threads like it, is because devs are too worried to say it publicly. But trust me when I say that the vast majority of devs are reading that thread, and nodding their heads violently” – Mike Rose
In related news, the company diverted attention away from the Japanese market and focused more on the American market, going so far as downsizing Japan Studio, who had previously finished work on The Last Guardian. They even wanted to bring their big budget franchises to mobile devices, clearly wanting a piece of the battle royale pie popularized by Fortnite and Call of Duty. One franchise eventually did get the mobile treatment: Wipeout. A futuristic racing game that has laid dormant for a decade, the announcement of a new entry, Wipeout Rush, initially excited fans before they found out it was a free-to-play title. Rogue Games Incorporated CEO Matt Casamassina anticipated the backlash and attempted to defend the game’s direction:
“If I want that visceral, immersive, intense racing experience, I’ll find it waiting on PlayStation, but at the same time, we’re delighted that we could rethink WipEout for mobile with some fun new play mechanics and gorgeous visuals. We hope fans will come to it with an open mind because—although different—we’re proud to bring the wipEout franchise back into focus with a fresh take on the formula, and we’ve poured a lot of love into the presentation, which includes loads of iconic ships and tracks, a new comic book-inspired narrative, a fitting electronica soundtrack, and gorgeous visuals that run at 60 frames per second on modern hardware.”
Sony also treated support studios like a stepchild, not giving them any support to make their own games. Developer Sony Bend was asked to assist Naughty Dog in developing both a multiplayer game and a new entry in the Uncharted franchise. Fearing they would be absorbed by the larger studio, leadership asked to be taken off the project and they are now working on their own game. It was also revealed that Days Gone was denied a sequel in light of the mixed reception despite a profitable outcome. Writer/Director John Garvin reflects on the decision during an interview with David Jaffe:
“I took it hard to be honest because, again, this is just the reality of Sony. Metacritic’s score is everything. If you’re the creative director on a franchise, and your game is coming out to a seventy, you’re not going to be the creative director on that franchise for very long. I do have an opinion on something that your audience may find of interest, and it might piss some of them off. If you love a game, buy it at f#$king full price. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen gamers say, ‘Yeah, I got that on sale, I got it through PS Plus, whatever’…Don’t complain if a game doesn’t get a sequel if it wasn’t supported at launch. It’s like God of War got whatever number millions of sales at launch and, you know, Days Gone didn’t. I’m just speaking for me personally as a developer, I don’t work for Sony. I don’t know what the numbers are. I can tell you that when we were doing Syphon Filter Dark Mirror on PSP, we got so fucked on Dark Mirror because piracy was a thing and Sony wasn’t really caught up on what piracy was doing to sales. And we would show them torrents, a torrent site had 200,000 copies of Dark Mirror being downloaded. If I remember it right, the numbers could be wrong, but regardless, I was pissed about it then, I was like, ‘This is money out of my pocket.'”
Indeed, this received immediate backlash for blaming players, but not the company for disavowing the franchise. Back on the subject, Sony’s Visual Arts Service Group attempted to create their own projects as they were mainly a support studio for several big budget successes like The Last of Us. They pitched several games to Sony such as a remake of the first Uncharted, but it was denied due to the high expenses. They were instead tasked with remaking The Last of Us, but eventually lost control when Sony enlisted Naughty Dog to carry out the task.
But the arrogance doesn’t stop there. In a story linked to the company’s resistance to cross play, leaked documents revealed that Sony charged developers for implementing cross play in their games. An email with Epic’s vice president Joe Kriener revealed the contention Sony held with stepping outside the PlayStation boundaries. The following screenshot is a supposed win/win proposal from Kriener:
Sony’s then Senior Director of Developer Relations, Gio Corsi, responded with the following quote enforcing their cross-platform revenue share plan:
“Cross-platform play is not a slam dunk no matter the size of the title. As you know, many companies are exploring this idea and not a single one can explain how cross-console play improves the PlayStation business.”
This culminated in a backlash when Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford announced on Twitter that Borderlands 3 would implement cross play across all platforms except PlayStation:
“Good news or bad news first? Good News: An update for Borderlands 3 has been prepared for release that includes full crossplay support across all platforms. Bad News: For certification, we have been required by the publisher to remove crossplay support for PlayStation consoles.”
Many journalists questioned Pitchford on who’s decision led to the exclusion of PlayStation. No answer was given.
In related news, fans were taken aback when Sony announced that their exclusives would be ported to PC. The PlayStation is known for having many exclusives as one of the driving forces behind people backing their consoles: Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Uncharted, Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, The Last of Us, the list goes on. But the company tested the waters of PC ports in summer 2020 releasing Horizon: Zero Dawn. It sold over 700,000 copies and prompted Sony to move ahead with other games. The backlash from the PlayStation community was immediate foreshadowing the idea of console exclusivity being retired as we enter the next generation of gaming. As of 2022, God of War 2018 has been ported to PC with a player count of over 73,000 in its first 24 hours.
Finally, with both the Xbox Series X/S and the PlayStation 5 increasing its presence in households, many games upgraded to take advantage of the new hardware. The difference is that Microsoft gave players free upgrades, while Sony took the anti-consumer route. This first came to light with Doom Eternal. Microsoft’s smart delivery automatically upgraded players to the next gen edition, while the PlayStation 5 locked players and their last gen saved data out even after downloading the next gen patch. It happened again with Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut where a ten-dollar upgrade fee was implemented for people who wanted to transition from the PS4 version to the PS5 version. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was with one of the most anticipated sequels for 2022: Horizon: Forbidden West. Developed by Guerrilla Games, Sony’s marketing promised a free next gen upgrade highlighting their we believe in generations statement by global marketing head, Eric Lempel. Jim Ryan was quoted on the promise:
“We know that the PS4 community will transition to PS5 at different times, and we’re happy to announce PS4 versions of some of our exclusives. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and Horizon Forbidden West will also launch on PS4. While these three games were designed to take advantage of PS5 and its unique next-gen features like the ultra-high-speed SSD and DualSense controller, PS4 owners will also be able to enjoy these experiences when they launch. The PS4 digital versions of launch games include a free upgrade on both PS5 consoles, while the PS4 disc versions of these games include a free upgrade on the PS5 with Ultra HD Blu-Ray disc drive.”
Not even the pandemic discouraged Ryan’s promise when the game was delayed to Q1 2022:
“Last year we made a commitment to deliver free upgrades for our cross-gen launch titles, which included Horizon Forbidden West. While the pandemic’s profound impact pushed Forbidden West out of the launch window we initially envisioned, we will stand by our offer: Players who purchase Horizon Forbidden West on PlayStation 4 will be able to upgrade to the PlayStation 5 version for free.“
But that promise was broken in September when pre-orders locked the next gen upgrade behind the digital deluxe edition ($80), not physical, essentially forcing physical owners to pay twice for the same game, let alone try to find a PS5 that is in high demand on the scalping market. This came under heavy fire from the community who brought up the broken promise to Sony and forced Ryan to retract their statement, offering a free upgrade on all versions, though they added that future games will have an upgrade fee:
“I also want to confirm today that moving forward, PlayStation first-party exclusive cross-gen titles (newly releasing on PS4 & PS5)–both digital and physical – will offer a $10 USD digital upgrade option from PS4 to PS5. This will apply to the next God of War and Gran Turismo 7, and any other exclusive cross-gen PS4 & PS5 title published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.“
Going over Sony’s history in 2021, it’s sad to see a purveyor of excellent game service fall apart as the industry looks for new ways to charge gamers for more money. All of this would’ve been shunned by past generations where the focus was on fostering up and coming developers, a diverse library, a united player community, and technical innovations without compromising the customer, like when the PlayStation 2 doubled as a DVD player. Now it’s just waiting for any opportunity to slap a higher price on anything, investing in big blockbusters while strangling Indie developers, and forsaking the goodwill that put it one step ahead of the competition. That’s not to say that they weren’t in the right in all cases. One company DBrand went out of its way to sell custom PS5 plates when Sony themselves were not offering such an item. Their website and social media pages screamed for Sony to sue them and for customers to buy their products before Sony’s lawyers could bring down the legal hammer. Sony eventually sent a cease-and-desist order to DBrand, and the custom plates were taken down…only to return with a different design. DBrand also went out of their way to highlight how they were in the legal right to sell the plates. Sony eventually filed patents to make their own custom plates in the near future. Hopefully Sony’s humiliation brings back the company that see’s what’s wrong with gaming in the new decade and attempt to stand out with competitive and customer friendly business tactics, unlike others who were caught up in some scandals that would exile them from the industry altogether.
Chapter Three B: The Sting
As if the toxic work environment of the gaming industry wasn’t bad enough, this year saw a string of people caught in the news for unwanted reasons. Two weeks after Sony condemned Activision/Blizzard’s toxic work culture, the YouTube channel People vs Preds released a video with executive George Caioppo wearing a PlayStation 5 shirt. Sony’s Senior Vice President of Engineering used Grindr to meet up with a fifteen-year-old boy only to reveal that it was a sting operation exposing those preying on minors. The channel backed their video with photo evidence of Grindr conversations with Cacioppo who went under the name Jeff. Once the video was released, Cacioppo was fired from his position and as of 2022 is under investigation by the San Diego Police. People vs Preds confirmed that they sent the evidence to authorities, but because they were a Cybergroup the police wouldn’t cooperate with them. In a related story, Senior Account Manager of NVidia, Todd Wiseman, was also caught in a sting by the same YouTube channel. Wiseman was caught on video at a hotel, but claimed he was meeting a friend, even with screenshot evidence. He then removed his profile picture from Linkedin. As of now he is offline and has been let go by NVidia.
