In the run-up to my end of year “awards ceremony”, I’ve decided to do a few articles in the run-up to my best (and worst) games of the year. In this, today I am going to focus on five news snippets that truly made the gaming world look pretty awful. Something tells me that Lara event is about to come up…
2012 was a great year for gaming. But it was also a terrible year for gaming as well.
There has been a lot of valid cause for concern in the year, from dodgy business decisions to PR fails. So I thought as a bit of a warm up to my little lists in the new year, I would begin with five of what I think were the worst developments/issues in gaming this year. So, let’s get this train wreck a rollin’ with the #5 spot, which is…
5. Anita Sarkeesian and the Great Sexism Debate.
I’ve done a few articles about the issue of feminism and part of me wonders if anyone has learned anything at all. Anita Sarkeesian wanted to KickStart her own documentary that would “explore female character stereotypes throughout the history of the gaming industry.” Part of me isn’t sure that is terrible, but then, this is a woman who runs a blog called Feminist Frequency, so there was always the suggestion that it was going to be a little one-sided. And you know something? I believe in such cases people should be allowed to fall on their own sword. This would not have been such a massive issue if people, and more the gaming media and community, hadn’t gone ahead and made this such a massive sticking point.
I’ve said that talking about Sexism in the world today is a self-fuelling fire; moreso when the people who want a debate are not prepared to hear any opinion unless it meshes perfectly with their own, and this is exactly what happened. There were trolls, and people stooped to lows that shocked and appalled me, but more than that the really awful thing about this whole issue this year is that it fundamentally undermined a determinate shift in attitudes that pointed towards a more understandable and understated viewpoint of the female form. And even then, you would find sore points like Lollipop Chainsaw, where gamers found themselves caught between something that was clearly a bit of a parody of girls in gaming and at the same time wheeling out those clichés and stereotypes in order to effectively ground the whole game in this sense of parody. We couldn’t just sit down and enjoy it as a dumb game; it had to be something MORE, because sexism in gaming was becoming more of an issue than before. Compounded by the mere suggestion that a young Lara Croft was going to be “sexually assaulted” in the new Tomb Raider, people were themselves really becoming more acutely aware of the abuse and mistreatment of the female hero in gaming and started to find themselves switching them off, rather than getting worked up over it.
What made this terrible is that it sucked the fun from some games this year, for no real apparent reason at all. Anita Sarkeesian has a right to make her movie if people fund it. But it was the gaming press and community that made her a bigger threat than she would otherwise have been. Congratulations, we have possibly made a new Frankenstein’s Monster. Now what are you going to do? Argue the toss with it in the same way you used to argue with Jack Thompson?
4. SEAL Team 6 consulted on Medal of Honor: Warfighter.
Being part of the United States Navy Special Forces, giving away confidential or state secrets is obviously a bit of a no-no, so yeah, consider everyone a little bit surprised when some members of SEAL Team 6 (the guys who killed Oasma Bin Laden) consulted on the EA game Medal of Honor: Warfighter. Eleven people were disciplined as part of the punishment, and four of those found themselves moved out of the unit altogether. Which is a fair punishment when you consider the impact such a thing might have on the world…
Or rather, not, as Warfighter ended up being one of the worst video games of the year, not to mention the most poorly-received version in the series history. Which just goes to prove that technical accuracy and understanding of the true nature of what these brave men and women do for us every year does not always translate very well into the format of a video game; artistic license is used for a very good reason in some cases; the specifics of some things are just not much fun… they’re a job, and we don’t pay $60 a pop for that kind of thing.
Why is this so bad? Because it’s destroyed peoples lives. Because it would appear some people do have their price, or want to talk about things they shouldn’t. But more importantly, this probably should not have happened, and as a result we have a terrible game which has effectively ruined peoples lives, reputations and the credibility of an entire SEAL unit. And for what? Money? Fame? Acclaim? Whatever the reasoning, it would appear none of it was worth the risk…
3. Rhode Island and 38 Studios.
There are always going to be high-profile failings in the gaming world every year, it’s sort of the nature of the risky business beast with which people have to snuggle up to every waking hour of every day. So when Rhode Island offered a $75 million loan to 38 Studios to relocate to its climate from the already-entrenched market that lay in Boston, there was no doubt that they’d jump at the chance. However, this year that all ended in tears as 38 Studios was declared bankrupt.
