Dénouement 2019 Part 1: The Year of Corporate Dystopia

By Shamus Posted Thursday Dec 19, 2019

Filed under: Industry Events 182 comments

It’s almost 2020! Welcome to the future, I guess. It’s a shame Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t come out in 2019, since that would have been thematically appropriate for a year where the AAA publishers all went full-on corporate dystopia.

Right now the gaming industry feels like the lamest cyberpunk novel ever written. 2019 didn’t give us any razorgirls, brain implants, or flying cars. No robo-arms. No glowing nano blades. No AI escaped out onto the internet to pursue its own agenda. No body-swapping. No robo-geishas. No glowing cyber eyes with a built-in HUD. There aren’t any 20 meter holographic billboards. If someone is cyber-jacking, it doesn’t mean they’re cracking through the corporate ICE layers to steal the designs for the new security bot while soaring on amphetamines, it means they’re watching PornHub.

While we didn’t get much in the way of cool cyberpunk shit this year, the big publishers went out of their way to behave like childishly cliché cyberpunk corps.

This is Totally Unrealistic

This year was an all-clown circus.
This year was an all-clown circus.

If I read about their behavior in a novel, I would roll my eyes because it seems so implausibly over the top. Like, come on… do you really expect me to believe that a publisher would hire a couple of goons to visit a gamer’s house and grill him about leaked screenshots? Is anyone expected to believe that AAA publishers would be so excited for microtransaction money and so fearless of public backlash / governmental regulation that they would put literal slot machines into a $60 basketball game? Or that they would put actual  casinos in a game that serve the same function as a real casino? That’s silly.

Are we supposed to believe that publishers are so clueless and tone-deaf that they would put unskippable in-game advertising in a $60 title? Are you telling me that having plastic helmets recalled because they’re tainted with a dangerous fungus is a real news story and not an unused Max Headroom script? While the big western publishers have embraced the lootbox strategy, there’s no way kid-friendly Nintendo would stoop to gambling mechanics in a mainline title. That’s absurd.

Who could possibly be expected to believe that beloved Blizzard would embrace the censorious and authoritarian government of China and enthusiastically act as muscle for PRC’s thought police? EA bends the truth and engages in PR spin all the time, but it’s totally implausible that EA would go full-on Baghdad Bob and outright lie to shareholders that Anthem is fine, when the entire gaming public can see that this is blatantly not true.

Also, headlines like  “Activision Posts Record Earnings, Cuts 800 Jobs” are so silly and unbelievable that they break my suspension of disbelief. Bobby Kotick is certainly smart enough to know that – even if this is a good business move – the optics of the situation are ridiculous. Activision makes billions a year. Why would they damage the quality of a game just to sell stupid cosmetic crosshairs for $2? Come on! They’re greedy, not morons. That’s like having Amazon charge you an extra $1 to have your package taped shut before shipping. The move is so petty, the cost to the company is so trivial, and the optics would be so bad. In the real world, no serious CEO would approve something so small-minded.

The ESRB is a trusted source of information on game content, and it has been so for a quarter century. Developers spend a lot of time and money bending their work to bring it into ESRB compliance. I can believe this organization makes mistakes sometimes, but it would be ridiculous to imagine that the whole thing has been a sham the entire time and the ESRB doesn’t actually play the games it rates.

Bethesda is notoriously incompetent, but they’re not evil. They don’t go around harming their biggest supporters on purpose like a schlock movie villain killing one of his own henchmen to prove how evil he is. There’s no way Bethesda would ban supportive members of the dwindling Fallout 76 community for quietly reporting exploits to the support staff.

Plot Twist!

It turns out these guys were a rogue cell.
It turns out these guys were a rogue cell.

But no. All of this stuff really happened. It would be cool if the publishers were expressing their evil by hacking each other’s mainframes and hiring squads of mercenaries to assassinate each others’ executives, but instead they’re just ruining the hobby by being as rapacious, incompetent, and cartoonishly evil as possible. Their efforts are all pathetic, foolish, and small-minded. This is the lamest corporate dystopia I’ve ever seen.

0 / 10 – Would not be subjugated by these corps again.

To be clear, the above list of sins barely scratched the surface of what the various companies did wrong this year. Rather than improving the Epic Games Store, Epic gobbled up a bunch of games as platform exclusives, which caused a bunch of headaches, hard feelings, controversy, and a general substandard user experience for everyone. Rockstar Games rolled out their own PC games launcher / storefront, and – like every non-GoG platform before them – attached the half-baked platform to a huge release rather than making sure it was stable first. It caused the usual problems.

Despite their, wealth, power, and cutting-edge technology, Google managed to launch their Stadia gaming platform with a host of glaring technological issues. It’s overpricedIt’s not that far from the price of a proper console, PLUS the monthly fee, PLUS whatever overage charges you might rack up on your data plan. Who is this for?, short on titlesIt didn’t have many launch titles, and most of them were months old. And being sold for launch-day prices., half-bakedYou can’t buy games using the console itself. You have to use a phone app., and offers a substandard gaming experienceThe lag isn’t all that different from what people reported with OnLive years ago: The input latency varies between “You can kinda get used to it” to “literally unplayable”. that doesn’t even meet the promised levels of visual fidelityThe compression artifacts are visible. Why bother paying all of this money to stream 4K footage that looks worse than 1080p footage?. I’m hoping Stadia dies quickly, because the last thing this hobby needs is yet another entitled, tone-deaf, clueless corporation trying to push the limits on how much a company can over-charge and under-deliver.

After a disastrously buggy launch for Fallout 76, Bethesda broke their promise that microtransactions would be cosmetic only and they began openly selling gameplay items for real money. Then they rolled out a patch that doubled down on that policy while also re-introducing bugs that had been previously fixed. I know Bethesda is a joke because of their lack of QA, but that screwup goes beyond a failure to test. Are they not using source control? Just how intensely dysfunctional is their development pipeline that such a thing is even possible?

No year would be complete without a story of pointless DRM. This year it was when the SecuROM servers were deactivated for TRON: Evolution. Now people who paid for the game can no longer play it. DRM is supposed to prevent piracy, but here it’s just creating piracy in the opposite direction. People paid for the game, and now they no longer have access to their purchase. There’s just no excuse for that. Particularly when the publisher is Disney. It’s not like the company can’t afford to keep the servers running.

Let’s not forget the massive leak caused by the ESA’s recklessly inept handling of user data. Or when Activision – in a brazen effort to manipulate scores and thus deceive the consumer – launched a game without microtransactions, waited for review scores to solidify, and then added them. Or when Bethesda made sure the first patch for the lacklustre and buggy Wolfenstein: Youngblood “protected” the single-player game from cheat engine, because they prioritized protecting their microtransaction revenue over fixing the shitty broken game they were selling. There’s also the story where flaws in Fornite’s security left 200 million accounts exposed.

The Bad Guys Win

I wrote a SCATHING post on r/gaming, condemning the corporate shenanigans this year. I'll bet the executives will be crying all the way to the bank.
I wrote a SCATHING post on r/gaming, condemning the corporate shenanigans this year. I'll bet the executives will be crying all the way to the bank.

Despite all of that, this cavalcade of recklessness, incompetence, idiocy, contempt, and arrogance isn’t even the most frustrating thing in gaming this year. For me the most frustrating thing about all of these stories is that the publishers got away with it.

Bethesda spent the better part of a year lying to the Fallout 76 community, breaking promises, breaking the game, and trying to extract more money from people who had already paid top dollar for a mass of bugs and broken gameplay. And after all that, they added a subscription service with a monthly fee as if this was 2005. And then this new service opened with a fresh round of bugs, lies, and broken promises. AND PEOPLE BOUGHT IT ANYWAY.

Despite Activision’s shitty behavior, this year’s Modern Warfare is the highest selling in a generation.

It’s not the corporate avarice and chicanery that’s the problem, it’s the public’s willingness to tolerate it. If people are going to continue to reward this behavior with sales, then nothing else matters. We lost.

The one silver lining this year is that Jedi Fallen Order did well “despite” being a single-player experience with no microtransaction bullshit. And I think Stadia is a flop, although Google hasn’t officially tapped out yet. These stories are encouraging, and maybe these sort of things would help publishers realize that quality, value, and user experience matter. But then the Fallout 76 story sort of sends the opposite message. Honestly if I was sitting on Andrew Wilson‘s throne I’d probably feel like Homelander at this point. I’d conclude that I’m invincible and free to do whatever I want.

So yeah. It wasn’t a good year in the gaming business. Hopefully 2020 surprises me with something positive.

Next week we’ll talk about some games.



[1] It’s not that far from the price of a proper console, PLUS the monthly fee, PLUS whatever overage charges you might rack up on your data plan. Who is this for?

[2] It didn’t have many launch titles, and most of them were months old. And being sold for launch-day prices.

[3] You can’t buy games using the console itself. You have to use a phone app.

[4] The lag isn’t all that different from what people reported with OnLive years ago: The input latency varies between “You can kinda get used to it” to “literally unplayable”.

[5] The compression artifacts are visible. Why bother paying all of this money to stream 4K footage that looks worse than 1080p footage?

From The Archives:

182 thoughts on “Dénouement 2019 Part 1: The Year of Corporate Dystopia

  1. Wangwang says:

    So after the year of good news, we have the year of lame dystopia.
    Just like they say, when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, 99% it’s the headlight of a train.
    Also, since you talk about it, can you give some speculation why gamers community still tolorate those kind of corporate behavior? Are we so attach to game brands that we are unable to leave them for better, less hostile game company?

    1. Daimbert says:

      Bluntly? Most players probably don’t notice, because the things are either outside the game or don’t impact their gaming. The number of people who are informed about and care about all of these things is a lot smaller, even if most of them are active on various social media about it and so are vocal.

      I, personally, wouldn’t know about most of these things if Shamus didn’t mention them.

      1. Thomas says:

        And their are only a couple of ‘big’ games each year that people play. It would take a lot to convince most people to not buy it on moral groubds

        1. Yeah, the only thing that affected me in any way was Anthem being mediocre, and I went in expecting it to be mediocre. I got a couple weeks of fun out of it, which was exactly what I was looking for.

          The game companies I actually care about (Obsidian and Standing Stone Games, maybe Larian with BG3 coming along) are doing AMAZING. I stopped buying from the Big Publishers not because they’re Teh Evlolz, but because they stopped putting out games that I wanted to play.

          1. Duoae says:

            I must be getting old: it took me a full minute or two to decipher “evlolz”…

            I have to agree with things being outside of the user experience theory. Even though i consider myself pretty well-read when it comes to technology and gaming some of these stories were a complete surprise to me.

            Though I was surprised that people didn’t know that ESRB doesn’t play the games. I thought that was common knowledge! In fact i remember a discussion about it in the blog comments some years ago. The same happens for PEGI too (and used to happen at three BBFC too).

          2. Sleeping Dragon says:

            Yeah, I still buy AAA games but I usually do it a couple years after release, when I can get some kind of GOTY/complete edition in the vicinity of 10$ on sale (and the reviews came in, and the bugs have been ironed out, at least as much as they care to do that these days). I’ve started thinking of them mostly as “videogame fastfood”, something that I can enjoy but don’t really need,

    2. Chad Miller says:

      Part of it is that whales have an economic impact far out of line from the average gamer, even if we’re just talking about gamers within a specific fanbase.

      I mean, Fallout 76 “got away with it” in that it has a consumer base, but most people agree it’s terrible. Just look at the r/fallout, where even series die-hard fans don’t like it. Or even r/fo76, the primary Fallout 76 subreddit, which is still so critical of the game that people have created spinoff subreddits that explicitly ban critical posts because the diehards are sick of hearing about how bad the game is: https://www.reddit.com/r/fo76FilthyCasuals/about/rules

      1. I don’t think this is true, and people VASTLY inflate the effect that whales have on the bottom line of any mass-market product. If whales were actually a substantial proportion of the bottom line, you’d see companies rolling out the red carpet for them, when instead they will cheerfully ban the accounts of people who put ridiculous amounts of time and money into a game on a spurious basis and not even apologize for it later. Individual players simply don’t spend enough money on these games for it to matter. What matters is the statistical behavior of large numbers of people.