Chapter Four: Wall Street, Reddit, and the Sheriff of Robin Hood
In 2020, GameStop was at the forefront of controversy when it refused to close during the beginning of the pandemic, even going so far as to ignoring law enforcement mandates by claiming it was an essential business. This year, their name came up in a newsbreak concerning Wall Street of all places. But before getting into the story, it’s important to know the meaning of short selling, as explained in the book Stock Market 101: From Bull and Bear Markets to Dividends, Shares, and Margins: Your Essential Guide to the Stock Market by Michele Cagan:
“Short sellers are betting that the share price of the stock they just sold will decline, hopefully far and fast…Selling short means selling shares that you don’t already own: you sell them first, then plan to buy them when the price drops. In the middle is your broker, who loans you the shares to sell, and whom you pay back with the shares you buy. When you place the original order, you must be explicit: you’re legally required to identify a short sale trade when you place the order. When you short a stock, you also must use a margin account. The account must be worth 150% of the value of the securities you’re shorting. That 150% includes the short position. The biggest risk of short selling doesn’t exist for buying long. This is because by selling short you can lose more than your original investment. If the stock prices rise, you will take a loss. In fact, the loss potential is unlimited because there’s no cap on how high the share prices could climb. Regardless of the new share price, you’re required to pay back every share you borrowed. For example, if you sold short shares at $20 per share, but the price rises to $50 per share, you would lose $30 dollars per share. If you had bought those shares normally, hoping the price would rise, and price dropped to zero, you would only be out your $20 per share investment. Why would anyone take that unlimited risk? Because with careful research and objective motivation, short selling can be a way to profit when a stock is losing ground.”
Basically, when a company’s stock plumets, investors sell the stock and then buy it back for a lower price. Given how much business GameStop has lost over the years, Wall Street investors saw this as an easy way to make money by investing in the company’s stock. However, several Reddit users increased the stock price, meaning investors lost more money than they gambled. This in turn caught the attention of several politicians who were key to point out the hypocrisy of the situation along with the rest of the public as Wall Street investors complained about the rigging:
“Gotta admit it’s really something to see Wall Streeters with a long history of treating our economy as a casino complain about a message board of posters also treating the market as a casino. Anyways, tax the rich” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
“So, market manipulation by federal reserve pumping $ into failing banks and corporations is okay. But Reddit users rallying GameStop is wrong and must be regulated? The entire stock market is disconnected from reality. Funny how quickly the financial press cries for hedge funds.” – Ana Kasparian
In response to the situation, the stock trading app RobinHood placed restrictions on trading, specifically for GameStop as well as AMC, Blackberry and Nokia, in addition to banning dogecoin exchanges. The response was meant as an action on behalf of customer benefits, but it painted the app more akin to the Sheriff of Nottingham:
As for the investors, they got a $2.8 billion bailout from Steve Cohen and Ken Griffin. Despite all the policy changes, Robin Hood suffered several lawsuits from customers and congress for knowingly manipulating the market. While the media labeled the WallstreetBets as saboteurs of the economy, the Reddit users who benefited from the situation donated both money and Nintendo Switches to children’s hospitals. Something companies only do to get a tax break. Several heads of charity had some glowing statements for the Reddit users who donated part of their earnings:
“Our child life specialists use a variety of tools to help our pediatric patients cope and heal in the face of critical illness. These new gaming systems will no doubt provide entertainment for our patients and help with the healing process during this challenging time.” – Jessica O’Neal, CEO of the Medical City Children’s Hospital in Dallas, Texas
“We’re so grateful for the generous donation that will help bring joy to kids at our hospitals, especially during these challenging times. It’s inspiring to see young people in our community choosing to give back and pay it forward.” – Jennifer Soderholm, President of Children’s Minnesota Foundation
In a time of a health crisis and massive wealth inequality, this incident proved several factors about life that are now outdated baby boomer statements of the traditional American Dream: Only the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, those from Wall Street who criticize the less fortunate can’t swallow their own words, money talks more than laws, and billion-dollar corporations will try to stop common people from making a comfortable living. It was only two years ago when people who were out of a job because of the pandemic were told to plan for a rainy day, and yet when billionaires started losing money, they got bailed out, despite having more than enough to survive these uncertain times. It’s this kind of hypocrisy that confirms that the traditional American dream that once had plenty of wealth to go around is dead and buried.
Chapter Five: CD Projekt Red Aftermath
After the release of Cyberpunk 2077 following a long and troubled development cycle, the fallout saw serious consequences surrounding CD Projekt Red. On top of throwing all their goodwill down the toilet as refunds skyrocketed to $51 million, the executives still collected bonuses despite the company suffering several lawsuits and a digital burglary of their source code. Staff were told to freeze their accounts in order to protect their personal information as well as report the attack to their governments and banks. This delayed the 1.2 patch that was part of the game’s roadmap as employees were locked out of their workstation for two weeks:
“While we dearly wanted to deliver Patch 1.2 for Cyberpunk 2077 in the timespan we detailed previously, the recent cyber-attack on the studio’s IT infrastructure and extensive scope of the update mean this unfortunately will not happen — we’ll need some additional time.” – CD Projekt Red’s Tweet
Several developers at the company retweeted the quote:
“I know you are all waiting for patch 1.2 for #Cyberpunk2077 — I do want it released as well, but recent events have been very troubling. We are doing what we can to provide you with quality updates. Here you can read more about our efforts.” – Pawel Sasko, Quest Director
“Speaking for myself I’ve been hellbent to help create an impactful patch for our game and it’s been pretty tough and annoying to be affected by this attack to such a degree. This sucks for all of us. :(” – Miles Tost, Senior Level Designer
The patch was eventually released in March and the game is now in patch 1.31, while Abri Advisors CEO Jeffrey Tirman called for the resignation of the company’s co-founder, Adam Kicinski.
Outside of Cyberpunk 2077, their digital PC platform Good Ol’ Games (GOG) came under fire for some shady business practices. With the release of Hitman: Game of the Year Edition, GOG advertised that the title would not require DRM support in order to play: something that’s separated itself from Steam’s always online requirement to access your gaming library. This was completely disproved when negative reviews claimed that a DRM connection was needed in order to access game progression. GOG claimed the comments were part of a review bombing scheme and removed all negative comments:
“Dear GOG community, thank you for bringing this topic to our attention. We’re looking into it and will be updating you in the coming weeks. In case you have purchased Hitman and are not satisfied with the released version, you can use your right to refund the game. At the same time, while we’re open to meaningful discussion and feedback, we will not tolerate review bombing and will be removing posts that do not follow our review guidelines.”
But customers claimed their negative reviews did follow guidelines in pointing out the flaws with the mis advertising. After further consideration, GOG removed the game from the store:
“Dear Community, thank you for your patience and for giving us time to investigate the release of Hitman: GOTY edition on GOG. As promised, we’re getting back to you with updates. We’re still in the dialogue with IO Interactive about this release. Today we have removed Hitman GOTY from GOG’s catalog – we shouldn’t have released it in its current form, as you’ve pointed out. We’d like to apologize for the confusion and anger generated by this situation. We’ve let you down and we’d like to thank you for bringing this topic to us – while it was honest to the bone, it shows how passionate you are towards GOG. We appreciate your feedback and will continue our efforts to improve our communication with you.”
Now it’s true that unlike other studios, CD Projekt Red is required by Polish labor laws to pay its employees for extra work hours, but that still doesn’t excuse them from hoarding a good portion of money after working their staff to exhaustion only for the game to be released in an unfinished state while the ground floor received hateful comments from gamers. At the very least, they took correct action with Hitman: Game of the Year Edition, but there’s no telling how long it will take to heal from this breach of trust for both the employees and gamers. With many studios relying on roadmaps to patch up both the games and their reputation, one doesn’t know how much more this will be tolerated from both a development and player perspective.
Chapter Six: A Glitch in the Twitch
Over the years, content creators have had to deal with the bullshit that is YouTube’s broken copyright system that allows anyone, like a third-party company hired by corporations, to send out copyright claims on videos, regardless of fair use. The reasons behind these actions vary from silencing criticism to supposedly protecting stolen content. In spite of many creators proving their case, there is yet to be a system that punishes false claims. Instead, YouTube focuses on unimportant aspects like hiding the dislike counter. Naturally, content creators moved their videos to Twitch where there were less restrictions. Unfortunately, despite being backed by a company with more than enough resources to sort out this trouble, Twitch is now being infected by the same system that turned people away from YouTube. DMCA takedowns have been increasing over the years, but without the option to fight false claims while strikes remain a permanent stain on a content creator’s record. Angry Joe Vargas vented about how impossible it was to prove his innocence as the website destroyed the evidence leveled against him:
“Copyright strikes do not depreciate after a set period of time. If I receive three strikes my channel is terminated, yet I can’t see the strike, I can’t submit a counter-notification, I can’t submit a dispute. ‘Here is your DMCA strike.’ ‘What is the clip?’ ‘We don’t have a link to the clip. We told you to delete all your VODs.’ There is no dispute button. You can’t even review the VODs identified in DMCA notifications in your dashboard, and they don’t plan [on adding that feature] that until December 2021. This is so weighted in favor of [record labels] that it is unconscionable. They make millions of dollars, and this is the amount of protection content creators get. You have to show some respect to the people that built Twitch. This was all created by us. You wouldn’t have any of this without us.”