Yes, bankrupt. Rhode Island State filed a complaint, as sources reported; “In a detailed, 97-page complaint, the state alleged the Schilling and others engaged in financial misconduct, neglect, fraud, and conspiracy to deceive officials about the company’s prospects. The suit also alleges that Stokes, who led the Economic Development Corp. for about two years, helped mislead his board to secure the bonds for 38 Studios.” Which is awful, but on the other hand, these guys were already running out of money having laid their goal on making an MMORPG. Not many of these end up working out long-term, after all, look at the likes of The Old Republic – which everyone thought would be a guaranteed success and… well… isn’t.
In order to try and make some money back, Kingdoms of Amalur was released – to generally positive reviews, mostly. What none of us knew at the time was that they expected it needed 3 million sales units just to break even. For the first game in a series, the sale of 1.22 million sales is actually very impressive, but obviously it wasn’t nearly enough. The sad thing is that they overall owe something like $150 million, and a perfectly promising game series and MMO is yet again taken down by the financial mismanagement and obviously ludicrous expectation of sales numbers. None of this is that uncommon, but 38 Studios has become a bit of a milestone and a poster child for it, and is a lesson that the industry definitely needs to take on board going onwards into the future.
2. City Of Heroes – Farewell, Old Friend.
NCSoft have a terrible habit of shedding games that people either like, are willing to pay for or generally are still making them money. I’ve not touched them with a bargepole since the closure of Tabula Rasa in lieu of the frankly shockingly dull Aion, but City of Heroes/Villains seemed like one of the unassailable titles in its stable. With a loyal userbase, years of goodwill and understanding and the additions that allowed even fans to make their own content, it seemed like the sort of game that would one day require a graphical overhaul, rather than a full-on death.
Unfortunately, NCSoft did indeed call time on this game for reasons that are still largely unbeknownst to us. Not only that, despite high-profile campaigns to save it and apparently many offers from other companies to take the title off their hands, NCSoft remain quiet and tight-lipped about the closure of a games series that seemed to come from absolutely nowhere, and that no-one could have foreseen. The game was still profitable and still had content planned for it, so there seemed to be no valid or understandable business reason for the decision, which is obviously not something people take kindly too.
Which is a problem because it was fine whilst Tabula Rasa was shut, and we started to effectively boycott NCSoft, but now they’ve taken down an MMO that had been running just as long as World of Warcraft, had a huge userbase and was still making money. It’s not so much a spectacular PR Fail as it is the strangest business decision possible. NCSoft are not known for their brilliant business sense, this is true, but cutting off a perfectly profitable and popular arm of your business is tantamount to professional suicide…
1. Mass Effect 3 – You knew this was coming…
BioWare used to be the kind of studio you wanted to be a part of. But with high-profile leaders in the firm leaving, and jobs being shed, there is nothing if not a sense of urgency in the market about BioWare’s future, to the point it’s desperately trying even now to convince us that it can handle a Mass Effect 4 (which predictably awkward results), and that it can still save The Old Republic (no offence to fans but it’s a bit late for that now…).
But it was the ending of Mass Effect 3 for which BioWare will find themselves tarred and feathered, for there were a lot of promises in the run up to its release and the delivery of the overall end-game was… well… fixed. Players of the series famous for allowing them the ability to choose their destiny found themselves railroaded into a convenient Deus Ex Machina scenario by which none of their previous choices, or their Paragon/Renegade ranking mattered. In effect, for all the promises that players choices would matter in the end, when it really came to the end, they didn’t. Players were given a choice, but it was not theirs. Nor did it make much contextual sense in regards to the game that had preceded it.
In order to counter the public outcry which followed, BioWare released enhanced endings, which was a little bit of a mistake, because personally, I found the enhanced endings to be even worse than the one they left us with originally – each expanded storybook ending effectively telling us that everything was lovely and brilliant and fantastic and that the universe would find a way of coping with it – unless you didn’t choose and got the mystery bad ending (which made the most contextual sense of the lot!). In ensuring that the series was tied off in this manner, the idea now that they want to do an actual sequel in a Mass Effect 4 only compounds the public perception that those left at BioWare are perhaps the least suited to ensuring its continued survival. Not least that they revealed an ending they cut – a final boss fight against a reaper-enhanced Illusive Man. A fight most fans seem to agree would have been predictable, but a fitting and suitably epic ending to the trilogy, rather than pulling some mystical ancient child-god from the nether-regions of the ether and making us choose the ultimate destiny of the universe. This year saw the Lemming-like plummeting demise of BioWare, once a king amongst games studios, now reduced to a laughing stock in the market. If that isn’t the most depressingly worst development in gaming this year, I really don’t know what is…
- Agree? Disagree? Think I should have included something else? Feel free to comment and suggest alternative events and developments that I might have maligned to include in this piece.