Plenty of controversy hounded the video game industry in 2013, though I’m not sure any of it was quite as hot-blooded as the controversies we saw the year prior. (I’m looking at you BioWare.)
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Still, there were some regrettable moments. Some embarrassing moments. Some downright avoidable moments. And here we’ll list a bunch of them—though, regrettably, none featuring your humble narrator’s various bizarre Twitter fights over the course of the past 12 months or so.
And now, without further ado:
THQ Shuts Its Doors
The struggling publisher filed for bankruptcy at the end of 2012, but the liquidation of assets didn’t conclude until the following year. The game maker’s many IPs were spread to the four winds, with publishers like Deep Silver and Ubisoft picking off some of the biggest franchises like Metro and South Park. The promising Darksiders franchise wasn’t picked up until months later, by Nordic Games. Borderlands developer Gearbox purchased Homeworld.
EA and Maxis launched SimCity 5 amidst controversy over the game’s always-online DRM, which both developer and publisher claimed was necessary even for the single-player portion of the game. Not having learned from Blizzard’s Diablo III launch disaster the year prior, the game’s launch turned into an overnight disaster. Like Diablo III, the game was an initial blockbuster, pushing millions of units out the gates. But EA’s servers couldn’t handle the strain and the game was, for all intents and purposes, broken for just about everyone. Other problems plagued the title even once it was up and running, and EA faced yet another massive controversy. Things only got worse when it was quickly discovered that the game could, in fact, run just fine without an internet connection—so long as you could hack your way past the DRM.
LucasArts Calls It Quits
LucasFilm got bought up by Disney in 2013, a victory for anyone who doesn’t want the next three Star Wars movies directed by George Lucas (like yours truly.) Unfortunately, the video game division, LucasArts, ended up closing its doors. The rights to Star Wars video games went to EA, the publisher of the financially struggling Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG. The good news is that we’re getting Star Wars: Battlefront 3 built on the Frostbite 3 engine. The bad news was the canning of the promising third-person game Star Wars 1313.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
One reason some gamers were upset that Gearbox got its hands on the Homeworld franchise was the disastrous release of the developers’ Aliens: Colonial Marines. The game, which had been in development for the better part of a decade, was almost universally considered one of the worst of the year, filled to the brim with bugs and other problems. The plot thickened and is still shrouded in mystery, but reports suggest that Gearbox wasn’t always above board with the game’s development process and may have played fast and loose with the truth with publisher Sega.
The Xbox One announcement
Always-online DRM. No used games. A Kinect you can’t keep from watching and listening to you all the time. These were the happy announcements that came with Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal. Oh, and it would cost $100 more than Sony’s PS4. In other words, Microsoft came out the gates and fell flat on its face, and gamers were quick to react. While the tech giant did just about everything possible to reverse these policies during the intervening months, the console was quickly written off by large swaths of gamers who claimed the PS4 as the “gamers’ console.” Sony leaped on each Xbox One mishap with glee, and quickly raced ahead in the PR war.
IGDA strippers (GDC)
I was at GDC 2013, but I missed its least best moment. But Forbes did report on the scantily clad dancers that were hired to perform at the International Game Developers Association party. The IGDA faced a flood of resignations once the news broke, including IGDA Women in Games SIG co-chair Brenda Romero, who announced her resignation via Twitter. The IGDA partnered with YetiZen for the party—the association’s first mistake. YetiZen got into hot water over a party the previous year which featured models wearing only paint above the waist. The IGDA claimed they knew nothing of the costumes for the 2013 party, while YetiZen said all costumes were approved. Either way, an embarrassing bungle for a group that ought to hold itself to higher standards.
Personally, the big game delays of the year didn’t bother me that much. Ubisoft is the big culprit here, following their (terrible) delay of Rayman Legends from 2012 to 2013 with the much more reasonable delays of South Park: The Stick of Truth and Watch Dogs. That last one was one of the most highly anticipated next-gen (or cross-gen, really) titles out there, and Ubisoft took a big risk pushing the game back. But if it makes it a better, more polished game then I’m all for it.
Wii U Sales
Nintendo released a bunch of great games for the Wii U, but the game maker’s next-gen system just couldn’t ever stir itself to life in 2013. Even the relative boost during the holidays showed a system under-performing its launch sales—not a hopeful sign at all. 2014 may see the Wii U bounce back, but 2013 was in no way a good year for the system, even with some top-notch titles released. (Fortunately for Nintendo, the handheld 3DS had a hugely successful year.)
We’ll call this one “controversy” rather than “disappointment.” I really, really liked BioShock Infinite. Much to many of our readers’ consternation, Forbes even named it our Game of the Year. You see, Ken Levine’s third BioShock title was received with as much loathing as it was praise, making it a game you either love or you hate depending on who you talk to. Many called its shooter mechanics stale and underwhelming, and argued that many of the game’s more interesting mechanics had been cut out for the final product. Many others still considered the game a masterpiece in its own right. While it didn’t stir the same emotional response as the Mass Effect 3 ending, it certainly did spark a lot of great controversy this year.
Damsels in Distress
Anita Sarkeesian ran her surprisingly successful and controversial Tropes vs. Women Kickstarter in 2012, but it wasn’t until March of 2013 that her first video in the series hit YouTube, followed by three more videos over the course of the year. Given how many buttons Sarkeesian seems to push in the gaming community, each video was controversial, the number of videos was controversial (just four all year long rather than the one-per-month initially planned), and the reactions to the videos were, themselves, controversial. Turns out the subject of sexism in video games is super controversial!
YouTube Starts Taking Down Gamer Videos
YouTube’s ContentID program suddenly started issuing content takedown notices and diverting revenue from videos with video game content in late 2013. The sudden crackdown presents a clear and present danger to the video-blogging community and the Let’s Play community.
NSA Spies On ‘World of Warcraft’
The NSA, worried that terrorists might use games like World of Warcraft and Second Life to hatch nefarious terrorist plots (on the real world) planted agents in the games. Which, let’s be honest, is probably the weirdest spy job ever. Also the safest spy job ever. It’s just one of the many ways the NSA has surprised us this year, but also pretty much the most hilarious. Concerns over the NSA’s involvement with firms like Apple and Microsoft also led to worries over the Xbox One’s Kinect acting as a spy device.
Still No Half-Life 3
This one might be on every list forever and ever. In 2013, instead of a new game announcement, Valve announced a new operating system—Steam OS—the long-rumored Steam-PC—or Steam Machiens—and a funky new PC-centric gamepad. Each of these announcements was mildly interesting, and taken as a whole paint an intriguing business strategy for the Steam operators, but none of them were anywhere near as cool as hearing about Half-Life 3. Then again, the game has been built up in the collective gamer imagination so much at this point, that any actual product would probably be a huge let-down. So maybe we’re better off chasing unicorns.
Next-Gen Systems Launch with Almost No Games
Sure, there were plenty of cross-gen games available at the launch of the Xbox One and PS4, but other than that we’re looking at a serious deficit of system-selling content. Each system had one pretty good game launched alongside it—Dead Rising 3 for Xbox One and Killzone Shadow Fall for PS4—but there’s just not much else going yet. Hopefully 2014 will give gamers more reasons to buy the new systems, and early adopters fewer reasons for buyer’s remorse.
And that’s 2013 in a nutshell. What did I miss? What was your most disappointing, horrifying or otherwise very bad video game moment of the year?