Adding more salt to the wound was Twitch’s treatment of minority streamers. Even when jumping on the Pride bandwagon in June, Twitch did nothing to stop the many hate raids that plagued the site in 2021. What would normally boost viewership for Twitch friends turned into a weaponized tool for discrimination, given that most people are hidden behind a computer during these raids. Even worse were automated bots that spammed chats with racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic slurs. Not even moderators helped fend off this toxic practice. Twitch streamers Pleasantlytwstd and Cypheroftyrs shared their experience with Jim Stephanie Sterling on the matter:
“For years on end, marginalized creators have been yelling at Twitch about hate raids, harassment, doxing, inappropriate imagery, stalking, and a plethora of other egregious issues to little or no response. This is the same reactionary company that refused to implement tags because ‘We don’t see your identity as content,’ only to then eat crow and implement them anyway after LGBTQIAP+ developers took issues into their own hands. Part of that reasoning was also, ‘We think it will endanger you.’ Which accidently admits that they’re aware that moderation is shit, and they’re making a conscious decision to do nothing about it. The part about the Hate Raids that’s especially frustrating is, honestly, how poorly a lot of creators are handling it as well. One of the largest creators on the platform actually had the gall to say, in the eight years they have been here, they’ve never seen hate raiding to this degree. And it was only a year and a half ago that we all watched as a trans woman creator was bullied off the platform via harassment, doxing, bot raids, hate raids, and to this day death threats. The biggest salt in the wound for that is that the person in question is part of the Twitch Safety Council. So, if they’re not willing to even protect someone that they supposedly hired to address things like this, why should we believe that they’re invested in protecting communities that are one fifth of that size?” – Pleasantlytwstd
“Why is this so difficult? Why is it so very difficult to get to where we can go live without 50, 100, 1,000 bots showing up? Calling me every variation of the N word, telling me to go back to Africa, saying that my head should get twisted off, and again, people have been bot raided before, they’ve been hate raided, but this is ramped up. This is very intentional. This is targeted. This shouldn’t be happening to begin with. No one should be able to circumvent your security that f%$king easily [Hopefully it’s okay to swear], to where they can, multiple times in one stream, send hundreds or thousands of bots, either with a username, mocking someone’s username, and by the way they’ve done it to the point where the real person that they’re mocking or spoofing, their channel got banned but not the person making all these bots. Make that make sense for me Twitch. I really need to understand. Twitch needs to do better. The creators that can make a difference should be speaking up about this, and also stop repackaging what the black and queer folks have already been saying and getting brownie points for it. Cause we see you. We see you, the people that literally said, ‘I’ve been on this platform X number of years, and this has never been an issue. Did you know that Twitch has tools?’ Yes, we know that Twitch has tools, we use them. The person or people behind these hate raids is aware of those tools and has done everything to circumvent them, which is why I’ve now got six vods, five vods I can’t really use because it was bot raids hate raid O’Clock. And while I didn’t give them a reaction, I wasn’t even on camera for all those, it still disrupted my day, and gave me extra work to do, and my mods extra work to do. So, whether or not you take a day off Twitch, whether or not you are even aware that hate raids are a thing, go educate yourselves, go look at what’s happening in the greater world of Twitch, and support people. And if you wanna sub on Twitch, follow those creators, see if they’ve got Ko-Fi, Patreon, Fanhouse, OnlyFans, whatever it is they do, if there’s a way to support them off of Twitch, cause honestly the only way we’re gonna see a change is if it affects the bottom line of the company, which a whole lot of us would have to take our subs and our money off, and our views off. So, TLDR, hate raids suck, I hate the fact that I’ve now doubled my checklist, I fully anticipate a hate raid every time I go live, and this is now a day ending in why I hit go live on Twitch, and I hate it. And I need Twitch to take action sooner than later than ‘We’re working on something, and it’ll be ready in months.’ In months, a lot of us won’t be here and then the landscape will be very pale, very boring, and very homogenous, which is what the hate raiders want. So, if you can, stay on the platform, keep your community where they are, and thanks for a chance to talk about this commander, I salute you.” – Cypheroftyrs
Given how a lack of security is a running joke in today’s entertainment from Electronic Arts to CD Projekt Red, one wonders why a site that’s owned by a billion-dollar corporation can’t take a small amount of time to beef up their security (more on that later). Twitch put out several statements about creator safety, but none of them were backed by immediate action as they continue to take half of all streamer revenue. The website didn’t do anyone any favors when it was leaked in October, revealing confidential information such as the highest paid streamers, an unknown streaming competitor, and security codes. It was even revealed that some streamers were on a do not block list, such as Ricegum and Loltyler1 who are considered above the rules that have been strangling other streamers. This was kept from the public for a number of days, before changing stream key identifiers despite everyone already changing them in the first place. Twitch, you’re better than this. Get off your lazy @$$ and get your sh!t together. When YouTube is the better option after everything this website did to alleviate some of the stress content creators dealt with, it’s time to look in the mirror and slap yourself for not putting actions to your words and stop pretending that you’ll get something done in X number of months. Amazon, stop spending billions of dollars just to send someone to space, and fix this. It. Otherwise don’t put any rainbow images on your products next June (more on that later).
Chapter Seven: The Ubisoft Exodus
Before going over the elephant in the room concerning Ubisoft, let’s look at the miscellaneous events that led up to the recently reported exodus. Once famous for titles such as Prince of Persia, Assassins Creed and Rayman, Ubisoft’s business decisions have left a sour taste on even its most loyal fans. At the start of the year, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was updated with more monetization than gameplay improvements. The title launched with many game-breaking bugs and glitches, and yet Ubisoft prioritized microtransactions over fixing the game. With their announcement of an increased development in free-to-play games, players were even more angry when the announced Assassin’s Creed Infinity was the start of turning their franchises into live services. It was so poorly received, that several veteran developers left Ubisoft as the company steered their attention toward copying the market.
Then there was the update on Ubisoft’s own Anthem, Skull and Bones. A game that started out as DLC to Assassian’s Creed, but eventually took on a life of its own, it has yet to be finished or cancelled after four delays and several reboots. Its budget has exceeded $120 million. The company implemented a bonus system depending on how well the game ships, but the game suffered a write-off in order for developers to have a shot (not guarantee) at said bonus. Leadership at Ubisoft was described as too stubborn to let a potential live service die. That and they’re also contractually obligated by the Singapore government, who partially funded the project, to finish. Several developers even compared the production to Anthem. Management responded to news outlets on the coverage of the long development history:
“The Skull and Bones team are proud of the work they’ve accomplished on the project since their last update with production just passing Alpha and are excited to share more details when the time is right. That being said, any unfounded speculation about the game or decisions being made only works to demoralize the team who are working very hard to develop an ambitious new franchise that lives up to expectations of our players. Over the past year, we’ve seen significant changes to our policies and processes to create a safe and more inclusive workplace and empower our team to create games that reflect the diversity of the world we live in.”
With the change in technology between console generations, revamping the game with new development software added more time to the already delayed title. Coupled with changing visions over the direction, culture clashes, a rotation of creative directors, crunch, and developers contradicting statements from management, and the end result saw many people leave out of frustration:
“It’s one of the only projects I’ve seen whereas we were going, the team became more and more junior because all the talent and all the experience would leave constantly. People would learn about the project, see how it works and everything around it, and then leave. It was constant.”
As of now, the project is still in development even after it’s co-director, Antoine Henry, left Ubisoft Singapore.
Back in June 2020, Ubisoft came under fire when a newsflash exposed sexual predators who were protected by both HR and CEO Yves Guillemot. However, the story was eventually buried underneath all the promotional material for their new games as the company tried to use diversity as a distraction. But in the wake of the Activision/Blizzard lawsuit, several employees from Ubisoft revealed that the company had done nothing to change the toxic work environment since their initial statements. The staff that signed a letter for change debunked the company’s statements with a lack of action:
“By refusing to include employees in the feedback and decision-making process on harassment, Ubisoft management shows that it never had any intention to do more than communicate to save face.”
“These moves do absolutely nothing to address the key demands of A Better Ubisoft. In addition, by weighting the pay rises enormously in favor of senior staff, management are exacerbating the gap between the highly and lowly paid workers.”
This resulted in the mass exodus of workers quitting Ubisoft to both send a message and find better paying jobs and safer workplaces. Once again, management tried to downplay the situation by focusing on mass new hires. For a company focused on moving forward, they sure have a habit of keeping the past in high positions of power while disregarding employee demands after years of abuse. Add another HR department that’s more concerned about burying problems instead of resolving them and suddenly it becomes clear why people take to Twitter to complain about these issues. More and more, the gaming industry is proving that just because a system is in place to deal with these problems, doesn’t mean that everything will work out in the end. What matters is the people running these systems, and if they are proven to have corrupted what should be a common workplace benefit for the good of employee morale, then boasting about the system is a lost cause. This shouldn’t take months just to implement; it should already be standard at this point no matter how many times Ubisoft claims that it will do better.
Chapter Eight: Wounded Pride
June has become the official pride month where people show overwhelming support for the LGBTQ community following the Stonewall Riots, Harvey Milk’s political campaign and dozens of other movements for equal rights. Recently companies have been taking advantage of the celebration by advertising their own rainbow products until July first. To the average onlooker this might seem like a step in the right direction, but those who read between the lines see it as an attempt to make money off the backs of equality struggles. Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch commented on this practice when he retweeted an image from Disney’s Twitter page claiming there’s room under the rainbow for everyone:
The gaming industry experienced similar backfires in 2021. The first originates from Warner Brothers Games and their attempt to celebrate pride. The mobile edition of Injustice 2 held a pride event titled Love Conquers All, themed around Batman villain Poison Ivy, who has been confirmed as bisexual. The in-game event would pit players against Ivy and receive bonus experience points for defeating her in combat. Unfortunately, Warner Brothers didn’t take into account that their method of celebrating pride involved beating up a character who identifies as LGBTQ. The backlash was immediate, the company took down the event, and issued an apology for not seeing what millions of people could tell was the opposite of what pride stood for:
“We recognize associating our latest global challenge with Pride month was insensitive and inappropriate. Real life violence against the LGBTQIA+ community and women within the community in particular is all too common and we should actively engage in efforts to end LGBTQIA+ violence, not normalize it. We apologize to the greater community, but especially the LGBTQIA+ members. We are committed to listening and doing better.”
Things didn’t end there. In a record year of anti-lgbtq initiatives in both the United States and the United Kingdom, news broke that Five Nights at Freddy’s creator Scott Cawthon had been donating campaign money to several Republican candidates, including Mitch McConnell, who complained that corporations should not get political following a change in Alabama’s voting laws, and Donald Trump. When the news broke, Cawthon assumed full responsibility for the donations and announced his retirement from game development. Many cried cancel culture while others satirized the #IStandWithScott movement re-tweeting images of Scott Pilgrim vs the World and Antman. People even sent death threats to Cawthon’s social media account.
