As much as we love to champion the best of video gaming, how it can tell stories, engage people, bring communities together from across the globe, there’s also an awful lot about this industry that sucks. Developer crunch has been highlighted once more in 2019, mega-corporations repeatedly showing that it’s the bottom line that matters most, and the stark realisation that this goes hand in hand with the influence that politics can have on our gaming.
2019 has had its fair share of disappointing game releases both big and small, but really it’s the actions and decision making of certain companies that have disappointed us most.
Just as Activision Blizzard were gearing up for their annual BlizzCon, they found themselves embroiled in an international scandal stretching the company in ways that they could not have really expected. With pro-democracy protests having been flaring up in Hong Kong for months, Hong Kong pro Hearthstone player and streamer Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai was banned for making a pro-democracy statement in support of the protestors in his homeland. Blizzards reaction was to take away his winnings, ban him from competing for a year and cut ties with the two commentators who had hidden under their desk in a futile attempt to disassociate themselves from his comments.
Though Blitzchung had broken Blizzard’s terms in making a political statement, the penalty did not fit his actions and they were widely criticised for what was seen as looking to keep the Chinese government sweet and protecting a large revenue stream for the company. Though they eventually reduced Blitzchung’s penalty, they still banned other players voicing their support for him, cancelling promotional events, and were written to by US Representatives and Senators.
With BlizzCon taking place in the wake of this scandal Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack apologised for the manner of the bans, though not the bans themselves.
Anthem – Runner Up
After years of build up and hype, Anthem’s launch was calamitous, to say the least. Those playing the EA Access trial prior to the street date had to deal with the game without its day one patch, but even once that was pushed live, the game remained buggy and full of issues. While the game had some promise with the feel of flying around the world and its mech-augmented combat, but structurally it was lacking, failing to learn the lessons of Destiny or The Division and their own early struggles.
It didn’t take long for a postmortem on the game’s development to come out via Kotaku, revealing the turmoil that surrounded the game’s development from beginning to end, not to mention the amount of crunch that was involved for the developers. Meanwhile, the post-launch plans were thrown out the window, as the reduced team left in charge of the game found themselves needing to fix some fundamental issues with the game as much as expand upon it.
A handful of seasonal events and a Cataclysm game mode aside, there’s been precious little to keep players meaningfully engaged when other live games have much more engrossing and regular updates. While rumours of a game reboot crop up occasionally, there’s few signs of life for Anthem as BioWare stay quiet over the game’s future.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint – Runner Up
It’s not often that a single game’s failure can ripple through a major publisher, but that’s exactly what happened after the launch of Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Though Ghost Recon Wildlands hadn’t received much critical acclaim, it had dominated the sales charts for months after its February 2017 release, and Ubisoft hoped that could translate to sales success in October.
Unfortunately, it seems that design by committee came to bite Ubisoft in the bum. A tonal shift away from Bolivian drug cartels to fictional techno terrorists didn’t strike the same chord with those that bought Wildlands, an unwanted hodgepodge of looter shooter mechanics were shoehorned, and a range of launch bugs hampered the game as well.
In its wake, Ubisoft dramatically adjusted their plans for the next year, delaying Watch Dogs Legion, Rainbow Six Quarantine, and Gods & Monsters until the 2020-21 financial year, when all were expected before April. Going forward, Ubisoft will seek to add more individuality into each of their games, stepping away from the often formulaic design that had served them so well for so long.
In truth, it’s hard to pin the decision solely on Breakpoint’s shoulders. We’ve seen Ubisoft struggle with keeping their franchises fresh in the past, with disappointing launches for games like Watch Dogs 2 leading to the innovative design of Watch Dogs Legion, or slowing sales of Assassin’s Creed seeing the franchise reborn as an action RPG (but now again on hiatus). The difference is that in 2019 Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Far Cry: New Dawn and The Division 2 have all failed to live up to the company’s understandably lofty expectations.
(Dis)honourable mentions (in alphabetical order)
- Activision’s record revenue layoffs
- Google Stadia
- Pokémon Sword & Shield
- WWE 2K20
To catch up on the Game of the Year awards we’ve handed out so far, here’s a handy list:
- Best Remaster/Remake
- Best Visual Design
- Best Soundtrack
- Best Ongoing Game
- Best Multiplayer Game
- Best Gameplay
- Best Narrative
- Best Single Player Game
- Best Indie Game
- Best VR Game
- Best PC Game
- Best Nintendo Switch Game
- Best Xbox One Game
- Best PlayStation 4 Game
With that out of the way as a kind of palette cleanser from all the positivity and happiness, come back tomorrow when we’ll reveal our overall Game of the Year 2019!