Game of the Year 2023 – Biggest Disappointment

GOTY 2023 biggest disappointment

2023 has been another great year for games as a whole with some exceptional experiences that have been a pure joy to play, but as always there’s been some jarring disappointments that hit hard, and we’ve seen the impact of slowing economies around the world on executives making business decisions.

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When a game becomes so widely panned and underperforms so much that a company completely gives up on actually making games, you know something’s gone very badly wrong. On paper, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum could have been a good game, with Daedalic Entertainment finding a little niche within the wider Middle-earth tale that they could try to flesh out and fill in.

Disappointingly, the game came up short on pretty much every level. From a narrative perspective, it was too shallow in how it represented the push and pull of the competing Gollum and Smeagol personalities, and featured utterly average stealth action and mediocre graphics. But as it launched, it also brought game-breaking bugs that made it impossible to complete.

This was simply a crushing game release that, after issuing a public apology, saw Daedalic’s internal development division shut down, focussing its efforts toward game publishing as a subsidiary of parent company Nacon.

Embracer – Also Disappointing

After half a decade of seemingly unending growth and acquisitions, Embracer Group has made an about-turn in 2023, with the behemoth gaming conglomerate shutting down studios, laying off developers and looking to sell on subsidiaries that it had only just bought in the last couple of years.

All of this is thanks to the company’s executives banking on a $2 billion funding deal that fell apart at the last moment,  reportedly with the Saudi PIF’s Savvy Gaming Group. This shook the company’s plans to the core. Now they’re looking to sell off Gearbox, they’ve shut down studios like Volition (after Saints Row massively underperformed) and a reformed Free Radical Design who had been working on a Timesplitters revival, and have been making cuts that have already affected close to 1000 employees.

It feels like the Embracer boom is now at risk of turning into a bit of a bust, built on the foundations of cheap loans and investments, and with buyouts backed by the promise of future share values. Now they’re cutting costs and seeking a more sustainable approach… but shouldn’t sustainability have been the aim from the offset? Not just a mad dash to grab as much IP and as many studios as possible?

The frustrating thing is that they’ve been able to report growing revenues and had game launches that have sold millions of copies. Dead Island 2, Payday 3, Remnant 2 and plenty of others have at the very least covered the money that had been invested in them, if not outperformed expectations in some cases.

Destiny 2: Lightfall – Also Disappointing

Bungie and Destiny have had their ups and downs over the years, but it felt that since 2020 the company has had a master plan to continually hit the high notes through to the end of the game’s decade-long story arc. Beyond Light gave players access to Darkness for the first time, while The Witch Queen was lauded for its longer and more engaging story, but then Destiny 2: Lightfall came along with a new human faction, 80s cyberpunk aesthetic and a grappling hook ability, and it just fell flat.

With a less-than-inspiring expansion, players have trailed away from Destiny 2 and its seasonal grind, going to touch the greener grass of other video games that exist, and that has an impact on Bungie’s bottom line. With the company failing to meet their performance targets and revenue reportedly dropping by a huge 45%, and just a year after having been acquired by Sony specifically for their expertise in live service games, they’ve laid off 100 of their 1200 employees and their independence is now at stake. They’ve also delayed Destiny 2: The Final Shape by three months (stretching out Lightfall’s fallow patch even further), and have bumped their next big game, Marathon, into 2025.

(Dis)Honourable Mentions

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