It’s one thing to have a different opinion about human rights. It’s an entirely different beast to donate money to people who are backtracking said rights, especially when a good chunk of your fanbase stems from the LGBTQ community. Since 2016, Republicans have been rolling back LGBTQ rights that the Obama Administration put into place, backing “religious freedom” for churches to remain both tax exempt and politically active, all the while banning transgender troops from the military despite Trump being one of the most infamous draft dodgers in U.S. history. Half of the United States doesn’t even have worker rights for LGBTQ employees. So, when people like Jim Stephanie Sterling voice their opinion on the matter (we’ll get to that later), it’s about fighting for their rights to exist as humans when society treats them as anything but. Those who cry cancel culture have never experienced discrimination on such a high level. However, after going over the details, it’s more complicated than it looks. And yes, the death threats were completely uncalled for, but if you think discrimination against the LGBTQ community has been erased, let this year stand as an example that little progress has been made and why LGBTQ gamers are quick to defend themselves when even escapism is a source of discrimination. Just look back on the chapter that discusses how Twitch treats minority streamers as an example of those harassed and those not taking any action against harassment. Out of all the responses from the internet, Game Theorist founder MatPat summed up the issue the best by dissecting the cons of supporting anti-human rights platforms, the growing presence of diversity in the entertainment industry (both on screen and behind the scenes), the reality of human rights in America, being a fan of a franchise without the creator, judging someone based on character, how a creator handles their influence after becoming famous, the lack of grey areas in the current political climate, and the discourse of threatening people online. Cawthon has stated that he will find a worthy successor to the franchise and that the candidates he chose were based on subjects outside of human rights. As for his involvement in the upcoming film adaption of his games, it’s still left up in the air after the original screenplay was scrapped.
Chapter Nine: All’s Fair in Scalping Wars
With or without the pandemic, scalping has risen over the years with items like retro video games, happy meal toys, and Pokémon Cards. In addition to scalpers continuing to snatch up bulks of PlayStation 5’s and Xbox Series consoles, many scalping stories fueled the fire as society regressed into another pandemic evolution. Valve announced their new product Steam Deck which sought to bring PC gaming on the go. It’s no secret that it wanted to compete with the Nintendo Switch, including the recent release of the Oled console. Preorders crashed the Steam website and as you might have guessed, scalpers were quick to jack up the price on third party platforms. Even those who managed to get an order had to wait past its February 2022 release date. Unlike other scalping stories, Ebay was quick to delist sales for violating the pre-sale policy that requires an item to ship within 30 days.
Then there’s the case of Nintendo, which is one of the biggest culprits behind a lot of scalping incidents such as understocking the NES and SNES classic: both of which are no longer in production and now go for a hefty price. In 2020, they announced the release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars for the Nintendo Switch: a compilation of Mario’s best 3D outings including Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. The catch was that it would only be available for six months, both physically and digitally. On March 31st, 2021, the company removed both Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Super Mario 35 from the physical and digital marketplace. The internet had a moment of silence for what turned out to be one of the best-selling titles on the Switch, lamenting the fact that there’s no point in making digital video games a limited release. Afterwards, scalpers immediately started upping the price of physical copies, ranging from as low as $275 and as high as $25,000. As of now, Super Mario 64 is available on the Nintendo Switch’s Online Expansion Pack that added N64 games, but only with a subscription rather than an individual purchase.
If this was a one-off deal then it could be excusable, but another case led to more outcry to a company that people assumed would know better. During the marketing of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, Nintendo revealed a $25 Zelda and Loftwing Amiibo that locked unlimited fast travel without finding a statue. Many were baffled that such a feature was held ransom behind an item in limited quantity, not to mention omitting it from a game that’s ten years old yet still cost full price without any additional features outside of new controls. Sure enough, the Amiibo sold out and the scalping spread like wildfire. Keep in mind that Amiibos have a long history of being scalped, even with Nintendo displaying their disappointment. Granted, it’s the least of all evils concerning microtransactions, but it doesn’t make the business decision less egregious.
But the biggest scalping story came in the form of market manipulation between two groups working together. Over the years, Retro gaming has become very expensive, but this year a story broke surrounding an auction for games dating back to the NES days. The Heritage Auctions website was caught in a scandal for conspiring with WATA Games, a grading company that determines the value of older video games, to create a financial bubble around the retro market. Boxed editions of Super Mario Bros and Super Mario 64 were sold for six to seven figures by a collective group of three people on Heritage Auctions. Upon further investigation, one of the buyers was in fact Heritage Auctions founder Jim Halperin, who was also revealed to be an advisor on WATA when it first launched. Halperin and WATA co-founder Deniz Kahn then used the media to build hype around older games:
“I’m very happy with our purchase of Super Mario Bros., considering the impact the release of the game had on the world and continues to have. The first signature Auctions featuring Wata-certified video games run this February 21-23, and while this copy won’t appear in this auction, it just may end up in an auction sometime in the future. There are bets on what will someday be the first million-dollar video game, and many collectors believe that this will be the one. Whether it is or not, I think the value is there based upon the rarity, importance of Super Mario and the high grade. When coins, baseball cards, and comic books with much higher populations are bringing in millions of dollars, to me this game seems like a great value at this level. I think we are going to continue to see record breaking sales [in games]. At the end of the day, there’s just simply not enough supply of these high-end, high grade, sealed, vintage video games to satiate the market.” – Jim Halperin
“Wata-certified video games have been selling for record prices ever since Heritage began auctioning them in January. While many video games sell regularly for five figures, breaking the six-figure mark shows that the hobby’s upward trajectory indicates no signs of slowing down. I’ve always said video games are going to go the way of comics, or cars, or coins; it’s only a matter of time until a video game sells for a million dollars. I’ve always said, and truly believe, that a sticker-sealed Mario like this one would be the first million-dollar video game.” – Deniz Kahn
They even enlisted a dentist to help with the marketing. One Eric Naierman claimed to be an avid collector that spent years collecting games when in reality he had only been doing it for months starting in 2019. The money he supposedly used to buy these expensive games were actually given to him by investors. Kahn then stepped in with more quotes:
“The hobby has transformed from being this relic of nostalgia. It’s not so much about that anymore. It’s moved to a real appreciation of the art and historic value of these games. People aren’t just buying them to look at it and remember playing that game. They’re buying it to commemorate the history and the impact they had on pop culture. That’s the same thing that happened with comic books. People had them, and they were something that sat in the attic and collected dust. But in the 90’s, people realized they were works of art and pieces of history. There’s a new criteria with that transition of what makes something valuable. It’s still too soon to be conclusive, but the tide has risen.”
As a result of this elaborate scheme, many collectors came out against this practice, seeing it as a way of the rich getting richer and infecting a hobby that looked to preserve rare games without the growing financial obstacle that WATA and Heritage Auctions brought upon the community. The pandemic also increased prices with everyone stuck inside and looking for something to occupy their time. Can you blame them with game preservation not being treated as first priority these days as we move into a new generation of consoles? With the increased reliance on FOMO tactics over the years, scalping has become a bigger problem as people treat their rare goods as if it were a gold nugget found during a gold rush. The focus of collecting rare items has now taken a back seat to prices that would make a mortgage jealous, and it looks like it won’t be stopping anytime soon.
Chapter Ten: Epic Verdict, Imposter Among Us
In 2020, Fortnite developer Epic Games found itself in an ugly lawsuit against Apple. Epic attempted to entice players to sidestep the Apple store to their own website in order to purchase in-game currency and cosmetics. This in turn would allow Epic to not pay the 30% cut they were required to contribute to Apple in exchange for their presence on the company’s platforms. Apple claimed that Epic breached their contract and took the case to court. Since then, it’s been an ongoing boxing match between two corporations begging customers to back them up. Epic claimed that they were being extorted by Apple’s policies and even went so far as to create a #FreeFortnite movement with a satire of Apple’s 1984 commercial. Tim Sweeney even went out of his way to compare the lawsuit to the fight for civil rights, which drew immediate backlash.
But in 2021, a verdict was finally reached. The court ruled that Apple couldn’t block developers from offering alternative payment methods outside the app store. However, Epic was found guilty of breaching their contract with the implementation of an alternate payment option, meaning Apple withheld the right to keep Epic off the app store. With a revenue of $12.2 million made from Epic’s direct payment method, the company was forced to pay Apple $3.6 million for violating the policy, in addition to the legal fees, and the cost of their IOS player base: its first two years on Apple platforms made $614 million. But considering that the app store has generated $19 billion from apps, this new mandate came at a huge cost for Apple’s revenue that might not be covered by their court victory. Nonetheless, Apple still celebrated the outcome while Epic had its own comments:
“Today’s ruling isn’t a win for developers or for consumers. Epic is fighting for fair competition among in-app payment methods and app stores for a billion consumers. Fortnite will return to the iOS App Store when and where Epic can offer in-app payment in fair competition with Apple in-app payment, passing along the savings to consumers. Thanks to everyone who put so much time and effort into the battle over fair competition on digital platforms, and thanks especially to the court for managing a very complex case on a speedy timeline. We will fight on.” – Tim Sweeney, Epic Games CEO
Epic tried to appeal their case, but Sweeney revealed a different outcome:
“Apple lied. Apple spent a year telling the world, the court, and the press they’d ‘welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else’. Epic agreed, and now Apple has reneged in another abuse of its monopoly power over a billion users. Just last week, Epic agreed with Apple that we would play by the same rules as everyone else. Late last night, Apple informed Epic that Fortnite will be blacklisted from the Apple ecosystem until the exhaustion of all court appeals, which could be as long as a 5-year process.”
Given how much trust Epic broke in planning the lawsuit from the beginning, it’s not much of a surprise, and Apple is still within their rights no matter what Tim Sweeny’s tweets say.
But that wasn’t the only controversy Epic surrounded itself in. Its cash cow game introduced an Imposters mode, which many saw as plagiarizing the indie hit Among Us: a multiplayer game that grew in popularity during the pandemic to the point where it won a Golden Joystick award for the best breakthrough game. Coming off of their image of “protecting the little guys from evil corporations” during the Apple lawsuit, this is a complete role reversal with Epic now in the shoes of the company it fought for the last year. Developer Innersloth voiced their outrage at Epic’s hypocritical move:
“It would’ve been really, really cool to collab haha. Just sad indie hours right now. Like game mechanics fine, those shouldn’t be gamekept, but at the very least even different themes or terminology makes this more interesting?” – Victoria Tran
“We didn’t patent the Among Us mechanics. I don’t think that leads to a healthy game industry. Is it really that hard to put 10% more effort into putting your own spin on it though? Worst part is we’ve been actively trying to collab with them.” – Puff
The last tweet confirms that Innersloth contacted Epic about a possible collaboration only to be turned down, which now puts Epic in a precarious situation regarding their decision to plagiarize the game mechanic after pretending to be the underdog for a whole year.