        In every game I’ve ever played, the people complaining about “whales” were actually just jerks throwing a big whiny tantrum and being ignored because they were jerks throwing a big whiny tantrum.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Depends on whether you’re talking about AAA FPSs with microtransactions, or mobile games. If you’ve ever listened
          to mobile devs talk about business models (GDC and similar conferences are a good source for this), it’s obvious that whales are huge.

          1. Mistwraithe says:

            Exactly. Whales are a big portion of the income from addictive micro-transactions and we’ve seen large parts of the gaming rush head long into addictive micro-transactions, so it’s naive to think that whales are not important to the current game dev industry.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              Back when WoW had eight-digit subscriber counts, we saw large parts of gaming rush into cloning WoW, but that doesn’t mean WoW-cloning was ever a profitable endeavour.

              We know whales are a thing in mobile because the devs tell us as much. Whether they’re a big deal in full-price games is very hard to know with public information.

              1. Also a “whale” in a churn-and-burn freemium mobile game could be someone who spends a couple hundred dollars.

        2. tremor3258 says:

          It seems at a certain point in a certain size of f2p game you get a small group of people underwriting the game then the larger playerbase doesn’t matter except to give the whales someone to play with

        3. Decius says:

          The whales are most certainly a huge effect on the bottom line of microtransaction based models.

          I have seen twitch channels where one person gave over a hundred gift subs per month- literally thousands of dollars from one person, and enough to distort the overall results.

          The thing is, the whales enjoy the same things that other people do, so focusing on them is not damaging to the experience any more than focusing on getting more money from you would be.

        4. Boobah says:

          If whales were actually a substantial proportion of the bottom line, you’d see companies rolling out the red carpet for them, when instead they will cheerfully ban the accounts of people who put ridiculous amounts of time and money into a game on a spurious basis and not even apologize for it later.

          That rather depends on how they expect the whales to react. Do they a) leave the game after a swing of the banhammer, or b) remain hooked and continue whaling on a second account (that may or may not be new.)

          In every game I’ve ever played, the people complaining about “whales” were actually just jerks throwing a big whiny tantrum and being ignored because they were jerks throwing a big whiny tantrum.

          Well, once you dismiss the idea that game companies rig their games to encourage whaling (a claim I find unpersuasive) that’s pretty much what you have left, isn’t it?

    3. RFS-81 says:

      In addition to the things that others have mentioned, I think there might also be a generational aspect. I remember everyone making fun of the Oblivion horse armor DLC, and gaming magazines putting sidebars into reviews to inform you when a game requires online activation.

      To Kids These Days (TM), all that stuff is normal. Apparently, “default” is a schoolyard insult now, meaning that you haven’t bought any Fortnine skins. (Though I wouldn’t be surprised if that story is way overblown…)

      1. Duoae says:

        Holy crap, kids really are mean… and stupid… ( then again, that doesn’t really change as we get older, does it? :/ )

      2. Higher_Peanut says:

        I agree with the generational aspect, but think it’s a platform/market generation as well. Each successive loss of consumer control comes with the next wave of entertainment growth bringing in new people who think the actions are normal.

        When consoles reached the point where whey were online they took one look at free multiplayer and sold it to people as a subscription. Now it’s just a thing people expect on console, there’s some online pass/subscription. Then the mobile market happened and a whole new wave of people who didn’t know they didn’t have to put up with gacha mechanics and pay to not wait think it’s just how things are. F2P products and esports bring more and more people into the gaming industry. The most important thing to big companies is that new customers don’t know when to push back because they never experienced anything else and they haven’t burnt those bridges yet. I feel like having tons of money lets companies like EA stumble along through failures and controversy until all the new customers never knew they existed.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Then the mobile market happened and a whole new wave of people who didn’t know they didn’t have to put up with gacha mechanics and pay to not wait think it’s just how things are.

          People still make games without gacha mechanics, pay-to-win, and every other thing us grognards hate. The gacha bullshit didn’t stage a coup and somehow forcibly eject “good” games, it showed up to the same free market those good games were selling in and it trounced them. There’s no Microtransaction Illuminati pulling strings to make sure no one ever hears about games doing it the good way, those games don’t sell because people are more willing to pay for F2P garbage.

          1. Higher_Peanut says:

            I disagree that they didn’t eject the good games. The mobile market was FLOODED with garbage, even more so than steam. Without some sort of dedicated curation any game had a functionally zero chance of being noticed. The flood of terrible games tainted the perception of phone gaming as a whole and turned potential customers off at the mention of being on a phone. What market was left for functional games was tiny and couldn’t be reached by the publishers anyway since curators had already given up on the platform.

      3. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I don’t know if the “default” narrative is overblown as much as it is misaimed. As someone growing up gay, nerdy and socially dysfunctional I can tell you Kids Are Assholes. That is not to say I’m arguing for some kind of “kids being kids” acceptance of this, I’m just saying that the idea that Fortnite is suddenly responsible for kids acting elitist, exclusionary or looking down on “have nots” is ridiculous, it’s merely the current vehicle for these behaviours. Sure, you can argue that Fortnite is tailored to elicit those feelings but I think this was also true of Barbies, Gi-Joes and those stupid glowy neon shoes.

        1. tmtvl says:

          I remember when I was a little younger I would go with some friends to Aristotle’s speeches. He often had something to say about ‘the youth’ and ‘kids nowadays’. Mind you, this was in what we would now call the 300s B.C.

  2. JDMM says:

    Not that it isn’t nice to hear your thoughts about the end of the year but shouldn’t you react to the Xbox Series X XXX (too many X’s) before going into review mode? We now have a concrete idea about what specifications most Triple A games will cover for the next five or so years, yes they’ll all be horrible grindathons with lootboxes offering you the ability to pay to not play the game but some of them won’t and some of them will be in a weird middle ground like Rockstar games*

    *It is fascinating that RDR II is both the best and the worst of all games depending on whether you’re single player or multiplayer

    1. Thomas says:

      Microsoft took Xbox gamer tags too literally.

      The xxXBOXSxSxxx

      1. Kyle Haight says:

        I’m waiting for them to cross the line to full fledged Kingdom Hearts naming: XBox Series X 2.8 Final re:Mix Epilogue X.

        1. Geebs says:

          I think you missed a couple of X’s in there

      2. Higher_Peanut says:

        I really think they’re missing out not calling one the NeXt Box.

  3. V Apopei says:

    Star Citizen is still in alpha……….
    The year of cyberpunk publisher dystopia let them slip through the cracks of scummy business practices.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Star Citizen is some combination of pyramid scheme, evangelical cult and elaborate prank. I’m not sure it counts as a video game anymore…

      Either that or SC finally getting finished will be a sign of the impending Apocalypse.

      1. John says:

        I believe that Star Citizen will eventually be released. At some point, Chris “Feature Creep” Roberts will run out of money and he’ll have to release something. Since there are various playable demos, I’m also reasonably certain that there actually is something to release. Please note that I’m not saying the game will be good or even finished. Frankly, I expect it to be buggy, content-light, under-deliver on Chris “Can’t Handle Scope” Robert’s many promises, and run poorly on even beefy machines. But I believe that it will be released. Eventually.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Now I think about it…I’m 50/50. While from what little I’ve heard of Chris Roberts it seems like he might have bought into his own hype – meaning he’ll be around for the moment when the house of cards collapses – it’s been a long time since SC was announced. Surely even the thickest-headed devotee would be having second thoughts by now.

          If the next piece of big news regarding SC was that Roberts had disappeared with a large chunk of the remaining money, I wouldn’t be surprised.

          1. Sleeping Dragon says:

            If I were to make a guess, and my cynicism might be showing, whether they release a buggy mess or not release at all Roberts will go on record despairing that they were just one more crowdfunding campaign, one more fundraiser, one more “couple million dollars” from making the crown of creation in the realm of video games and it was all the naysayers, all the hounding by the press who wanted to bring him down that prevented that.

          2. John says:

            The thing is, they’ve got a playable product, somewhere between a demo and an alpha. It’s even free-to-play occasionally. I’ve heard mixed reports as to the content and quality though. The Faithful think it’s just shy of perfect and will inevitably be perfect once it’s released, though not even The Faithful believe the developers’ road map any more. The people who dip in and out are not quite so impressed but some of them are cautiously optimistic. That’s why I think that something called Star Citizen will eventually see the light of day, even if it isn’t necessarily a finished product.

            The thing that has always confused me is The Faithful’s attitude toward Chris Roberts. These are people who say things like “I believe in Chris Roberts because of his track record as a developer.” I myself, on the other hand, am extremely skeptical of Chris Roberts precisely because of his track record as a developer. Freelancer, the game The Faithful set such stock in, exists despite Chris Roberts, not because of him. Roberts spent something like three years working on Freelancer until he ran out of money and sold out to Microsoft. lt took Microsoft another two years from the point where Roberts left the project to get Freelancer into a shippable but arguably still unfinished state. Star Citizen is exactly what I expected from the man behind Freelancer when given infinite money, no boss, and no hard deadlines.

          3. Droid says:

            Surely even the thickest-headed devotee would be having second thoughts by now.

            You say that, but Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord is bound to release in March 2020 and I’m ABSOLUTELY SURE it will be THE PINNACLE OF GAMING.

            *staring intensifies*

            1. Charnel Mouse says:

              Wasn’t Mount and Blade 1 in Beta for quite a long time? Let alone development.

      2. Hector says:

        That combination of over-hyped product, a personality running on raw brash charisma of some flavor, and wild Cult of Personality seems to be un-nervingly common today. We have, to varying degrees of success, Elizabeth Holmes, Adam Neuman, Elon Musk, and of course Star Citizen is right there.

        1. baud says:

          Elon Musk has delivered on SpaceX and Tesla, though. Well, apart from the “autopilot” in their cars.

          1. djw says:

            And paypal…

      3. Higher_Peanut says:

        Star Citizen is some sort of physical manifestation of sunk loss fallacy born out of the hopes and dreams of those who crowd fund projects. Intermittently it must feed, lest we all reap what we have sown.

        1. Hector says:

          It is the 2257. Every spring, the Star Citizens gather in the Holy Convention and make offerings of money and little starship toys. They no longer remember why, but they have faith that The Roberts will return and lead them toward the heavens as promised.

  4. BlueHorus says:

    But Shamus…

    Uh, Shamus…

    Shamus, I hate to say it, but…



    Oh right, he was just building to it.

    That’s by far the most depressing thing about the situation. I can’t see the behavior of games companies changing anytime soon if this is the response they get to their antics.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Did they though? Like yes, more than one person therefore “people” technically bought it, but did the latest Fallout bullshit sell well? The 76 community isn’t exactly big and Bethesda aren’t releasing numbers, what reason do we have to believe it isn’t a Stadia-level flop?

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        There’s a bit of Stockholm syndrome going on where people have this tendency to stick to a market/franchise that they don’t like anymore, even when they aren’t buying the offending products, and act like they’re being oppressed. Well, you’re not. You can just leave.

        Sometimes markets shit into something you don’t like anymore. Sometimes companies change and don’t make the products you like anymore. This doesn’t mean that they’ve won some battle. It means that the current market base they’re chasing has different preferences and tolerances than you.

        But the old market base isn’t gone, so we still have GoG and games like The Outer Worlds. Just ignore EA and Activision. Once you do that, they’re not your problem anymore. Just don’t buy Fallout 76 and- Oh, wait, you already didn’t do that, which is why Bethesda is so desperate to find a way to make money off of it.

        1. Matt says:

          See also: Star Wars.