And if that wasn’t tone deaf enough, then their attempt to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day was the cherry on top of their mess. Fortnite hosted a MLK event where a digital museum would showcase the history behind the civil rights leader. But for some reason, people were allowed to dress in odd costumes and perform signature dances. Many saw this as questionable given that the game is all about shooting people with stylized cartoony aesthetics. Epic attempted to disable emotes that were not part of the event, but it was easily bypassed along with the revelation of one emote where a character crack’s a whip, which is part of a deal with DC connected to the character of Catwoman. Players spammed the move during the event which led to outcry. It was so poorly handled that both the Martin Luther King Jr. center as well as King’s daughter Bernice distanced themselves from the event:
“Decisions around licensing my father’s intellectual property are outside of my personal purview.” – Bernice King
“The King Center does not license Dr. King’s intellectual property, and, therefore, was not involved in any decisions concerning the endeavor with TIME Inc and PlayStation/Fortnite. These licensing decisions are made by Intellectual Properties Management (IPM). #MLK “ – The Martin Luther King Jr. Center
According to reports, Bernice’s brother David, the head of the separate for-profit MLK Estate worked out the licensing agreement which ties into a long history of differences between both King’s heirs and the establishments. Something like this, no matter how well intended, came off as a way to entice people to play Fortnite once the event ended.
It’s surprising that the Epic Game store didn’t make the news in 2021 given how much more improving it still needs on a basic level. But what we have is a company still pretending that it was cheated despite being proven in a court of law, claiming to be the victim on social media only to pull off a hypocritical business move against another company, and failing to realize how sometimes two things can’t go together no matter the good intentions.
Chapter Eleven: Grand Theft Roadmap: Definitive Edition
Like the film industry, gaming has experienced a rise in remakes, reboots, and remasters of older titles to bring to a new generation with varying degrees of critical and financial success. The long-requested Resident Evil 2 got a 2019 remake that received critical acclaim and sold over eight million copies as of 2021. Comparatively, the remake of Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story for the 3DS was seen as unnecessary since the handheld was already backwards compatible with the DS original. This translated into poor sales that many cited as the reason for developer Alpha Dream filing for bankruptcy and shutting down in 2019.
Cut to present day with Rockstar Studios prepping the release of The Grand Theft Auto Trilogy: Definitive Edition: a remastered collection of three games from the PlayStation 2 era – Grand Theft Auto 3, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Fans were excited to play some of the best games in the series in full HD, but there were several red flags on the road toward its release date. But before all of that, let’s revisit GTA V, because lord knows Rockstar will be for the next three console generations.
The company announced that GTA V would be coming to next gen consoles, but fans were sick of it because Rockstar was putting more effort into their billion-dollar online service while the single player campaign was starved of downloadable content, unlike GTA IV which had Episodes From Liberty City. Not to mention that its publisher Take-Two would most likely charge full price for the game rather than implement a free next-gen upgrade. The only game that Rockstar put out since the initial release was Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2018. On top of that, Take-Two and Rockstar went on a purge against the modder community that developed new single player content, all the while not receiving a penny for their work. DMCA takedowns were dished out like a shotgun to the face, though several modders fought back with claims of fair use.
Back to the Grand Theft Auto Trilogy, Rockstar delisted the original games on all digital storefronts and no gameplay videos were released to the public. Upon release, the game was trashed for its glitches, bugs, and broken gameplay that Fallout 76 would laugh at. Moreover, one insider confirmed that the reason behind the glitches was because the remastered games were upscaled ports of the mobile versions, not the console or PC versions. Said ports were negatively received during their initial release. After customers demanded refunds, Rockstar issued several press statements on fixing the game without offering a money back option. According to a lawyer, this practice was unethical yet still within the company’s legal rights. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Twitter from endlessly mocking the poor execution, possibly brought on by a strict release date from management, about all the bugs and glitches in the game. After the “apology”, Rockstar offered PC players free copies of the original games from the Rockstar website. Unfortunately for console gamers and the Steam community, the game was not relisted on their stores. The 18-gigabyte patch fixed most of the issues, but people called out Rockstar’s unethical behavior given how Take Two’s CEO responded to Cyberpunk 2077’s disastrous launch last year:
“That was a rival studio’s work that didn’t live up to the hype. I think the case you’re alluding to reflects the fact that you’re always better served to wait for perfection if you can create perfection. And all of our labels are seeking perfection. And we don’t always succeed, sometimes we fall short. But that’s the goal. What we do know is that we will wait for it to be as close to perfect as anything can be.”
All the behind-the-scenes details were covered by Matt McMuscles’s What Happened? series, but its clear that both Take Two and Rockstar are out of their mind in the lengths they went to push their unfinished game onto an unsuspecting public without taking in the long-term consequences. If they didn’t hunt down modders like foxes or delisted the superior edition of the three games, maybe this could’ve been just another pill to swallow, but because they only relisted them on the Rockstar website and nowhere else, they might as well be going live and giving everyone the middle finger. They already did that by not offering refunds to people who felt cheated by the launch. Let’s hope that in the future the only roadmap that will be be implemented happens during development, not after the release.
Chapter Twelve: The NFT Infection
As gamers become more aware of the dangers of microtransactions and lootboxes, companies are on the lookout for the next billion-dollar idea to increase short term profits. 2021 saw the rise of the non-fungible tokens, or NFTs much to the ire of everyone who wasn’t an executive. The NFT Handbook: How to Create, Sell and Buy Non-Fungible Tokens by Matt Fortnow and Quharrison Terry goes into greater details on the definition:
“NFT’s are generally known as a particular type of digital collectible, such as digital art from Beeple, a digital trading card from Rob Gronkiowski, a short video from Saturday Night Live, a picture of fortune-telling Curly of The Three Stooges with an unlockable Curly-esque fortune, or one of the CryptoKitties…NFTs are unique items verified and secured by a blockchain, the same technology used for cryptocurrencies. An NFT provides authenticity of origin, ownership, uniqueness (scarcity), and performance for any particular item.”
Basically, NFTs are digital pictures that people invest in but do not own. Mostly because the rights can be plagiarized and sold to someone who can just claim it to be theirs. In the case of the video game industry, they can take the form of either pictures or digital cosmetics by simply having a unique number assigned to the item. Many NFTs were revealed to have been stolen from other artists without credit or profit sharing. One company that jumped headfirst into this was Ubisoft, where they tested the waters by adding NFTs to Ghost Recon Breakpoint. The Ubisoft Quartz trailer boasted innovation and uniqueness without any evidence to back it up:
“Digits are a new way to experience cosmetic items, combining the fun of playing with AAA quality assets and the thrill of owning NFts that represent unique, collectible pieces of Ubisoft game worlds. Our long-term efforts led us to understand how blockchain’s decentralized approach could genuinely make players stakeholders of our games, in a way that is also sustainable for our industry, placing back into their hands the value they generate through the time they spend, the items they buy or the content they create online. Ubisoft Quartz is the first building block in our ambitious vision for developing a true metaverse. And it can’t come to life without overcoming blockchain’s early form limitations, including scalability and energy consumption.”
The trailer was shot down by the gaming community to the point where it was delisted from YouTube. Even developers within the company claimed NFTs were worthless because they took the focus away from making games fun:
“I still don’t really understand the ‘problem’ being solved here. Is it really worth the (extremely) negative publicity this will cause?”
“How can you look at private property, speculations, artificial security, and egoism then say, ‘yes this is good, I want that, let’s put it in art?'”
“I’m here to make games and promote fun and entertainment. And I don’t see how this is going in that direction, it’s just another way to milk money.”
CEO Yves Guillemot had to step in to address employee questions, but the biggest take away from him was that NFTs were just the beginning. Meanwhile, EA CEO Andrew Wilson chimed in with other studios jumping on the bandwagon:
“[Players] want more modalities at play inside the game, which go beyond just straight 11-on-11 football. They want more digital experiences outside the game – esports, NFTs, broader sports compensation and they want us to move really, really quickly.”
Despite all the buzzwords and claims of innovations, nobody bought NFTs when Ubisoft Quartz was launched, and the internet mocked the company once again:
“How are the Ghost Recon NFTs doing? I looked at the two third party marketplaces the Quartz site links and there seems to be…15 total sales? 0 in the last day on one site? Am I reading this right? Am I understanding this right? Ubisoft managed to make an NFT that not even NFT fans want? Because that is very, very, very funny” – Liz Edwards, Apex Legends character designer
The same thing happened to the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2. The official twitter page claimed that NFTs would not affect gameplay, using the same “it’s optional” excuse that’s been recycled for microtransactions and lootboxes. Evgnely Grygorovych, the CEO of GSC Game World, made a statement on the matter:
“The idea of the related NFT is the give the right to recreate its owner’s identity with the game through one of the NPCs. The person will need to come to our studio for a detailed scanning procedure, and after that, we will have everything to make this person appear in the game world as one of the characters.”
After a day of backlash, a detailed update on Twitter was posted (it has since been deleted) while a Reddit response gave voice to player concerns. Then the company decided to remove NFTs from the game, acting as if it was done on a goodwill decision:
And yet, Ubisoft stuck to their guns claiming that NFTs were a major change that would take time:
“We have received a lot of feedback since the announcement, and we hear both the encouragement and the concerns. We understand where the sentiment towards the technology comes from, and we need to keep taking it into consideration every step of the way. This experiment is meant to understand how the value proposition of decentralization can be received and embraced by our players. We know it is a major change that will take time, but we will stay true to our three principles. Our main objective with Ubisoft is to showcase the true value of decentralization to our players. Aleph.im played a key role in the realization of our vision by allowing us to go one step further and decentralize the storage of the digits’ video asset and metadata.” – Didier Genevois, Ubisoft Blockchain Technical Director.
Another person who jumped on the bandwagon was Peter Molyneux: the 22-Cans founder known for over-promising and underdelivering on video games like Black and White, Fable and more recently, Godus. Originally an IOS game called Curiosity – What’s Inside the Cube, Molyneux held a contest in which the winner was promised a life-changing grand prize: a portion of the revenue from Godus as well as an in-game identity influencing the multiplayer section of the game. Since May 2013, winner Brian Henderson has not received any royalties nor heard from Molyneux again. GameSpot quoted his story after he spent months emailing 22-Cans:
“For a moment I was excited. My general feeling was, depending on how well the game does, I was thinking in terms of worst to the best, I could get £10,000 to £500,000 at the very best. Still, that would be awesome. But so far not a penny. A month or two after winning, I would email them every month, purely because I expected more communication from them, but it wasn’t happening. I would ask, ‘So, what’s happening? When am I going to find out more stuff? What’s going to happen, specifically?’ They were taking their time to answer. They would say, ‘We need to do this first and tell you afterwards.’ Since I won and a year after, I would email them as a ritual thing, every month, just to get some kind of update. Eventually I was like, they’re not being professional at all. Communication is non-existent, so I’m not even going to try anymore.”
Molyneux responded to the situation in the same article:
“That’s pretty poor, isn’t it? He should have a contact here. That’s pretty shoddy for us to not keep him posted. I totally and absolutely and categorically apologize. That isn’t good enough and I’ll take it on my own shoulders that I should have made sure he was communicated with. We will from today onwards to that.”
Meanwhile, the game is still listed as Early Access on Steam with overwhelmingly negative reviews. Cut to present day where Molyneux announced a Play-To-Earn blockchain tilted Legacy, once again pushing buzzwords like innovating and groundbreaking. A supposed business where players will be able to build their own business and products. You heard that right, not a video game, a business with the words “play-to-earn” highlighted. Molyneux’s Twitter page posted many promises that he’s most infamous for breaking:
“Imagine a puzzle game where you have to draw clues all over your body with no erasing or undo. At the end, your character becomes an NFT that can be sold. I’m about to redefine a new genre of game that has yet to be defined. There are moral choices, and the narrative storyline really picks at those moral choices.”
As of 2022, there has yet to be any updates, but considering how he treated Brian Henderson, how do you think this is going to go down? One person who did come out against NFTs is Joseph Fares, the creator of the 2021 award winning indie hit It Takes Two:
“I’d rather get shot in the knee than include them in future games. Let me tell you this: Whatever decision you take in a game, where you have to adjust the design to make the player pay or do something that makes you want them to pay more money, that is wrong, if you ask me. If you make a game [with the goal of telling] a story, I think [NFTs] are wrong. Now, if you ask a big CEO that runs a company, he would say I’m stupid because companies are about making money. But I would still say no. For me, gaming is art.”
This came off the heels of people attempting to capitalize on deceased celebrities to expand their NFT market such as Stan Lee and Dr. Seuss. Speaking of CEOs, Xbox head Phil Spencer had similar comments against the rapidly growing NFT bubble:
“What I’d like to say today on NFT, all up, is I think there’s a lot of speculation and experimentation that’s happening and that some of the creative that I see today feels more exploitative than about entertainment. I don’t think it necessitates that every NFT game is exploitive. I just think we’re kind of in that journey of people figuring it out. And I can understand that early on you see a lot of things that probably are not things you want to have in your store. I think anything that we looked at in our storefront that we said is exploitative would be something that we would, you know, take action on. We don’t want the kind of content.”
Along with Spencer, Valve also announced that its Steam platform would ban games that feature crypto currency and NFTs. One particular game called Age of Rust was singled out from the store while 26 developers sent a letter to Valve venting their disappointment.
As of 2022, Square Enix was the first company to throw their hat in the ring which received immediate backlash after 2021 wrapped. In fact, during the beginning of 2022, many Youtubers noticed that their artwork was stolen and turned into NFTs. These include the likes of Mat Brunet/Animat, YongYea, RabbidLuigi, JoshScorcher, Caddicarus, and SaberSpark.
NFTs in 2021 became a phenomenon for all the wrong reasons. It’s one thing to use NFTs on phones, but in video games that are already oversaturated with microtransactions and lootboxes, this managed to be even more pointless and more hazardous to the environment. Worst of all, it goes against the core element of video games: fun. With companies like Square Enix coining the phrase “play to have fun”, there’s a new danger to a pastime that was once a safer alternative to other addictions. If companies want to experiment with new technology, fine. If they want to branch out into new territory, fine. But don’t do it at the cost of your customers or developers. Figure out how it works and then think of the best ways it can enhance the fun that video games embody. Don’t just cram it into your next title just because it will appease investors. This craze is so stupid that even South Park’s Post Covid special satirized the obsession. Also keep in mind how fast Guillemot reacted to the NFT confusion than he did with the misconduct allegations leveled against his company as reminder of the industry’s priorities.
Chapter Thirteen: Up With the Grind, Down For the Count
With live services saturating the gaming market. Square Enix’s Marvel’s Avengers turned into one of the biggest duds of 2020. But were they finished with it yet? Not even close. Despite losing nearly all of its player base and $63 million in sales, the studio remained confident that their game would remain sustainable even as updates dried up. But one of the most baffling updates came on March 3rd, 2021 announcing the reworking of XP rewards:
“Since we launched last September, our balance team has been reevaluating the XP curve for leveling from 1-50 and will be making some changes to address two core issues. The current XP “curve” isn’t really a curve at all. In most RPGs, the amount of XP you need to level up increases as you gain levels in a curve, but our system is a straight line. This has led to pacing issues, such as skill points currently being rewarded too fast, which may be confusing and overwhelming to newer players. We want each decision to invest in a skill or Heroic to be more meaningful. Based on these issues, we’ll be increasing the amount of XP needed to level up, starting from around level 25.”
These complaints never surfaced from either gamers or reviews and predictably, this was lambasted by the entire gaming community. As someone who did play the game and leveled up to 50, this is a complete lie. The problem was that there wasn’t enough diverse content to make the grind feel less monotonous. In terms of the main campaign the leveling up was still slow, not to mention that a game centering around Earth’s Mightiest Heroes went up against endless waves of literal bots while only two villains from the comics were utilized, and even then, not by much. One developer attempted to respond to the criticism on Reddit which ended up repeating the first announcement. Not even the Hawkeye’s two hour DLC after three months of waiting made up for the PR disaster, with players comparing how similar both Hawkeye and Kate Bishop were to each other. A month later, the game’s director, Sean Escayg, left Crystal Dynamics and return to Naughty Dog. In another shot to the foot following new skins that were locked behind paywalls, the game started selling XP boosters despite promises that they would never be implemented. Then, faster than a snap from Thanos, the decision was reversed when fans brought their wrath upon social media pages. Square Enix’s statement came off as self-centered since they tried to paint the mechanics as anything but pay-to-win options:
Even with all the evidence pointing towards the why, Square Enix still didn’t get the message on what the problem was with their business decisions. In the end, Square Enix blamed everything on Crystal Dynamics, claiming the game was a bad fit for the Avengers brand rather than the greedy business model:
“Marvel’s Avengers was an ambitious title for us in that we took on the GaaS (Games as a Service) model. We overcame a variety of unexpected difficulties in the final phase of the game’s development, including needing to transition to work-from-home due to the pandemic. We were able to surmount these challenges and release the game, but it has unfortunately not proven as successful as we would have liked. Nonetheless, taking on the GaaS model highlighted issues that we are likely to face in future game development efforts such as the need to select game designs that mesh with the unique attributes and tastes of our studios and development teams. While the new challenge that we tackled with this title produced a disappointing outcome, we are certain that the GaaS approach will grow in importance as gaming becomes more service oriented. How we go about creating new experiences by incorporating this trend into our game design is a key question that we will need to answer going forward” – Yosuke Matsuda, President and Representative Director of Square Enix
With live services becoming oversaturated in gaming, it’s baffling that companies still don’t understand that people don’t want these anymore. Sure, Fortnite still has a larger fan base and Call of Duty still makes millions every year on both consoles and mobile devices, but it’s being divided up while remaining stagnant in creativity. When Lego games like Marvel Superheroes or Lego Marvel’s Avengers are better alternatives than a bug budgeted adaptation, it’s time to rethink your priorities, especially with live services coming and going like a ghost. Even 2021’s Guardians of the Galaxy proved that Square could make a decent superhero experience rather than a parasitic money hungry business disguised as a game.
Chapter Fourteen: Miscellaneous
With all the negativity surrounding loot boxes, the video game industry took steps towards steps towards regulating these mechanics that are now considered gambling. But while some initiatives are one step forward, others are two steps back, including the inverted logic of the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) and their decision to re-rate older Pokémon games while allowing FIFA to retain its E for “everyone” rating. Near the end of august, the European rating system announced that all games containing simulated gambling, real currency or not, would be deemed 18 plus. The problem is that, while there is simulated gambling in Pokémon Red and Blue, they were made in a time when in-game currency wasn’t as greedily exploited like FIFA is today. Numerous reports surrounding modern EA sports titles have seen stories where kids unknowingly spent their parents’ money on lootboxes that have the smallest probability of containing famous sports players. One could point to bad parenting being the cause, but the fact that these practices are being labeled suitable for all ages (including children) by legit rating boards while they shrug any responsibility is more akin to political parties trying to demonize their opponents without evidence. The truth is that the Pokémon games are the safer option even if PEGI is trying to paint a different picture. Because Pokémon will not ask for real world money like EA’s Madden or NBA2K will, like it did one year where a trailer went out of its way to include gambling mechanics, it makes the action much more puzzling when an E rated game that has exploited kids before is being approved by a legit ratings board while the safer option is put under lock and key.