          1. Bloodsquirrel says:

            Well, we’re about to see about that. The merchandise sales for Star Wars are down, Galaxy’s Edge was a disappointment, Solo bombed, and now the reviews for TRoS are coming in, and it’s not pretty. Iger has been pretty clear that they’re going to change course. Whether the new course is going to please the old fanbase is yet to be seen, but it’s looking pretty clear right now that ST-era Star Wars is being written off as a failure.

            1. evileeyore says:

              If they can stick with the tracks Favreau and Filoni are laying down, Disney might just figure out that this is The Way.

      2. Radkatsu says:

        Watch Many a True Nerd’s latest Fallout 76 video, it was only a couple of weeks ago. He talked about the history of the ATOM store (and it was surprisingly entertaining and informative!). Thing is… he did in fact come to the conclusion that Bethesda are making more than enough money for this to be worthwhile.

        HOWEVER, let’s not forget that it’s not normally the regular people who make these companies bank. It’s the so-called Whales who spend tens of thousands on all this junk. So while it does seem like people are stupidly buying into this stuff, a lot of it is really being driven by that small number of compulsive gambler types with more money than sense.

        1. Majromax says:

          > Thing is… he did in fact come to the conclusion that Bethesda are making more than enough money for this to be worthwhile.

          Note, there’s a difference between “enough money to make it worthwhile” and “enough money to justify the investment.”

          Fallout 76 exists. From Bethesda’s viewpoint, what matters now is whether the game can operate profitably, drawing in more revenue than it takes in developer costs (including opportunity costs of working on something else). However, that’s not the same as meeting Bethesda’s original expectations for FO76 or even recouping the original development cost — it’s just that Bethesda doesn’t get those costs back if it cancels the game now.

  5. Asdasd says:

    Jesus wept. I’m an active follower of gaming news and I’d only heard of maybe half of these.

    “It’s not the corporate avarice and chicanery that’s the problem, it’s the public’s willingness to tolerate it. If people are going to continue to reward this behavior… then nothing else matters. We lost.”

    I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. It takes a once in a generation talent to have the capacity, inclination and willingness to oppose such malfeasance, take on the vested interests and explain yourself in such a way that a significant enough proportion of people take notice to make a difference.

    You’re not asking for a unicorn at that point but a triple unicorn. And when you don’t have one, yeah, the bad guys win.

    1. Daimbert says:

      Here’s the thing: following on from your first statement, it isn’t hopeless. It isn’t bothering most people yet and most people don’t know about it. But if a game — and we did see it, I think, with Battlefront II — really screws it up, then people will drop in droves. If it ends up being industry wide, people will indeed reject it.

      That’s if it gets that bad. If they stay at moderate levels and bring the temperature up slowly, then people may just adjust to it. But Shamus’ comments imply that they aren’t bringing the temperature up slowly, and people are noticing.

      It’s kinda like the issues with long-running franchises in anything. People complain about the decliningquality of them, and the defenders point to “They still make money!”. Yeah, they do. Until they don’t and die. Reactions are not immediate, and inertia can keep things going past the point where you need to hit the brakes or you’re gonna hit that brick wall.

      1. Hector says:

        Speaking of money, my read on Falout 76 isn’t that this is the greed of a powerful, coldly analytical corporate behemoth, but that Bethesda is flailing wildly because they have no idea what they are doing. Their released games are not doing well, previews of their upcoming stuff are exceptionally vague and what is known ain’t that promising. Their hottest product is an acceptable mmo which wasn’t that great at release. This is a company trying to play with the big boys and not really succeeding.

  6. eldomtom2 says:

    I can believe this organization makes mistakes sometimes, but it would be ridiculous to imagine that the whole thing has been a sham the entire time and the ESRB doesn’t actually play the games it rates.

    This has been known since its founding. Remember the Oblivion rerating?

  7. Dreadjaws says:

    It’s not the corporate avarice and chicanery that’s the problem, it’s the public’s willingness to tolerate it. If people are going to continue to reward this behavior with sales, then nothing else matters. We lost.

    I’d argue the problem is even worse than that. People aren’t just tolerating these practices, they’re outright defending them, and they will get angry at you for even suggesting that these poor, struggling billion-dollar companies don’t need to roll out every possible anti-consumer practice they can in order to marginally make ends meet.

    I mean, sometimes it is a bit understandable. “Sure, the EGS is a wretched hive of anti-consumer malarkey whose intentions are very obviously to dominate the market with an iron fist under the paper-thin guise of helping struggling developers, but hey, free games every month!” However unrelated to their supposed goals, you’re still getting a reward.

    But why in the hell are people still playing Fallout 76? There’s no excuse for still rewarding that game with any kind of attention. It should have entirely died already, long before their subscription service had launched. Bethesda has spent years surviving off their fanbase good faith, by releasing increasingly broken products and taking advantage of their massive modding community’s tendency to take it all with humor. But then they released a game that’s impossible to mod, so their practice of relying on their fanbase to fix their broken game was D.O.A. All they’ve done is show just how incompetent they are at doing the job themselves and then they’ve gone even further into the realm of evil by attacking everyone, even those who were helping them.

    Bethesda is dead to me, and it should be for many more. It shouldn’t be getting any more rewards.

    1. Benden says:

      One of the problems with multiplayer games is that a few people will usually get very “gud” at them, and those players experience some real thrills at the expense of anyone else in the game (and even each other) — usually through exploits (and here I mean stuff like clipping errors and grenade hopping, not exploiting anything that isn’t available to all players) and emergent game behavior that lend advantages to players that use them well. These players really enjoy their mastery of the medium and are slow to part with it. They’ll be found in a game’s mp servers long after everyone else is gone. (The first Watch Dogs is becoming a great example of this.)

      This phenomenon could explain both the fact that Fallout 76 still seems to have a market, and the fact that Bethesda is actively silencing those who report exploits.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        Fallout 76 was never primarily a PvP game. The PvP has a reputation for sucking above and beyond the general suckage of the game in general.

        And reportedly the people banned were running tests privately and then emailing their findings to support, not blasting them online for all to see (until they got banned and said “screw you guys”)

    2. BlueHorus says:

      But if we play the latest, shittiest Fallout game, maybe they’ll magically make a good one in a few years time!
      They definitely won’t pump out more substandard crap because it’s easier to make!

      Our only hope for good games to come out is keep buying anything that comes out, because if we don’t buy their games they might just…stop making them!

      And then where will we be?


      1. Higher_Peanut says:

        You say /s but haven’t there already been scandals from publishers holding popular franchises and sequels hostage behind less popular games sales?

        1. Syal says:

          There are companies who hold the rights to popular franchises and have no idea what to do with them so they let them stagnate instead of selling the rights, and there are companies who over-invest in an idea that ends up being bad and bankrupt themselves. Holding a franchise “hostage” is either desperation from the second group, or obfuscation from the first group.

        2. Sleeping Dragon says:

          I don’t recall any particular scandal, I do know franchises can get killed on a bad game, or a game that moves away from what the franchise is known and liked for, and I guess some people could see it as such.

          But if we’re on this topic I’m going to call that whole “roadmap model” a hostage situation. I mean, if Destiny 2 tells you it’s going to sell you seasons, or Guild Wars or WoW announce expansions or something like that they’re at least telling you you’re buying the product as is and will have to pay for upgrades. But if you’re buying a game with a “roadmap” it is very often a case of features being held hostage dependent on how well both the initial sales and later on various monetization mechanics fare. I honestly think companies should be held accountable for those, it’s like ordering an entire banquet, paying for it and then being told that you’re not getting anything past the first course nor your money back because you and the other guests did not pay enough for the condiments. This stuff was iffy enough with Early Access (which I have an intense dislike of) but AAA publishers don’t even have the decency to mark their games as such.

      2. baud says:

        But if we play the latest, shittiest Fallout game, maybe they’ll magically make a good one in a few years time!

        History is going in circles, it was the same thing with Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, which was at the time the shittiest Fallout game, but if people bought it, Interplay might be able to make another Fallout game, a good one this time. Except that Interplay ended up selling to Bethesda.

    3. Higher_Peanut says:

      F2P is one of the biggest business models out there but the amount of times I’ve seen people take up the old “Free game, no bitching” flag to defend anything is disturbing. Games will be riddled with gambling transactions, have features (even paid) break, not run at all, everything short of system damage to the users and still be defended to death and companies praised for gracing the world with its presence.

      I think Bethesda deserves a special mention for normalising horrible game breaking bugs. Games won’t even run for half the install base but it’s defended. Like that’s just how the world is and you’re insane for suggesting someone release a product that performs its primary function.

    4. Radkatsu says:

      “Why are people playing?”

      Three words: sunk cost fallacy. They’ve already put time and money in and don’t want to outright quit because of it. It’s a terrible reason to continue playing, but people will rationalise things to themselves in all sorts of ways when there’s time and money on the line.

    5. RichardW says:

      The point about it not supporting mods doesn’t really matter to those of us who play the series on console and only ever really have the vanilla experience. And for all the game’s faults, the world of 76 was still pretty fun to explore. I’ve always really loved that aspect of Fallout, wandering the wasteland, looking through bombed out buildings, and dealing with some irradiated wildlife along the way. As long as you keep up with what the bug of the week is and steer clear of PVP, you have a mostly hassle-free total conversion of Fallout 4 that focuses on exploration and resource management.

      I stopped playing early this year since it was becoming really grindy and unrewarding at higher levels, when the only thing left to do after completing the story is replaying the nuke launches. There’s been a whole bunch of crap they’ve pulled since though that makes me not want to go back. Everyone has a breaking point. The gating off of private servers behind their subscription was the last straw for me, after how long it took for them to implement those. I’d been hoping since launch they’d finally allow us to just have a proper co-op environment, not this weird shared world with strangers. C’est la vie..

  8. John says:

    I’d like to think that these things don’t affect me. I don’t typically play big games from big publishers and in the rare instances when I do it’s usually years after release. I have yet to see a loot box live and in person. I don’t think I own a game that offers in-game purchases, though I do own a few that will point me to Steam so that I can buy DLC. But I have the nastiest, nagging suspicion that sooner or later this stuff is going to filter down to the kinds of games that I do play. I’m not looking forward to it.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Yeah. From my (admittedly eclectic) point of view, where I’ve never played any of the games mentioned, been affected by any of these practices, and basically never buy AAA games at all*, the hobby’s doing just fine: indies keep putting out interesting, single-player games for me to play, and I usually get more mechanics-oriented games which I can play for years after release. But I have the worrying suspicion that some of these practices may start to seep down to the part of the hobby I enjoy if they’re tolerated in the big circles.

      *the last one was XCOM 2, or possibly AoE II: DE (I’m not sure if that counts).

  9. GargamelLenoir says:

    And the rotten cherry on top of that trash cake is that if you ask any of those game publishers about their public, they’ll complain that gamers are entitled unpleasable pricks…

    1. aradinfinity says:

      It really just feels like “entitled” has become a codeword for “requesting things that I don’t want to do.”

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        Or “Wanting the things that we promised you and you paid money for” or “Not continuing to slavishly devote yourself to our products after we deliberately made changes that you didn’t like in order to chase after new, hipper markets”.

        1. Gresman says:

          Sometimes it is shorthand for those customers, who throw a tantrum because they want stuff that can’t be done due to certain things out of the devs control. Then ignoring the dev’s statements and throwing insults at the customer service person. Following that by telling the devs that they are incompetent.

          I do know that this is a special case and a bit outside of the average. I would say those people are entitled. As in the statement: “I bought the game on sale for 2$ now you have to do what I am telling you to do.”

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            It’s so weird that gaming discourse has taken entitlement, which describes a perfectly reasonable behaviour (for instance: I feel entitled to healthcare, due process, vacation pay, and a bunch of other things because that’s the law in my country) and tacked on an implication that anyone who feels they deserve something does not, in fact, deserve it. If Netflix went down for a month then I would be very upset and you could fairly say that I felt entitled to their service. But that’s because I paid for it! Per the terms of their subscription agreement, I am entitled to their service.

            On the internet, unreasonable people like to demand developers give them the moon, by next week, and do it for free too. It seems like this has become such a common occurrence that the concept of false entitlement has completely eclipsed the notion that someone might legitimately be entitled to something.

            1. Gresman says:

              You have a point there.
              I would say customers are entitled to a working game and support after they have paid for it. It does not matter how much they paid for it. The deserve to be treated fairly. In my time as community person I went to the edge of what I could reasonably do to keep them happy. Seldomly getting a thank you. But I sort of got the feeling that the ones who were the unpleasant ones were those who paid almost nothing for the game. Those who paid full or half price were quite enjoyable most of the time.

              If I would hazard a guess I would say most of the nasty ones have no idea of the ressources needed for the work to be done.

              Anecdote: Once someone told me that me testing the game was no work and I had fun. So I should not be paid anything and sixty hours a week is not a lot of time.

              Back to the point: I get the feeling there is a general issues with the internet given almost everything a weird twist.

              1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                I mean, I have seen people complaining games have been “abandoned” in case of, you know, complete released single player games. In at least one case (I think it was Harebrained’s Shadowrun series) I remember a person was claiming that the devs have “scammed” them by making sequels because, in that person’s opinion, they should have added the subsequent games to the first one for free. Obviously anecdotal and I guess it’s easy to find at least one person holding any kind of ridiculous opinion but I think part of the evils of the lifeservice model is training some people to expect that the developer owes them perpetual updates, which makes it all the more ridiculous that companies who do make those kinds of promises (typically unrealistically) get away with it.

            2. Woolie Wool says:

              It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you PAID FOR. Do you understand what money really is? Money is an entitlement, indeed, under neoliberal capitalism, it is a fungible token intended to be converted into any entitlement the bearer of money can imagine, with enough of it, of course. A $60 video game is not a gift, it is something that its seller is, in theory, required to be delivered *as promised* to the buyer on receipt of the $60. It is commonly accepted that failure to meet this obligation is socially, morally, and legally intolerable and deserving of punishment. That you fail to see this demonstrates how little so many “proud gamers” respect their own money, or themselves. You are letting people rip you off, brazenly, and you don’t even think this is a problem!

              1. Shamus says:

                Wow. That is RIDICULOUSLY more confrontation than the situation calls for.

                Be polite. It improves the odds that you’ll have a nice discussion.


                1. Radkatsu says:

                  Odd. I didn’t see it as confrontational at all. It’s just stating a fact of how the current world works, maybe not with as much cotton wool as some people might like it to be couched in, but hey, the truth hurts.

                  Not saying this to be confrontational with you, btw, just stating that I read that completely differently to how you interpreted it. Ain’t text communication grand? :)

                  1. Syal says:

                    Well, maybe you can tell me what this is referring to.

                    You are letting people rip you off, brazenly, and you don’t even think this is a problem!

                    The nesting has thrown me off so I might be wrong about who they’re responding to, but it seems to be a wildly unjustified assumption about people mildly disagreeing with them.

              2. Gresman says:

                Thank you for reminding me of something.
                After a bit of sleep and consideration I think that the reason for this issue of “entitlement” creeping up with games is mostly a case of perception and expectation.
                The customers do not want what is promised or described. They want what they wish it to be. This might stems from the fact that games are not a physical product. Even if you bought a physical copy.
                If I see the cool new Frod P for 50 currency units with local navigation system, drive as fast as you can tech and direct steering with a picture of a childrens car. I do now what I get. A childrens car with a map. Not a four wheel drive SUV with GPS system.
                My theory being that game customers expect the SUV instead of the toy car. That is what they will push for.

                1. Higher_Peanut says:

                  The customers do not want what is promised or described. They want what they wish it to be.

                  This reminded me that companies are leaning into that now too. Things are advertised as services and seasons, with roadmaps promising how great everything will be in the future with player feedback. Not that all customer expectations are valid, but there certainly are no avenues the big companies won’t try to get that initial purchase. And the big promises are mostly setting up for a disappointment later on once they money is gone.

                2. Syal says:

                  I’m reminded of Crosscode’s Steam discussion page post where the poster expected a refund because the devs put the game on sale nine months later.

                3. baud says:

                  The customers do not want what is promised or described

                  Well, sometime what is promised or described is not even what the buyer gets. For your analogy, it’s like the advertisement for the car says “Guidance system included” and it’s a map in the glovebox. And the reviews gloss over this, focusing on the range of available colors.

                  1. Gresman says:

                    I am not arguing that the customers have a right to the product as advertised/described/promised.
                    If that is not the case I am fine with them being upset and them trying to get what was advertised. But if Shoot Guy 3 is a shooter as advertised and works but they do not like it or it is missing a feature the wanted or expected to be there that was never mentioned and start to harass the devs then it is just bad behaviour. Saying that publishers/devs think all customers are just unpleasant people is going a step to far. It goes the other way as well in the case of devs thinking all their customers are rotten is going too far as well.
                    I am just trying to state that both sides are correct under certain circumstances or at least partially.

                    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                      Obviously only Sith deal in absolutes. I think, and it came up recently in the few posts, a big part of it is that publishers use the excuse of customers being “entitled gamers” to dismiss legitimate complaints and grievances and spinning that narrative serves them well.

              3. RFS-81 says:

                Did we read the same post?

                If Netflix went down for a month then I would be very upset and you could fairly say that I felt entitled to their service. But that’s because I paid for it! Per the terms of their subscription agreement, I am entitled to their service.

                It looks like you’re violently agreeing with Ninety-Three.

                1. Gresman says:

                  I do agree with him.
                  I never stated something else. I just tried to make my position clear and tried to elaborate on what my reasoning was. It is mostly a case of me not being certain if I stated it as I intended. Especially in hindsight I tend to doubt the clarity of my statements.
                  To me the issue of entitled games customers is not as cut and dry as someone might think. It gets complicated once you sat on both sides of the table for a while. I mostly tried to bring a bit of nuance and a different (?) perspective into the discussion. I might have (possibly?) failed in that.

                  1. RFS-81 says:

                    I was referring to Woolie Wool and I was under the impression that he was responding to Ninety-Three. But maybe the nested threads got one of us confused.

              4. Wide And Nerdy says:

                Years after the fact, I know. But what are they paying sixty dollars for specifically? What constitutes a full game. I frequently see the complaint that certain pieces of DLC should have been part of the base game. I see people complaining because a game doesn’t have certain quality of life features that other games have when in the past, no games had those features and people bought them and were happy with the product they got or at least they weren’t complaining about those quality of life features being missing. I see people complaining if a game doesn’t render at 4k60fps. Related, I see complaints for systems like the Nintendo Switch that they don’t have “enough” graphical power. Or when Zelda Windwaker was released, people felt entitled to a more realistic art style.

                How many of these things are you really owed just because you bought a game?

  10. Bloodsquirrel says:

    It’s not the corporate avarice and chicanery that’s the problem, it’s the public’s willingness to tolerate it. If people are going to continue to reward this behavior with sales, then nothing else matters. We lost.

    Well, here’s the good news: None of this affects me in the slightest, because I don’t play any of those games. More games are being made outside of the major publisher’s control than ever. There’s a thriving alternative market, and Activision can’t force you to buy their games.

    Also, the “Activision Posts Record Earnings, Cuts 800 Jobs” bit is just silly. Activision is a big company with a lot of divisions which are in constant flux. It’s not just one pool of employees on a giant assembly line. Just because they’re making an overall profit doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be getting rid of under-performing studios. And, reading through the sources, we have this:

    CEO Bobby Kotick said that the cuts would come from support staff while the company consolidates its commercial operations and reorganizes its marketing initiatives. Activision will be instead investing more in live services, Battle.net, eSports, and advertising efforts.

    So these job cuts were pretty necessary, seeing as they were corporate bloat. Being proactive about adjusting to the market is how Activision made a profit. They’re not going to continue to make one if they just keep building up dead weight until they’re losing at least $100 million a year.

    And it’s not like Activision was tone deaf enough to announce what that headline implies they did. The Youtuber who wrote that headline was taking two different announcements and making the story out of them. What you don’t see is a bunch of headlines whenever Activision hires new employees. Which, apparently, they have been doing, because a quick google search shows that they have more employees now than they did before the layoffs. So that headline is really just media manipulation- they’re not giving you the whole story.

    1. Shamus says:

      “Which, apparently, they have been doing, because a quick google search shows that they have more employees now than they did before the layoffs.”

      That is REALLY interesting indeed.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Yeah, corporate wise it’s pretty common to layoff people even while expanding. You shut down a part of the company that’s outdated, or you get rid of underperforming people, and it’s generally easier to just let them go than to fire them or move/retrain them for the new stuff.

      2. Bloodsquirrel says:

        I mean, is it?

        The entire point here is that a company slowly expanding isn’t interesting enough to make headlines, while a big lay-off is. It’s not like there’s some big thing going on behind the scenes. They’re just slowly hiring staff onto successful product lines and new initiatives.

        This is way bigger than video games, too. We’re currently sitting at an insanely low 3.5% unemployment rate in the US. Any news about a company in the US cutting jobs really needs to be looked at with that in mind. Sure, it’s a momentary disruption for whoever lost their job, but it’s part of a system* that is working very well.

        *Unless we’re in a giant bubble and the market is about to crash, but that’s beyond what you can blame on the companies who are hiring/laying off employees right now.

        1. Shamus says:

          It’s interesting to me because of the changes going on within Activision / Blizzard. There’s an obvious change in corporate priorities – or perhaps, the Activision priorities are being imported to Blizzard.

          To me, it’s an indication that the stuff they’ve BEEN doing is “working”. I haven’t looked up any of the facts you cited and I don’t know what information is available, but I wonder what the new hires are going to be doing.

          1. Thomas says:

            I think the firings were because Activision took over more of the administrative and media duties from Blizzard?

          2. Ninety-Three says:

            It’s important to keep in mind that Blizzard is probably changing for more reasons than just Activision. World of Warcraft was an insane money-printing machine that let them do pretty much whatever they wanted while coasting off ten million monthly subscriptions. But WoW peaked in 2010, and in 2013 they canceled Project Titan after sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into it. Blizzard were being wildly irresponsible with their money and some of the changes we’ve seen in them over the last five years are likely the studio waking up to the fact that with WoW petering out, they’re subject to the laws of economics again and need to change their financial decision-making.

            1. Duoae says:

              I wonder how much the success of overwatch has mitigated those things though?

              I don’t have any numbers and I’m not really familiar with the genre (the TF2-derived theme team shooter genre never appealed to me, i was more of a Quake 3/Unreal Tournament sort of person where everyone uses the same skills) but it seems to me the game has been very successful.

              1. Thomas says:

                Overwatch could still be incredibly successful, yet not the same money bank WoW was.

                Ten million people paying you a fixed sum every month is money that’s hard to spend quickly enough.

                1. Kylroy says:

                  Exactly. Overwatch’s success is merely typical in the industry, moving a few million $60 (and later, $40, $30 or less) boxes and bringing in some loot box cash. Compared to $15 million revenue every month for half a decade, that’s nothing.

          3. ccesarano says:

            I was coming into the comments to chime on that. I had already had suspicions, but in conferring with a College pal of mine that works at Blizzard, he confirmed that these were mostly positions outside of programming, art assets, and general game production that couldn’t just be reshuffled to a new project. They’d have needed to wait anywhere between six months and a year to be attached to a new project. So, Activision did what any company would do when you have no work for those employees: lay them off.