Emika Games vs Steam Refunds
Steam has created a platform where anyone can make games. But a one-person indie developer was cheated by both gamers and the site’s refund policy. Emika Games created several episodic horror games like Locked Up, Find Yourself, and Summer of 58 at modest prices. Released in summer to positive reception, Summer of 58 looked like another quality product. But being only an hour and a half long, players bought the game, finished it, then refunded it afterwards costing Emika Games millions in credit card refunds. At the time the studio was working on From Day to Day before pulling the plug. This one size fits all policy doesn’t take into account how long a game is and instead makes it easy to abuse the system while starving the developer. And to those who complained about Emika Games wanting attention, care to actually part with your money to show your support instead of yanking the carpet under them when you finish? Other developers experienced this such as Bela’s Before Your Eyes:
The Soulja Boy “Comeback”
Back in 2019, rapper Soulja Boy attempted to launch his own consoles: The Souljagame Console, the Souljagame Handheld, and the retro Souljaboy mini handheld. He was quoted in ensuring his products were legit:
“I just think when you’re coming out with a new product you’re going to be criticized. For anyone who thinks Nintendo is going to sue me, you’re retarded. Nothing’s going to happen. Everything is legit. My console isn’t going anywhere trust me.”
But in January 2019 he received several cease-and-desist orders, on the grounds that his consoles were full of pirated ROMS. But he still managed to scam people who paid for preorders. Afterwards he was quoted on several podcasts who questioned his research:
“I had to boss up, I didn’t have a choice. It’s not a scam. Every game on there is licensed. There’s 800 pre-installed games that are licensed. I sold a million dollars in one day and Nintendo approached me…because they’re trying to see what the F**k’s going on. This young black kid made a million dollars in 24 hours and our games are on his console, we want in!”
Now if you thought that Souljaboy would stop there, here went one step further by claiming that he owned the company Atari, and that it was sold for $140 million. Atari immediately disputed the claim:
“We know that CEO of Atari is a dream job, but that honor belongs to Wade Rosen.”
Once again, Soulja boy became the laughingstock of the internet and ranted to Atari about supposed lies, then went so far as to claim racism for being banned on Twitch. Despite being associated with the legacy gaming company, it turns out Souljaboy was paid in the cryptocurrency Atari tokens, which he overlooked.
The Nintendo Switch Expansion Pack
With the Nintendo Switch Online service providing retro games from their NES and SNES library, fans clamored for more titles from past consoles like the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube. During a Nintendo Direct on September 23rd, 2021, the company revealed an expansion pack including downloadable content for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Sega Genesis titles like Castlevania Bloodlines, and Nintendo 64 games like Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Mario Kart 64 with online capabilities. Future games would include Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, Paper Mario and even Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie, making it the first time in over twenty years that bear and bird’s game graced a Nintendo console. How much would this cost gamers? $50 a year compared to $20 ($80 for a family plan), which baffled everyone. It was later revealed that the large price increase was due to licensing agreements with Sega to put their games on the Switch, despite there being countless re-releases of the Sega Genesis Collection throughout the recent console generations. Upon release, the service was negatively received due to poor emulation of the N64 titles, though the Genesis titles remained intact. Given Nintendo’s recent crusade against ROMsites, even if it’s for some of the most forgotten retro games, this is very hypocritical and unprofessional.
It’s-a Me, Hollywood
In the same Nintendo Direct, fans were given an update on the Super Mario Brothers movie. A co-production between Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me, Sing, The Secret Life of Pets), the cast was revealed to include Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach, Charlie Day as Luigi, Jack Black as Bowser, Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong, Keegan-Michael Key as Toad, and Kevin Michael Richardson as Kamek. However, in a strange casting decision, Chris Pratt secured the lead role of Mario while Charles Martinet, the man who’s voiced the plumber since Super Mario 64, was relegated to cameo roles. The backlash on social media was rampant, but somewhat warranted minus fan toxicity.
In recent years, the trend of replacing voice-actors in animated films with celebrities for the sake of marketing has been a point of contention from both movie goers and entertainment talent. Space Jam: A New Legacy was criticized for highlighting Zendaya’s name next to Lola Bunny in the trailer while Jeff Bergman and Eric Bauza remained uncredited. 2020’s Scoob! faced similar negativity when Matthew Lillard and Grey Delisle-Griffin expressed disappointment that Warner Brothers didn’t contact them to reprise their roles. That backfired when the pandemic cancelled its theatrical release as it went straight to streaming. God of War creator David Jaffe gave his insight on how controlling Hollywood is when it comes to adapting video games to movies during a period when said game series was in development for the silver screen. Futurama voice actor Billy West also shared his experience with studio stigma for voice actors. Meanwhile, Martinet expressed interest in the role before the announcement making the casting even more baffling:
“Well it sounds like a marvelous thing, it sounds like great fun and if they invite me to play, I’ll go in and play with great joy and happiness. It should be a lot of fun, you know, everything illumination touches looks like it’s fun and Nintendo, too.”
Keep in mind that Martinet is a prominent voice actor who’s done work for Ratchet and Clank, Skyrim and Resonance of Fate. That’s not to say celebrities can’t be voice actors as the likes of Kristin Wigg, J.K. Simmons and Tim Curry have walked the fine line between live-action and animation, so none of the blame is on Pratt. But it’s clear that professionalism is being chewed up by the Hollywood system. Illumination is one of the many animation studios that prioritizes celebrity voice casting given how much they invest in marketing, hiring people such as Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Kevin Hart, and Harrison Ford, whose names appear in giant letters in trailers. Plus, given how the Mario franchise has sold millions of copies with each new game, it’s odd that Nintendo would rely on celebrity voice casting when the character is just as recognizable as any Marvel superhero. Take out Martinet from the roster and maybe this wouldn’t have been so polarizing, but the fact that he’s only playing cameo roles while millions of dollars are being wasted on star power proves that this type casting no longer has the same appeal as it did when Robin Williams voiced the Genie in Aladdin. In a repeated scenario, Pratt was also cast as the leading feline in the upcoming Garfield movie, which prompted the internet to post memes about the actor being cast in any animated role regardless of how it doesn’t fit the character.
Take-Two’s Copyright Abuse
One of the biggest Indie hits of 2021 was It Takes Two: a co-op game that went on to win Game of the Year at the Game Awards. But before the celebration, company Take-Two Interactive slapped a trademark infringement on the video game simply because it contains words Take Two, Rockstar, and Bully. You can see where this concerns It Takes Two as developer Hazelight Studio was forced to abandon any ownership. It turns out that Take Two has a long history of threatening smaller companies who use said words with legal action because smaller studios don’t have the resources to fight back.
A few months after Bungie blasted Activision/Blizzard’s frat boy culture, it was revealed to have fostered their own toxic work culture. The company attempted to appease the public with a response from management, but employees within contradicted their statement, particularly from the narrative department. Just like with Activision, management was kept on a pedestal and protected from any criticism, the company took credit for a diversity storyline they tried to censor because of possible conflicts with China, narrative people were not being promoted because they were not”skilled” enough at playing a game. It took the threat of several writers quitting in order for Bungie to dismiss the abusive leaders. Some employees left after reading Bungie’s statement, partly because Bungie favored the Rockstar developers who were reported to be the root of all unprofessional behavior. Like any other modern HR department, Bungie’s was more concerned about protecting the company rather than employees. Women employees were set up on projects that would get cancelled making them look bad, ideas they put forward were later plagiarized by male employees, and management gave derogatory code names to female employees. The studio apparently had a 13-year problem with crunch culture, which continued to this day. Though abusive management were eventually let go (yet again it took another news report to see action), the lack of accountability, which is another running gag throughout the video game industry’s abuse, prevents any kind of justice closure on behalf of the victims. Articles claimed that it wasn’t as bad as Activision/Blizzard, but given the low bar the industry has set, that’s not saying much.
Final Fantasy VII Verses PC
With PlayStation games getting ported to the PC, Final Fantasy VII Remake was up next. Technically a portion of the original game remade with modern graphics, Square Enix announced a PC edition with a promise of performance features. Unfortunately, gamers deciphered many problems with this edition like the drop in framerate for a big budget video game:
“As I mentioned – I am not covering FFVIIR – yet the stutters that happen as you immediately get in game rendered graphics are just unacceptable. Anyone testing and playing this game on PC before release should surely realize that your cinematic game should not do that. BTW – RTSS does not seem to pick up the framerate issues really in FFVIIR as far as I can tell. It is telling you the game is running at 60 when it sure as hell is not. PresentMon is not reflecting what is on screen. I saw this before in The Medium at launch, and No Man’s Sky OGL” – Alexander Battaglia
How much did Square Enix want to charge for this? $70. That’s right, in a move mimicking EA and Activision, Square Enix slowly tried to get gamers used to the “new gaming price”. If this came with all the bells and whistles promised for this particular edition, that would be fine. But the fact that, one, it’s exclusive to the Epic Games store, and two, these games are constantly failing to provide the most basic features of PC games like Final Fantasy XV, makes the price alteration that much more suspicious. At least add in some more special features or a pre-order bonus to justify the price rather than wait till gamers just accept the mediocrity of the product without any protest.
After years of isolation, despite a solid debut on the Nintendo 3DS with Samus Returns, the Metroid series made a comeback with Metroid Dread on the Nintendo Switch. However, while it became one of the best games of 2021, it found itself in plenty of hot water.
First, YouTuber RGT85 was targeted by Nintendo for getting an early copy of the game that apparently broke street date. He didn’t post his review until after the embargo, but nonetheless the company pursued. Strangely enough, YouTube rushed to his defense on the grounds of fair use, which has never been seen before on a level like this. How much of this was known beforehand is still unknown.
Second, a Kotaku article revealing that the game was being run on emulators at 4K. Both the company and readers accused the article of encouraging piracy. It was later updated with a clarification of emulators being used for the sake of game preservation. Now on the one hand, connecting piracy with a recent video game, especially from a franchise that hasn’t seen a major console release in over a decade doesn’t seem like a good idea. But after reading the article, it wasn’t explicitly telling people to pirate the game; it was just reporting on what was going on at the time, AKA news. Everyone overreacted without reading the report. Plus, given how Nintendo has moved away from the virtual console since the Nintendo Wii, emulators for the sake of preservation should be utilized for preserving what Nintendo is leaving in the past, if they’re not already screwing it up with their own poorly executed paid emulation. Just be cautious when bringing up new games on the subject.