            The problem is that it was reported badly, primarily by a bunch of gaming journalists that have never had a cubicle job of that sort screaming “UNIONIZE!”. Which also means they’ve never worked in a job that has a union before, because the above-mentioned scenario happens all the time in unions as well. If there’s no work, then there’s no work, and therefore no need for employees. It’s one of those times you have to sigh, shake your head, and groan because the journalists are living in this idealized dream state where everyone is able to work forever and have no struggle in this utopia where work is always available for everyone fairly.

            Which, admittedly, is why I’m afraid you snagged that headline. You’ve worked enough in programming positions that I figured you would have already considered these things, so it was a surprise to see you listing that out as part of the Cyberpunk Dystopia we live in. Still, it is Activision we’re talking about, and they did a very bad job at damage control. Which leads into your second part of the post, where “They Win” is, I think, partially true. Personally I don’t think Bobby Kotick cares about the game press. He’s been made into a mustache twirling villain for over a decade now and yet Activision still makes a profit. He no doubt cares very little about what the games press or even YouTube thinks because he recognizes that as a niche audience, and his company is targeting a far larger group than that.

            At the same time, there’ve been rumblings that even Activision is aware they need more IP, and with publishing something like Sekiro I get the feeling they’re working on it. The latest Modern Warfare may be the best selling in a generation, but every year Activision is manipulating the headline to make it sound like Call of Duty is still the same major power house it was ten years ago. It’s not going away, but I think the microtransactions are, in part, a result of the franchise not pulling in the same cash it once had. They lost Destiny, and seemed more than ready to let it go undoubtedly because it wasn’t performing to their expectations.

            Even EA seems to be scrambling to try and figure things out, and while Ubisoft declared that “gamers weren’t ready for the ‘innovations’ in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint”, their delay of several games in 2020 suggests a reduction in forcing microtransactions and other predatory mechanics that have been invading the Ubi-formula.

            I think it’s having an impact, but these companies aren’t going to hit the red because they’ve become the mainstream standard (much like Hollywood now has their own mainstream standard templates and formula).

            That we’re seeing profits and success in smaller, single-player games is, to me, the real good news. It proves that the big AAA Publisher way doesn’t have to be the only way.

            1. Shamus says:

              You make a totally valid point about “no jobs means no jobs”. I think our difference of opinion comes down to what we assume when we hear that Activision is laying people off.

              When I hear that profits are up and yet people are being laid off, I sort of assume this is more of the nonsense that we’ve been seeing for years, where a big publisher will dump a bunch of people and then hire a bunch of younger, cheaper, less experienced people to replace them because the leadership doesn’t understand how experienced talent leads to better products.

              The cycle we’ve seen with EA is that they keep a team hanging around as “independent contractors”. People will get let go, and then hired back when they’re needed. This leads to a lot of churn that drives talent out of the industry and makes it hard for people to build stable teams. It’s bad for the products, but if you’re Bobby Kotick and you can’t tell a good game from a bad one then this effect is invisible to you.

              Now, all of this was just an assumption on my part. I have no proof, and I haven’t even attempted any research. (Which is why I didn’t even know they also hired a bunch of people.) Its totally plausible that other people in this thread are correct and that Activision is just cutting out a bunch of corporate bloat. I just have so little faith in Kotick that I automatically assume this is clueless bungling rather than prudent management.

              1. Syal says:

                Do Independent Contractors actually count as lay-offs? The whole point of independent contractors is supposed to be that they have an independent contract and leave when it’s completed*.

                *lots of abuse of the term, of course. I did taxes for a season and had the fun time of telling ICs that they owed an extra 15.3% of profit as self-employment taxes.

              2. ccesarano says:

                It’s an understandable position to have. I mean, I am interested in Modern Warfare but have no interest in paying for it since I don’t want my dollars to count as a complicit vote for delayed microtransactions outside the review window. Similarly, after Bethesda’s 2019, I no longer trust DOOM Eternal to be a day one purchase. I’ll have to wait and find out if it has questionable evidence of the publisher’s interference.

                Often I don’t believe in giving these publishers the benefit of the doubt. This is just one instance they’re operating on standard, emotionally vacant corporate standards.

        2. Geebs says:

          Weren’t most of the people they fired based in Ireland, though? That place has a somewhat worse unemployment rate.

          I think I have a bigger problem with international shenanigans / contracting than people getting fired per se. There’s a constant friction with companies trying to get out of providing proper benefits for their employees by relabelling them as contractors, while also dodging tax, while also getting pay-outs from the taxpayer. That stuff needs to stop, IMO.

  11. Redrock says:

    I mean… I dunno. All of these things are true, sure enough, but I can never shake the feeling that all those issues are much smaller than many journalists and bloggers make them out to be. Of the many great games released each year only a handful have really problematic money-grubbing schemes, but it’s those titles that get all the attention. I buy lots of games every year, but I haven’t played a game with mandatory microtransactions in years. Neither have I played a game with lootboxes for a long while now. What I do have is a huge backlog of great single-player games, most of which I got at a discount, often not that long after release. So, yeah, the corps are doing a lot of lame shit, but there’re also more good games than ever, and they are more affordable than ever. The way I see it, it’s a wash.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I mean, you’re not wrong. We could argue about details, like what does “mandatory” mean exactly, but overall you’re not wrong. Most of the big issues apply to AAA games and are probably symptomatic of deeper problems with AAA development. I think a big part of the discussion stems from the fact the overall perception of the video game industry is still that of the big titles being these leviathans of the sea and the indies (and the slowly shaping “mid-tier devs”) being schools of little fishies accompanying them and feeding off the leftovers and so for better or worse the big publishers set the tone. At this point I kind of wonder how much truth there is to this image and whether the answer to “could video games survive without triple A” hasn’t shifted…

  12. Zekiel says:

    It’s not the corporate avarice and chicanery that’s the problem, it’s the public’s willingness to tolerate it. If people are going to continue to reward this behavior with sales, then nothing else matters. We lost.

    I’m kind of coming to the conclusion that marketing is the problem. I mean, marketing isn’t a bad thing per se. But you just get a string of blockbusters that feel like “must have” titles for gamers because we are constantly being exposed to them via billboards, internet advertising and previews. They look cool. The anticipation builds up so you’re looking forward to the game for months on end… so when it comes out and has middling reviews (because of all the bugs, or microtranactions, or Ubisoft Disease), its hard to say “oh OK, I won’t buy it after all”.

    To be clear, I have this problem too, I’m not pointing the finger here.

    I think other forms of entertainment have the same issue, but they’re exacerbated with videogames, because each videogame is a much larger investment in terms of cash and often time as well (compared to movies if not TV series).

  13. You can’t buy games using the console itself. You have to use a phone app.

    When Nintendo has a better online presence then you do, give up and go home in shame. (Or hold the release until that’s fixed.)

    And Google, of all companies, getting that wrong is impressive.

    The compression artifacts are visible. Why bother paying all of this money to stream 4K footage that looks worse than 1080p footage?

    I realized recently that most of us are looking at resolution numbers wrong when it comes to video. We tend to treat them as a measure of the minimum quality of a stream, so, a “4K stream” must be higher quality than a “1080P stream”, which must be higher quality than a “720P stream”.

    It’s actually the other way around; resolution sets the maximum quality of a stream. There are terrible, bad, mediocre, good, and very good 720P streams, but eventually, you hit “full quality” on the 720P stream. No matter how many more bits you dedicate to it or how you upscale that stream, you’re not really going to get anything better. (You can do different upscales, but it’s all technically just upscaling, and will produce inferior results to a “real” full-quality 1080 or 4K stream.) It’s completely possible to have a 720P stream that is higher quality than a putatively 4K stream.

    Really, what you have is that for the same encoder (itself a big assumption, but let’s keep it simple), what matters is the bandwidth of the stream, not its resolution. For a given resolution, there will be some point where adding more bandwidth does nothing. 720 will hit that limit much sooner than a 4K stream. But given the choice between a 720P stream that is still below the 720 limit, or a “4K stream” that only has 2/3rds of that amount of bandwidth, you’ll want the former.

    (You can actually see this in DVDs. The really early ones were poorly encoded. The modern ones are very well-encoded, even though the decode format is the same. I can tell the difference between a modern DVD and its Blu-Ray on my TV, but… honestly… not by a heck of a lot. The quality of the DVD stream is probably fairly near its resolution limit, whereas, if I sit close enough to a BluRay stream I can still see it’s got a long way it can improve before it’s truly a full-quality 1080P stream. This is kinda impressive, because DVDs are definitely stuck with an inferior compression scheme, and BluRays can easily throw 4 or 5 times the bits at a stream. This all turns out to matter less than you might expect, though. Not zero. But less.)

    Putting this back in the Stadia context, just because they advertise “4K streaming” doesn’t really mean much. That’s just a number in the stream header. The question is, how much bandwidth are they giving to it, and how much can they deliver? Home connections can certainly do some 4K streaming, but this is like a worst-case; you’re not watching a TV from your couch, you’re right on top of the display device and can see every little detail. It’s going to take a staggeringly high quality stream to look indistinguishable from a direct console feed. Neither Google, nor the ISP, nor you, are really going to want to pay for that at 2019 prices.

    1. John says:

      I can tell the difference between a modern DVD and its Blu-Ray on my TV, but… honestly… not by a heck of a lot.

      Definitely. My family watches a lot of DVD movies on a large 1080p TV. The quality is generally very good. Maybe it’s not full 1080p–I mean, of course it isn’t–but it’s not obviously not full 1080p either. It’s one of the reasons we’ve never been particularly tempted to get a Blu-Ray player.

    2. John says:

      Neither Google, nor the ISP, nor you, are really going to want to pay for that at 2019 prices.

      That begs the question – why bother advertising this resolution, if the expectation isn’t going to be met? Best-case scenario, Google hides behind this technicality and lessens their reputation slightly, because they’re a streaming-video tech company that apparently doesn’t understand that low bit-rates lower your effective resolution so that it doesn’t meet the expectations set by your marketing blurbs.

      1. Phil says:

        Didn’t Google basically just say “We can stream 4K, but the game devs aren’t giving us 4K”?

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          So it’s the devs’ fault the games don’t look good, it’s the ISPs’ fault that you don’t have the bandwidth, it’s the capitalisms’ fault that you can’t afford both the subscription and full release price on older games and it’s probably the physicists’ fault that there is lag, because Google is providing the perfect service with their magical “negative latency” technology.

    3. Duoae says:

      One of the things that has annoyed me (very slightly) recently was the (at least as far as i can see) switch from 30fps to 60fps on HD streams on YouTube. I don’t know if the creators have sole discretion over this but, seriously, I’m watching a pre- recorded video with mostly static camera work. 60fps is not needed!

      Plus, it really saturates the bandwidth of my connection. I really notice the difference on download performance for simultaneously-running programmes.

      I don’t really want to switch down to 480p, but I’d love a 30fps option! I can’t imagine if i had to live in a house with multiple users all competing for that useless amount of data!

      1. Philadelphus says:

        No, there’s no way to specify that when uploading a video that I can find (as I, too, wouldn’t mind a high-resolution but lower FPS video for a lot of what I watch).

  14. Trevor says:

    I’m currently replaying Half Life 2 and looking back at some of Shamus’s posts on the game when it first came out. He’s overwhelmingly positive about the game and one of his only complaints is “I hate Steam, no one wants this. Why do I have to have this?”

    Now Steam is just part of the gaming landscape and one we take for granted. I can’t help but wonder if the same thing will be true for Stadia and that a decade+ down the line it will be hard to imagine a gaming world without it. Equally, of course, it could go the way of Google Buzz, Google Wave, and Google Reader.

    1. John says:

      Stadia doesn’t exist in a vacuum. As Shamus has pointed out in the past, Steam was one of the first companies delivering video games over the internet. Stadia is poor compared to the mature offerings of GOG, Steam, etc.

    2. galacticplumber says:

      Steam had something he wanted, and would go on to entrench itself everywhere by throwing free/extremely cheap products at people until they had so much product they’d never consider not using it. They enticed people to do stuff they didn’t want to with repeated, and powerful offerings.

      Stadia is doing NONE OF THAT.

    3. baud says:

      I don’t think it will be Stadia, but I think sometime in the future there’s a game streaming system with the same market dominance that Steam has. I think it will happens because, for the biggest majority, convenience wins every time and what’s game streaming if not an extreme convenience improvement over current game systems.

      But as Stadia stands, I don’t think it can win right now, both because of the reasons Shamus talks in the article and because network speeds aren’t there yet. If they do a major shakeup and push for more broadband and lots of server everywhere, they might be able to do it. Or another company will succeed. And like with Steam, the first company to make a viable system at the right moment will have a very big first-mover advantage.

      1. Syal says:

        and what’s game streaming if not an extreme convenience improvement over current game systems.

        …is it? If I want to play a game, I pull up Steam, pull up my Library, and scroll down until I find it. The whole process takes… well assuming Steam isn’t updating, it takes about thirty seconds, most of which is me scrolling through the list of games. I don’t see a difference in convenience.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          No, I actually agree. Assuming all the current problems were magically resolved and ignoring the massive libraries I’m already invested in, AND I didn’t need all that hardware for any other purpose I could definitely see the appeal of not having to worry about whether or not my PC can run a game and at what quality, not fessing up with drivers, hard drive space etc.

          Mind you, that is a lot of assumptions to make…

          1. Kyle Haight says:

            I think there’s an analogy to the rise of streaming video. 20 years ago I had a large investment in DVDs of movies and TV shows I liked. The network infrastructure of the time was not good enough to support streaming at an acceptable level of quality. But the network got faster, and at a certain point streaming video became a viable competitor. There are still some things physical media does better, but the long term trend is clear.

            If the network improves enough, then game streaming will become a viable alternative to dedicated home gaming machines, and some company will make a pile of money at it, much as Netflix did with video. It may be that some genres will become viable for streaming before others (turn based games have less stringent latency requirements than twitch games), just as some content types took longer to come to streaming (pro sports). We’re not there yet, but it may happen eventually.

            1. Richard says:

              The thing is that this is an apples/oranges comparison.

              Streaming a pre-recorded video requires only four things:
              A1) The server has sufficient storage to store the pre-compressed video.
              B1) Enough average bandwidth server-to-viewer that they can download the movie in slightly less than the movie runtime.
              C1) The viewer has sufficient local processing to decode the compressed video.
              C2) The viewer has sufficient local space for ‘buffering’ needed to keep ahead of the download during ‘high-bitrate’ segments or brief bandwidth reductions.
              This is dependent on how much bitrate & bandwidth varies.

              It’s a pure bandwidth thing – if an HD video stream is an average of 3500kbps ‘encoded’, then you can do streaming video over any link that exceeds 3500kbps.

              Thus, you can have Netflix on the ISS.

              Streaming ‘live’ video (eg ‘live’ TV), adds the additional requirement:
              A2) The server has sufficient processing capabilities to compress the video slightlty faster than real-time.

              So now the server needs more CPU. Again, not difficult. The ISS can stream live video.

              Streaming ‘interactive’ video adds the additional requirements:
              A3) The server has sufficient processing to handle the interactivity. May be trivial, may be extensive.
              B2) Sufficient viewer-to-server bandwidth for the interactivity information.
              B3) Sufficiently low round-trip latency that the interaction is still usable.

              Now we suddenly have a latency requirement!
              Latency how a lower limit set by the speed of light, and can never be improved upon.

              For video conferencing, one second is ‘good’ and you can more or less live with 10 seconds.
              So you can have video conferencing on the ISS, and the Moon.

              For gaming, it depends on the game.
              Pretty much all AAA games (StarCraft, first and third-person shooters, most RPGs) need the game to react within 1-2 frames or feels like you’re playing in treacle.

              So that gives a deadline of ~0.033s.
              If you had direct light-of-sight in a vacuum, that’s 9800km so the server must be within 4900km of you.

              You won’t have a direct vacuum line-of-sight connection. The wires and fibre optics don’t acheive lightspeed, and there’s routers etc in the middle, each of which is going to add some time.

              So you end up needing to have those (now very powerful!) servers really close to every subscriber. So you need a lot of them.

          2. Chad Miller says:

            This is the weirdest thing about the Stadia.

            If they had intentionally marketed to people who don’t already have good gaming hardware, didn’t play the types of games that care the most about latency, and aren’t already playing the latest games on that hardware…maybe they could have edged into some untapped market and I could honestly say, “oh, this is something that isn’t for me.” Instead they’re marketing it as THE FUTURE OF GAMING and thereby putting it right in front of the market segment most likely to jeer at it.

            This is what most inclines me to put this in the same bucket as Google+ (a worse version of something that already exists, buoyed mostly by Standard Google Hubris)

        2. baud says:

          There’s a lot of Stadia games that I can’t run on my current PC, but it should be able to handle the incoming video stream. And it saves the downloading time. Like maybe I want to try the latest AC, with Stadia the time between purchase and gameplay is way shorter. It might be inferior to local play, just like video streaming is inferior to playing a local file, but if it gets good enough and the pricing isn’t stupid à la Stadia, but rather something like Geoforce Now, where you can play the (compatible) games from your Steam library, I can see it working, especially for the market segments that doesn’t mind too much about input lag (casual console players, turn-based/grand strategy players…).

  15. tomatosalad says:

    You like YongYea?

    1. Shamus says:

      Yong has really been on top of this stuff this lately. YongYea and Bellular News have been my go-to sources for corporate shenanigans this year.

      It’s pretty telling that the best coverage for this stuff is coming from YouTubers and not the big gaming sites.

      1. EOW says:

        you should know by now that 90% of gaming sites are clickbait ridden paid reviews.
        I basically stopped reading sites and started looking up individual critics. It’s easier to gauge opinions and take valuable info when you know what makes a certain person click.
        Like how you mentioned Joseph Anderson and how his opinions seem opposite to yours.

        1. galacticplumber says:

          Reviewers who commonly agree with you are valuable as a means of predicting your opinion on a game before buying it. The more points of data that you have, and the more commonly they agree with you, the more likely predictions will be accurate.

          Trying to correlate commonly opposite opinions into relevant prediction can be a useful thing, but is often subject to a host of issues. You can’t trust opposite opinion haver hating a game to get you a game you’ll like, because the game could just be bad to everyone. Similarly some games are so universally loved even people on opposite ends of the spectrum agree.

  16. Nick Pitino says:

    And indeed I do what I can to not support this nonsense.

    It’s a good part of why I’ve spent the last month playing Space Engineers and Stardew Valley.

  17. Sashas says:

    It’s not the corporate avarice and chicanery that’s the problem, it’s the public’s willingness to tolerate it. If people are going to continue to reward this behavior with sales, then nothing else matters. We lost.

    I haven’t been back here in a while, so I’m sure I’m missing further context beyond this article, but I think a reality check is in order here. This sounds like victim blaming to me.

    We know “the public” isn’t being given a choice. We know they’re being lied to, and they don’t have the domain expertise that we have to see through the lies.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      The public always has the choice to not buy videogames they dislike. The fact that they are not exercising that choice suggests that as much as we might wish that everyone hated the things we hate, the public still likes this stuff enough for it to be worth the public’s money.

      1. Moridin says:

        It’s not so straightforward. Most people, after all, don’t pay attention to gaming news. It’s very easy to go out and buy a game like Fallout76 because you liked Fallout 4 and don’t pay attention the gaming media(and even then, large parts of the media are doing their best to ignore the problems with it). So even if there IS a big enough backlash to alter the way the publishers do business, it doesn’t necessarily happen right away.

        1. Kyle Haight says:

          A bad entry in a series will often impact sales of the next entry. The guy who bought Fallout 76 because he liked Fallout 4 may turn into the guy who ignores Fallout 5 because he hated Fallout 76.

          1. I agree; people do exercise discretion, it’s just on a longer lag than we may like.

            I think this is part of why the game companies repeatedly fall into the pattern of not caring. They try not caring for a given release, and it’s only two or three releases after that one that they really start feeling the pain. When a “release” is 1-2 years, it’s really easy to misinterpret the fact that this release sold well as everything being fine.

            There is also a fairly common class of people, often derisively referred to as Harvard MBAs, who would actively make that choice even knowing they’re burning reputation for money. Then they take that money, and buy out whoever is currently building reputation, and then cash that reputation out. That’s basically EA’s model. And… it works.

            1. BlueHorus says:

              I’m put in mind of an anecdote from Shamus at this point:
              During the video game crash of the 1980s, he found himself in a department store, next to a load of cheap games that he could afford and…just didn’t want to buy any.
              He didn’t think ‘man, games are badly made at the moment!’ or ‘this industry has crashed’ ; he just didn’t think they were worth his money.

              (Apologies to Shamus if I got something wrong in the retelling)

              Hopefully something similar will eventually happen with computer games soon, particularly if developers continue to deliberately make games less fun in order to sell XP boosters and in-game power.
              Well, fingers crossed, anyway. Hasn’t a second crash been predicted for a while now?

              Also, that ‘Harvard MBA’ approach to business…also known as (deliberately) running a company into the ground, right? Famously the act of CEOs who leave a company just before it folds.

          2. tmtvl says:

            Well no, anyone who gave Bethesda a third chance after Fallout 3 & 4 will just keep giving them more chances.

            1. Chad Miller says:

              While there are plenty of Fallout series fans who are salty that Bethesda didn’t give them what they want and probably never will, a much larger number of people who bought Fallout 3 and 4 did so because they actually like those games.

              The problem with Fallout 76 is that even if you’re willing to suck up series expectations and say “I didn’t need this to be an RPG anyway,” the game still fails at just about everything it tried to do.

            2. Moridin says:

              To be fair, it’s not like Fallout 3 was entirely terrible. I might even consider getting Fallout 4(for the mods, if not the game itself) if I could get it cheaply from GOG.

            3. Raglan says:

              You see this comment baffles me. The only fallout game ive ever played is fallout 4 and i absolutely loved the game. I have upwards of 500 hours on it

              At the risk of being confrontational, comments like this dont assist the arguement (ie fallout 76 is true garbage) when they have no reasoning.

              To take shamus’ longest ever series, mass effect changed to appeal to a new crowd, but sadly left behind fans like him. Im assuming this is what you mean about the fallout games?

              1. Chad Miller says:

                The short version is that Fallout started in a similar vein where Obsidian is now: high emphasis on player agency in the story and world, both in terms of letting them decide their character’s personality and in terms of what they can actually do. The overarching plot is a hunt with very sparse clues, making the player and character incentives largely aligned with player incentives (you both want to explore and get to know the lay of the land). You can kill just about everyone you meet but also get through the game without killing anybody. Famously, you can “defeat” the final boss by convincing him of the flaws in his plan so that he gives up.

                By the time you get to Fallout 4, you have a player character who constantly puts words in your mouth and steps on any characterization you might want to create but without having much of any themselves. NPC invulnerability flags abound. Rubble blocks major dungeons before the plot is ready to let you visit them, then mysteriously disappears after the proper event flags have been tripped. And even after all this bullshit, the plot couldn’t even be bothered to make sense. The kidnapping plot is completely at odds with the primary mechanic being settlement building (and they not only don’t try to justify it but even do the exact opposite; Mama Murphy alone does most of the damage here). Villains are mostly just dicks for the sake of being dicks and don’t have any kind of coherent goals (in the original Fallout you could walk into the local raider gang’s den and ransom back a kidnapping victim using the game’s barter mechanics!) Even the “best” parts of the Fallout 4’s writing are execrable. The Memory Den is considered to be some of the best writing in the game by both the game’s supporters and detractors, yet it’s one gigantic plot hole. Emil Pagliarulo called out Diamond City Blues as one of the best sidequests in the game, and I could literally write an essay about how it annoyed me so much I uninstalled the game.