Third, David Jaffe. The God of War creator streamed the game on his YouTube channel, but at one point he criticized the game design’s breakable walls:
“Spent HOURS trying to shoot enemies above/below cause OF COURSE you can do that cause why would enemies BE THERE if game didn’t want to GUIDE YOUR EYE TO ATTACK THERE to expose ‘blocks’?!? But these-for some magic reason-do NOT break. Wish I was hardcore enough to understand why.”
Many gamers were quick to point out that this has been a staple of the 2D incarnations since Super Metroid.
Shady Riot High Cost
Before Activision/Blizzard and Ubisoft became the subject of harassment and discrimination in the video game industry, Riot games held the title since 2018. But in a final newsflash before the new year, the company was forced to pay one hundred million dollars and placed under supervision by a DFEH approved party to ensure that future harassment would not be repeated. This marks the first time that a triple A game developer has had to comply with outside forces rather than using their own HR department to both save face and take no action on the matter.
While sales for games during the pandemic have surged, development has slowed with people stuck at home. E3 barely had anything to show other than Nintendo who singlehandedly saved the eventless occasion. Games that were expected for certain release dates were pushed back so developers could have more time to make the most of their titles. One of these games is God of War: Ragnarok. The sequel to the requel of the hack and slash franchise, it was slated for a release in 2021, but amidst the arguments of cross-generational games and production being slowed by the pandemic, it was delayed to 2022, and fans were not happy. In fact, they began acting like spoiled brats by sending death threats to the developers:
“Aside from the ones I got for being hired in the first place, I think this is my first game-dev-related abusive message. I’VE FINALLY BEEN INITIATED, LOOK AT ME GO!” – Alanah Pearce, Sony Santa Monica Studios writer
It was so bad that Cory Barlog had to issue a few statements on Twitter:
“For real, y’all, this is some BULLSH!T! You want to be mad at somebody for ANYTHING GOW related – the delay, ps4/5, trolls, subtitle size, Sigrun, whatevs – be angry with me. I made the calls. I did this. Don’t bother the team, they are all very good people doing great work.”
A few months later, Kratos’s actor Christopher Judge revealed that the game was delayed because he was suffering back problems:
“I need to be forthcoming. This has been approved by no one. To the beloved fandom, Ragnarok was delayed because of me. August 2019, I couldn’t walk. Had to have back surgery, both hips replaced, and knee surgery. They waited for me too rehab. No threats, no, ”Who do you think you are?” Nothing but love and support. And Sony Santa Monica has never said a word about the delay, and what caused it. Studios are assholes, but this company from top to bottom, should give us hope. What they did for the crew is way more that I can’t talk about, but I’ve said to all involved, it’s the classiest thing that I’ve EVER heard about in this business. Everyone involved in the GOW franchise puts their hearts and souls in every frame you see. I want to thank everyone that’s has allowed me to play and laugh, and love, and cry, without judgement, but with unconditional support and love, in this thing of ALL OF OURS!”
To everyone who sent death threats to the developers just because they needed more time to polish the game, shame on you for being a poisonous, excuse of human beings. Did everyone just forget about all the broken video games that were covered in this? There’s already too much broken media being released with empty promises in the form of roadmaps. A delay should give you enough time to catch up on everything you missed in the past month as well as the developers the needed extension to complete their games Do you really want to pay $60 for another beta test? Because there’s plenty more to come if you want the game to be rushed out so that the video game industry can never change. It’s because of things like this that companies don’t want to improve their customer service let alone finish their games without implementing a roadmap.
Defending Jim Stephanie Sterling/Concerning Toxic Gamers
For years, Jim Stephanie Sterling has been a major advocate for change in the gaming industry, highlighting all the toxic practices going on behind the scenes: crunch, worker abuse, microtransactions in sixty-dollar games, $70 games, online toxicity, political scapegoating, wealth inequality, layoffs, unnecessary executive bonuses, YouTube’s broken copyright system, tax dodging, and the rights of LGBTQ gamers. Now more than ever, the gaming industry has proven to be unreliable, unethical and untrustworthy in their approach to monetization at anyone’s expense be it workers or children. For some reason, the messenger is getting shot instead of the companies who continue to exploit their employees and customers. When microtransactions were being inserted into games rated E for “everyone”, people defended Electronic Arts on the grounds of “capitalism”. When games were set to increase to seventy dollars, people and companies claimed that games were getting too expensive to produce despite the mountain of evidence proving management hoarded all the money while starving and terminating the ground workers. When cosmetic items were being charged real money, it was seen as insignificant until it became so aggressive in today’s online stores. When GameStop forced workers to not comply with lockdown orders during the pandemic because it claimed it was an essential business, people complained that it would go out of business instead of the fact that a CEO was breaking the law. When evidence proved that many gaming companies utilized tax dodging practices that makes the consumer pay more taxes than companies, people screamed “socialism”. And when UK and Belgium officially labeled microtransactions as gambling, Sterling bared the blunt of toxic social media responses from people who hid behind a computer and spewed hateful messages. People complained that the channel was too negative, but Sterling backed up their case with mountains of evidence proving that the positive videos they made did not receive as much views as those reporting on the latest scandals. That’s not even mentioning how Gilson B. Pontes tried to take down their YouTube channel by abusing the broken copyright system. Those who played Pontes’s games called him out for his petty actions that hasn’t been seen since Digital Homicide leveled a lawsuit against Sterling for $10 million.
In the case of Scott Cawthon Sterling, for some reason, was singled out for not liking his first game Chipper and Son’s Lumber Company because of its creepy visuals. But everyone has made this observation as evident by DYKGaming, which in turn led to Cawthon creating the Five Nights at Freddy’s series in the first place. And just like people claiming that Cawthon had a right to exercise his political beliefs, Sterling also has a right to express their case on how discrimination can come from escapism, just like Mat Pat did.
On top of that, Sterling has been losing subscribers for all the previously mentioned reasons despite pioneering the act of calling out the video game industry when it steps outside its moral boundaries (if it even has any at this point). To everyone who complained about the changes to Sterling’s channel, look at the current state of the gaming industry then lookback on all the videos Sterling made in the past decade. How much of what they predicted came true? And who’s really at fault for letting it happen? Those who are trying to bring this to light so that there’s even a slight chance of change, or those who complain about feeling guilty about the reality that has infected the video game industry? If toxic gamers had as much discourse for the video game industry as they do for people reporting on the abuse, maybe there would be more changes seeing as companies are more likely to act (or pretend to act) when their wallets are hit, not when they’re revealed to have committed some serious crimes. Instead, toxic gamers are caught in an endless cycle of blasting people who actually want to change how corporations treat people, b!tching and moaning about games being delayed, and then sending hate comments to both journalists for doing their job and ground workers for the broken games that are mandated by management. They’re one of the reasons why there will never be change within the industry.
Where Do We Go From Here?
What happened to escapism? Fun? Entertainment? Creativity? Immersion? Anything that’s not associated with predatory monetization? There was once a time when video games were about creating new experiences, diverse art, and engaging gameplay. Even the Super Mario 64 knockoffs in the 90’s, like Bubsy and Gex, are harmless compared to what’s being done today. What was once a joy to play for hours on end with competitive high scores, diverse artistic directions, challenging gameplay, and evolving stories is now a breeding ground for some of the worst monetization of the most basic elements at the cost of both players and developers. Employees are forced at gunpoint to shoehorn in microtransactions, loot boxes and the more worthless NFTs while executives claim that they’re groundbreaking technology without understanding how they work. Said higher ups also reap the benefits they claim is being drained by rising game development costs, and how are the employees rewarded? Low wages at best and layoffs at worst, and that’s when they’re not experiencing crunch or sexual assault that’s been widely covered in 2021. HR departments are useless on behalf of the employees which is why Twitter is the new HR of this generation, companies don’t pretend to implement change until they’re caught, and the cycle repeats year, after year, after year. It unlikely that the executives responsible for workplace crimes will experience repercussions for allowing discrimination to foster, further proving a point made by Mr. Coat in one of his recent videos:
“Cancel culture does not exist, especially if you are part of the 1%.”
Meanwhile, customers get the other short end of the stick by paying full price for games that are now incomplete, are coaxed into spending as much money as possible on everything but the game, and now want them to invest both money and time into something that’s slowly becoming another job rather than an outlet of entertainment by coining the phrase “play to have fun”. Executives claim that these microtransactions, lootboxes, and NFTs are optional, but that’s been proven wrong by people who calculated the options themselves. I’d like to take a quote from Schreier’s book Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry that perfectly sums up what needs to be done at this point going forward:
“Every new lay-off or studio closure is evidence that the video game industry needs more protections for its workers, and unions are an essential, inevitable part of that equation. Jen MacLean was right about one thing, though – a union can’t stop a company from running out of money. Maybe nothing can. Maybe there’s no way to prevent risky business decisions in an industry so fickle and driven by hits…Many of the solutions explored in this chapter would require big systematic changes – changes that might be necessary but will take big investments of both time and money before it can happen.”
While the fine print of unions might be true for indie developers who work with a smaller team and budget, it shouldn’t apply to the likes Electronic Arts, Activision or Blizzard since they’re worth billions of dollars. With these big companies making people miserable through any manes necessary, there needs to be actions taken in 2022 to ensure that this kind of doesn’t happen again even if it means keeping the companies on a small leash.
First, hold the companies responsible for all the abuse and discrimination. Don’t just put out a statement on the matter by “promising to be more inclusive”; back it up with actions to show that no one is above the zero-tolerance policy, not even executives. Show people that you’re not just saving face and do something to those who are making the workplace a living hell.
Second, require a union for companies with a certain number of employees since unions are the only way that companies are responding. Again, big companies like Activision, Blizzard and Electronic Arts can afford them since they make billions every year. It could also help regulate all the unnecessary executive bonuses that are never brought up when discussing game development costs, especially since most gaming jobs are located in areas with a high cost of living. Finally, start including employees in round table discussions when talking about policy changes to make the workplace more welcoming. CEOs may claim that they are working towards a safer environment, but the employees on Twitter are more than willing to paint the real picture. It’s not much of a start, but these steps need to be implemented going into the future. Otherwise, everything the employees endured in 2021 will be all for naught. We at least owe them this for putting their blood, sweat and tears into video games so that we can have fun.