                My fan-heretical opinion is that Fallout 2 is overrated and Fallout 3 is somewhat unfairly maligned, but it is true that Bethesda has ultimately cast aside most of what made Fallout good in favor of honing their open world mechanics.

                If you’re wondering what the Fallout old school is missing so bad, it’s probably worth picking up Fallout: New Vegas, or if that’s too many bugs and you need something newer, The Outer Worlds. Or, if you can handle an isometric turn based game with a lot of reading, the first Fallout game. It still holds up surprisingly well and I wish every cRPG designer played and understood it at least once.

                1. Chad Miller says:

                  So I wrote all of that and then remembered there was an implied question about why Fallout 76 is bad. So, Fallout 76 doubles down on the ethos of “Fallout isn’t a game about roleplaying or worldbuilding or even half-way decent plot; it’s a game about looting and shooting that uses faux-1950s culture as a backdrop.” It basically cuts out the story entirely and makes it so your character is officially just an avatar for exploring the open world. This leads to 100% true accusations that the die-hard Fallout fans would hate it no matter how good it was at meeting its goals.

                  The problem is that Fallout 76 wasn’t well executed, and is arguably poorly executed on every front. It’s based on freemium business model (despite not being f2p), to the point where clothes that were free in Fallout 4 are sold in the real money cash shop. The levelling system, based on collecting perk cards probably exists solely for the same reason. Bethesda’s famous for having games full of bugs, but in creating an online multiplayer game implicitly took on an obligation to be less buggy; if anything, Fallout 76 has more bugs than the Bethesda norm. Combat is largely Fallout 4’s except VATS is now more useless since you can’t very well have other players slowing down your time. Stuff like movement speed being timed to framerate, goes from being adorable in single-player to an abomination in multiplayer and Bethesda showed little signs of even trying to live up to the higher standards they imposed upon themselves when they decided to make an online-only game.

                  Fallout 76 is so hated because even if you’re willing to judge it not as a Fallout game but based solely on the merits of what that specific game is trying to do, it’s very bad at doing what it’s trying to do.

                  1. Radkatsu says:

                    “if anything, Fallout 76 has more bugs…”

                    No doubt largely because it’s being developed by an inexperienced sub-studio who haven’t worked with their terrible engine all that much. Add to that rushed releases, a lack of proper testing, and other issues, and… yeah, it’s a perfect storm.

                2. Sleeping Dragon says:

                  Wait, the memory den is what?! The effectively non-interactive sequence of sappy Freudian Excuse I Had A Difficult Childhood tropes for a guy who kills your spouse and kidnaps your baby meant to elicit sympathy for him but delivered after you’ve killed him is considered what?!

                  1. Chad Miller says:

                    I mean, even on this very site you can find Spoiler Warning basically saying “Oh, here’s a hundred reasons why this sucks but at least it was almost a good idea.” Joseph Anderson, despite largely trashing the game’s narrative called it one of the few good parts. The only thing I can think of competing with it in the “reasons Fallout 4 fans say I’m wrong about the plot being a disaster” column is Nick Valentine’s companion quest, which I’ve admittedly never done. The overall argument looks like:

                    Me: The Memory Den sucks.

                    Fallout 4 fan: But it’s one of the best things in the game’s plot.

                    Me: Exactly!

      2. Radkatsu says:

        The problem people always seem to overlook is that the vast majority of people don’t actually buy into all this microtransaction nonsense. Ordinary gamers might buy a few dollars’ worth of stuff a month. The REAL money is in the so-called whales.

        It doesn’t matter how many people say ‘I’m not going to support this’. It literally makes NO DIFFERENCE. None. Because as long as the whales are throwing tens of thousands at a game every month, these companies have NO incentive to change. The money they get from whales more than makes up for most people not actually spending much.

    2. Syal says:

      and they don’t have the domain expertise that we have to see through the lies.

      …Advertising has been around since the dawn of communication. I’m sure there were prehistoric people using smoke signals to try to sell stuff to the neighbors. The public has enough expertise to take these things with a grain of salt.

  18. DeadlyDark says:

    The funniest thing is, I saw this video today which kinda talked about the same thing this post is discussing, and my thought was “I should send Shamus a question, what does he thinks about his video”. Well, I guess, I don’t have to now.

    Man. I need another question now xD

  19. Hector says:

    Shamus, one more for you:

    There’s no way the respected division behind World of Warships would create a Christmas event designed solely to extract money without even being possible get the (entirely digital and therefore free on a per unit basis) present, right? Its not like they would put requirements in that likely required more time than players actually had for the whole event and make sure it has a hard cutoff, right? It’s not like they would place deliberately false information on public and refuse the so the event themselves because it was too much work, right?

    1. Hector says:

      Here’s the longer version because this one is particular really, *really* pisses me off.

      World of Warships created a very cool feature to support an upcoming ship (i.e., character class): the Dockyard. The idea is that instead of the ship being just purchased or earned and dropped into your loadout, you have to build it. So it actually comes together in real time as the hull is laid down, structure assembled, compartments and components built, and so on. This is actually a very well-animated and cool feature. They also wanted ot hype this so they let all the Community Contributors peek at it early, and play around with the feature.

      Now, it’s not meant to be handed out for free, exactly. You had to pay real money or do objectives to speed up the building time on the ship. That was expected and it’s not exactly unreasonable to expect people to play the game to get the cool thing. The objectives which they showed the Community Contributors, and which the CC’s in turn showed to the audience, were reasonable. These were completable by the average player in a realistic time frame.

      Then it came out. Many people, having seen how the system worked, went out and purchased the first two boosters (for real money again) intending to finish by doing objectives; others just started playing. Then people started noticing that the objectives were not as advertised at all. The first few were tough, but at least doable if not entirely reasonable. The later objective though, were deep into the territory were people had to crunch some hard math to see if it even possible at all in the time frame available. These were events where the top 1% of players with perfect ship/item setups would have difficulty achieving even if they played constantly, knew precisely what to do and when from the word GO, and didn’t bother to do things like, i dunno, spend time with family or, well, sleep. Dozens if not hundreds of videos have gone up about this, and thousands of angry reddit comments have been thrown up.

      The official people in charge of customer contact have basically thrown up their hands, and no one is sure if this was something forced upon them or not. They may just be trying to weasel out of trouble, and finally offered a refund option for people who had put money in. Even so, they haven’t simply changed the event to be more inclusive, and if people actually bought the whole ship ( a VERY pricey option) I don’t believe they can get the money back. Many people, myself included, think the whole thing was basically a way to scam players into handing over way too much money after wasting their time. In the span of a few days, Warships burned basically all the goodwill they earned from years of work and community relationships.

      Jingles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lw-GgTEe8RI (Jingles is shockingly calm, but believe me he is not happy.)
      Flamu: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_j1pRYhVZI0
      ICG: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6MyijKxqZo

    2. Liam says:

      Did you watch Jingles’ YouTube video about it?

      I don’t play WOWS (I did play WOT a lot but gave it in recently) but I enjoy watching his videos on it

      Edit: you posted again as I was writing this. Yes you did watch Jingles’ video on it then ?

  20. Kyle Haight says:

    Reading that litany of shame made me realize just how disconnected I’ve become from AAA gaming in the last couple of years. I just don’t buy AAA games much any more. I think I’ve played two in the last year (Spider-Man and Dragon Quest XI) and given one as a gift (Red Dead Redemption 2). Most of my gaming time has been spent in the AA and retro-gaming areas. There’s more than enough there from which to choose; I’m in no danger of running out of quality stuff to play anytime soon.

    The AAA developers can have my money again if and when they offer me something I want in exchange. Since they don’t seem to have any interest in doing that, they can go without. They can call that ‘entitlement’ all they want, and maybe they’re right. I absolutely am entitled to spend my money on things I want, and to refrain from spending it on things I don’t.

  21. EOW says:

    The silver lining is that the indie scene is getting bigger and bigger and generally speaking japanese made games tend to have less bullshit (including nintendo, which at least still understands brand identity when it comes to the mainline games). But yeah, this year almost felt like a parody, has there even been a week in which Fo76 didn’t come up with a new controversy?

    1. Radkatsu says:

      > Japanese
      > Less bullshit

      Check out Namco and Tecmo Koei sometime. Koei are especially shit and have taken lessons from the west. They charge more for a pack of (not even very good) character costumes than the BASE GAME COSTS. And bearing in mind they charge £50 for an underdeveloped title in the first place… yeah, they have a deserved reputation for being greedy assholes. Namco aren’t much better.

  22. I’m just posting this here because I’m not 100% that the [redacted by shamus] email is still working, but I sent you an email.

    1. Shamus says:

      Sorry for editing your comment, but I didn’t want to leave that out there for the email spiders.

      That email… sort of works? It exists, but it’s unreliable for reasons I haven’t figured out. I still have a couple of old MMO accounts tied to that, and I should REALLY move those to a newer address.

      The best way to get in touch with me is using the Diecast email. I know you’ve used that before, but for those who haven’t: It’s in the header image of every Diecast episode.

  23. EOW says:

    to the corporate dystopia shit i’d like to also point out at disney pretty much taking away pretty much the entire top10 of highest grossing movies of all time this year.
    Disney has absorbed so many companies and has become so incomprehensibly big that even their “smaller” projects casually do over a billion dollars.
    On the animation front alone disney has successfully managed to make a cartoon and convince people it was live action.
    Hollywood treats animator so poorly (despite modern blockbusters being 90% animation) that many vfx animation studios outright flop even when working on successful movies.

    Disney is also doing everything in their power to delete laws like fair use and public domain (funny because their empire was born thanks to public domain being a thing).

    So it’s not videogames alone, the entire western entertainment has turned into one of the worst cyberpunk dystopias around. Everyday we hear news that wouldnt be out of place in black mirror.

    I suggest you watch the series Technocracy on yt, it’s a well made documentary about the darker side of technology.

  24. This may be controversial to say, but… I don’t have an issue with the Casino in GTA Online.
    First of all, it’s not pretending to be anything but what it is.
    Secondly it’s tied into the worlds lore/story.
    Thirdly you can cash out from the casino and turn that into real worlds cash (you can’t resell stuff for real cash in GTA Online).
    Fourthly the players have been speculating and asking for it to be opened since they first discovered it was in the game (years ago).

    Obviously the whole thing is designed in such a way as to encourage players injecting real money to speed things up (earning cash in-game for all the suite upgrades would take a long time for example).

    The thing I’ve got a issues with though is forced multiplayer missions. I’m almost strictly a solo player so the casino missions which require more than 1 player can’t be played by me. This means to get the story I’ll have to watch someone else play it on say youtube.

    Because of this I haven’t really bothered with the casino. Sure I bought the basic suite but don’t wanna waste the time to get cash for the upgrades, and I can’t play the casino story missions since I’m a solo player. So the end result is that I’m not really logging on to play GTA Online at all.

    If they allowed solo play of the same missions I’d obviously do those (I did all the other solo missions in GTA Online for example), and I might have been tempted to inject real world cash too. But when it seems like half the content is locked away from me I’m not gonna bother wasting more time or cash that absolutely necessary. Which in my case means none and none.

    This is also the reason I never finished any of the EIGHT classes in Star Wars The Old Republic, grinding through the same areas to and from missions variations. The issue with SWTOR is that 8 classes starting on two different planets (opposing factions), then those 4 share the same planet, two of them pretty much shares the same missions. Then as the story progresses you get to travel to the next world and here things converges and 4-6 overlap, and then on the next world all overlap.

    It was exhausting to play through the classes, 2 or 4 or more classes would always do the exact same missions with tiny variations. And you can only stomach backtracking for the n’th time on the same world (and multiply that with the number of classes on that world). Sure now they have fast travel but as far as I recall they did not when I played.
    The base game is free (I got 8 classes when I joined, later they reduced the number of classes though for the free game), but expansions costs. And with all that grinding why would I buy the expansions right? It’s just more grinding. And since it’s an MMO I can’t use single player cheats either.
    If SWTOR was re-packaged as a single player when they finally decide to retire it, I’d happily buy that and play the heck out of all the classes and explore all dialog and choices.

    While Jedi Fallen Order scratched that KoTOR3 itch I had, SWTOR was a spiritual KoTOR3 that I’m unable to enjoy (being a single player gamer).

    Let’s hope EA realises that Fallen Order actually makes good bank and decides to follow up on that in 2020 and beyond, if not then Disney really gotta re-awaken Lucasarts and license out individual projects to various game companies like they used to do.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Thirdly you can cash out from the casino and turn that into real worlds cash (you can’t resell stuff for real cash in GTA Online).

      How is that good? You’re still using real money in that virtual casino, so it’s in fact worse than a real casino.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        The argument is that things that never pay out real money or anything with monetary value are never claiming to do anything but take your money, while things that pay out real money sell the false hope that they are going to give you money (instead of intermittently taking it with an RNG over the long run). It’s actually part of the legal definition of gambling in many jurisdictions.

        1. Karma The Alligator says:

          I know, because that’s how lootboxes got away with existing, but that doesn’t make it any better, it just means the definition of gambling is too old and needs redefining (like many other things when it comes to video games).

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            Why is “people exchanging money for an nontransferable digital object of random desirability” a practice that needs to be restricted?

            1. Kyle Haight says:

              The modern attitude seems to be that “people exchanging money for anything” is an inherently suspicious activity that should be restricted on general principles.

            2. Geebs says:

              a) money laundering
              b) companies deliberately taking advantage of people with addictive personalities

              I think that pretty much covers it?

              1. Ninety-Three says:

                Money laundering is a strange issue to bring up. Even if we grant the concern about laundering money through videogame microtransactions, not even a ban on all things remotely gamble-y would solve the issue: launderers would just switch to Clash of Clans-style monetization where you can spend an arbitrary amount of money refilling energy bars, skipping timers, and otherwise making numbers bigger in entirely deterministic ways.

                As for b), “We need to stop irresponsible people people with addictive personalities from wasting their money being taken advantage of” seems like an awfully paternalistic, protecting-you-from-yourself argument. On the other hand, if we can broaden the “people wasting money on stuff you don’t like” definition to include stuff I don’t like, I’m down for a compromise where we ban lootboxes and Marvel movies.

                1. Richard says:

                  It is generally accepted that children shouldn’t be allowed to gamble or drink alcohol, as they may not understand the consequences. Many children play computer games.

                  It is generally known that some adults will become addicted to gambling or alcohol, destroying their lives and the lives of those around them as a side-effect.

                  They are not irresponsible. They are addicts.

                  If you think that’s “ok”, then consider whether you still think it’s “ok” when your child and/or parent gambles or drinks away your home, putting you on the street with no food or (shock!) internet access.

                  I’ve seen this happen.

                  Don’t you think it is objectively better if an outside force could assist you in stopping them from completely ruining your life?

                  Yes, gambling is a form of entertainment enjoyed by many people, as is drinking beer.

                  However, because they cause harm in a significant proportion of cases, all societies control these activities.
                  Some ban one or both of them outright, the rest place restrictions on which business may offer them and when (licences) and set a minimum age for patrons, generally between 16 and 25. 18 seems popular.

                  If you argue that there should not be any such limits, then either you do not understand human nature, or you’re a psychopath.
                  (in the technical sense – you simply do not care what happens to anyone else)

      2. BlueHorus says:

        Thirdly you can cash out from the casino and turn that into real worlds cash (you can’t resell stuff for real cash in GTA Online).

        How is that good? You’re still using real money in that virtual casino, so it’s in fact worse than a real casino.

        Wait, what kind of real-life casino doesn’t use real money? I mean, sure, they make you buy chips which are only viable there but that’s just a means of making sure the patrons have even less control and have to basically get permission from the House to get their money back.
        At worst this seems on par with a real casino.

        And I like the point that it’s honestly a casino. Some cutesy mobile game will hide their microtransaction bullshit behind a facade and arguments like ‘it’s technically possible to beat the game without buying anything’, but this?
        This is a casino. You know what you’re getting into.

    2. Daimbert says:

      With the latest changes to TOR, you can pretty much hit the level cap by doing the class and planetary missions, and if you set the difficulty to casual you don’t need to group with anyone. Even some of the flashpoints can be done in story mode solo. I’ve had great success doing a class in one side — Republic or Empire — and then switching to the other, and only doing the class and planetary quests.

    3. Boobah says:

      This is also the reason I never finished any of the EIGHT classes in Star Wars The Old Republic, grinding through the same areas to and from missions variations. The issue with SWTOR is that 8 classes starting on two different planets (opposing factions), then those 4 share the same planet, two of them pretty much shares the same missions. Then as the story progresses you get to travel to the next world and here things converges and 4-6 overlap, and then on the next world all overlap.

      Yeah, that’s because SWTOR only has four classes, with each of those classes having two subclasses (Example: the Sith Juggernaut and the Sith Marauder have the same story, because they’re both Sith Warriors; the Jedi Guardian and Sentinel are both Jedi Knights, the Republic version of the same class.) Admittedly, it’s been obscured since they changed it so that you pick your subclass at character creation these days, rather than after leaving your starter world and hitting level 10. (Although rereading your post makes me wonder if they’ve changed it back…)

      If you want to experience all eight stories and all eight sets of mechanics, you pick four Republic and four Empire characters with opposite subclasses; all of their class/story quests will be unique (for MMO values of ‘unique,’ it’s still go here, collect this, talk to this person) until you get to the expacs.

  25. Mephane says:

    If someone is cyber-jacking, it doesn’t mean they’re cracking through the corporate ICE layers to steal the designs for the new security bot while soaring on amphetamines, it means they’re watching PornHub.

    I had to interrupt my reading to congratulate you on this masterpiece of a sentence. :)

  26. Karma The Alligator says:

    2019 has been the one year when I actually paid attention to the media regarding gaming news (so none of the things Shamus listed were a surprise to me), and it’s been a heartbreaking ride, looking at all those things the major companies did and got away with, wondering how it would end.
    Between EA’s “surprise mechanics”, Blizzard’s stance on human rights and the ESRB fiasco, I’ve basically stopped buying anything from most AAA companies. Only games I’ve played this year are indie titles or games that are at least 5 years old, and I don’t think that’s gonna change any time soon.

    1. Radkatsu says:

      Fallout 4 was the last AAA (if you can call it that…) game I bought. Been having a blast with indie ever since (I did before that as well, mind you, I’ve just completely cut out ANY triple A garbage now).

      I’ve put 400+ hours each into Rimworld, Kenshi, Starbound, and a whole bunch of other games that all cost me £20 or less. Couldn’t be happier :)

  27. Taxi says:

    Psst here’s a secret, it’s not just the videogame industry. Corporations are usually incompetent, although granted not always as stupidly as Activision and co.

    Like remember when car companies were calculating if it costs more to fix their deadly cars or pay off the victims of the inevitable tragedies? That’s been going on for decades, last incident I remember was just like, a decade ago.

    You know when Microsoft hadn’t cared to keep massive security holes unpatched for months, but as soon as their music DRM was broken, they made their fastest patch in history?

    Speaking of MS and Google, I’m more worried about these (and others) companies’ data collection practices rather than videogame handling.

    Oh and consumer complacency is nothing new neither, although granted, I think it’s getting worse. A couple decades ago, the world was divided between nations… In the future, loyalties will be to corporations. You may be a citizen of a country, but you’ll essentially belong to Amazon, or Google, or Nintendo or whatever. Cyberpunk was so spot on regarding this.

    1. Taxi says:

      Anyway. I don’t have much problem with the system how ESRB operates; but maybe that’s because I’ve known about it for ages. Their cert policy has been clear on their web site since forever.

      ESRB is just a way for the industry to SELF-regulate to keep the government of their backs. The fact that they don’t really play games doesn’t matter, their jobs isn’t to say what’s good; their job is to say if there’s not too much gore or sex or cussing and that can be evaluated by watching videos easily so I don’t see a problem.

      Obviously the failure has been with the casinos lately – even simulated gambling (like in RDR or Mass Effect or whatever) is enough for an M rating so having slot machines in a game rated for kids is pretty crazy. But again the issue isn’t that those people actually don’t play the games but something else.

      In any case I have a principled problem with microtransactions because they break the whole point of escapism, that you can be whatever you want without having the actual money or capabilities to do it. Lootboxes and crap are kinda even worse but the line should’ve been drawn way earlier.

  28. Agammamon says:


    Urban dictionary sucks. Its like they’re not even trying.

    Motoko Kusanagi is most certainly not a ‘razorgirl’. Neither was Trinity. And the archetype certainly isn’t a ‘stock cyberpunk character’. And Molly Millions wasn’t ‘sexy’, let alone ‘with the sexiness and badassedry cranked up to the Nth degree’.


    1. Cubic says:

      There’s a loooot of forced slang on UD.

  29. Platypus says:

    I would google the sales numbers for the Stadia but i feel like there might be a conflict of interest

    1. BlueHorus says:

      ‘Hey, that’s odd…according to the top Google results Stadia has sold 7 billion subscriptions? That can’t be right…’

      1. Radkatsu says:

        Typo. They meant trillion.

  30. Radkatsu says:

    “No robo-geishas.”

    Have you been watching Ghost in the Shell, Shamus? ;p

    Also, before we all go getting carried away with the new Star Wars game, let’s not forget that for a title that’s Obsidian-level AA at most, EA are still charging £55 for it. It’s on sale right now and STILL £45, which is at least £5 too high for what it is. Even without MTX and other nonsense, EA are still being ridiculously greedy with their base pricing.

  31. General Karthos says:

    I bought a lot of indy games this year. I don’t think I bought a single AAA title. If I get Fallen Order for Christmas, that’ll be it for the year. I try as much as possible to avoid games with micro transactions, especially if those micro transactions have an effect on gameplay. (Pay to win sort of stuff.) It’s different for me with free games on my phone. I’ve chosen to download this free game, I know that there are going to be advertisements in it, I know there will be items that can be much more easily purchased by real life money than by the in-game currency (stars/gems/coins/skulls/candy canes… whatever), but so long as it’s still POSSIBLE to get those things via the in-game currency, I’m okay with it. But if I actually PAID for a title, advertisements are going to annoy me if they’re anything more flagrant than the billboards you can see in the background in a sports video game.

    The fact is that it’s hard for me to get too angry over this list of sins. Not because it’s not outrageous, not because I SHOULDN’T be angry, but because in this case, it hasn’t directly affected me. I wasn’t going to buy these games anyway. They didn’t lose a sale from me. That’s not to say that it never will affect me. Gaming is a community, and the companies that act like this are the REAL toxic part of the gaming world. I should definitely find some way to express the negative feelings I have, because if they behave like this and post record profits, then at some point a company I like is going to do the same thing.

    But I’m already not buying the game. Is there some other (legal) way I can affect the company’s bottom line, aside from linking all my friends to this article?

  32. dasick says:

    Epic store is a good thing tho.
    Steam and valve have gone completely complacent from lack of competition, and I think its good for epic to do their thing, even if they are being muscly about it. But they’re doing everything right, including just giving away games

    1. Heywood Jablowme says:

      They’re doing everything right except having a competent storefront and customer support, you mean. It’s an awful, primitive app that you better pray not to have any issues with.

  33. Heywood Jablowme says:

    Why are almost all the links to YOUTUBE. I don’t need to listen to some rando (that I certainly don’t want to look at, either) for twenty minutes per point when an article is better and faster, as well as far more convenient on a train and easier on bandwidth. Talk about dystopia….

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