Post-Thanksgiving in the United States has several traditions attached. After dinner, when all the leftovers have been put away and no one can stuff any more pie down their gullet, there are several options available. It’s a great time to watch football (or if you’re a nerd like me, several episodes of MST3K). You might want to get a jump on your holiday shopping, so it’s a good time to check the Black Friday ads. And it’s never a bad time to start thinking about what to do with all that leftover turkey.

Turkey has become synonymous with Thanksgiving, but the word itself also a semi-polite insult, a way to point out flaws without being too rude about it. There’s no question this year has been great for gamers, with plenty of fantastic titles like Spider-Man, Monster Hunter: World, and Red Dead Redemption 2 released over the past several months. But we’re not here to talk about that today. Instead, we’re here to look at some of the less savory moments of 2018, the stories that make you want to put your head in your hands and moan, “What were they thinking?”

Metal Gear Survive… doesn’t

Japanese developer Konami has made a lot of questionable decisions in recent years, but its most public dirty laundry involved star game director Hideo Kojima and his contentious exit from the company. Kojima has been the guiding force behind the Metal Gear series since its origins on the MSX computer in 1986. His most recent project was Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (MGS5), a fantastic game that was at or near the top of many 2015 Game of the Year award lists. Near the end of development, Konami decided MGS5 was taking up too much money and resources, and Kojima departed the company on unfriendly terms. The game ends rather abruptly, and planned DLC to add closure to some loose ends in the story never materialized. As one final petty act of vengeance, Kojima was prohibited from attending The Game Awards to accept the Best Action/Adventure Game trophy.

Metal Gear is Konami’s intellectual property to do with as the company sees fit, but it’s fairly unique in that most gamers associate Kojima with the brand, more so than Konami. This became glaringly obvious when Konami released Metal Gear Survive in February, a game created without Kojima’s influence that uses assets created for MGS5.

The title released to mediocre reviews, many of which mentioned the lack of direction as one of the game’s failings. The game features generic zombies as its primary villains, and the dirty, apocalyptic setting features very few of the personality-filled antagonists the series is known for. Gamers saw it as a cynical cash grab and betrayal of the auteur director, and stayed away in droves.

We don’t have data for how the title has performed on consoles, but according to Steam Charts Metal Gear Survive on PC has never had more than about 5500 concurrent players, and these days averages less than 100 at any given time. Those are terrible numbers for what’s meant to be a cooperative base building game, and it’s probably just a matter of time before Konami pulls the plug on the multiplayer servers. The sad part is Konami will probably use Survive’s failure to justify the company’s pivot to focusing on Pachinko machines.

Telltale goes out of business, seemingly overnight

Telltale Games was one of the industry’s biggest success stories as little as six years ago, so the developer’s abrupt closure in late September caught nearly everyone by surprise. The company was founded in 2004 by several former LucasArts developers, and for years focused on making point-and-click adventure games like the ones LucasArts pioneered. In 2012 the studio decided to release a different kind of adventure game with more of a focus on player choices than managing inventory, based on Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead graphic novels.

The game came right as AMC’s television series introduced The Walking Dead into public consciousness, and became a huge success for Telltale. The game took time to make its cast of characters realistic and sympathetic, and players fell in love with the series’ eventual protagonist Clementine and her guardian Lee. The Walking Dead appeared on many Game of the Year lists in 2012, alongside such heavy hitters as Dishonored, Mass Effect 3, and Borderlands 2.

After the success of The Walking Dead, Telltale shifted its focus entirely towards making narrative-based games that followed the same style, chasing down licenses to popular media like Game of Thrones and Guardians of the Galaxy. Unfortunately, this approach seems to be what eventually doomed the company. Licenses for this kind of top-tier intellectual property (IP) are expensive, and Telltale wasn’t making enough on the games it produced to justify the costs associated with creating them.

One former employee described business as usual for Telltale thusly: “Make an expensive deal with an IP holder, aim for an unrealistic deadline that forced us to rush production, and hope we cross the finish line without burning out.” Employees worked long hours and the games themselves were sometimes drastically altered just hours before they were made available for purchase; one former developer says some of the awkward transitions found in many of Telltale’s games mark where a scene was reprogrammed at the last minute.

Late in September, an all-hands emergency meeting was called for Telltale employees. CEO Pete Hawley announced to a silent room that the company had finally run out of money. Employees were given 30 minutes to collect their things and leave the building. By the time they got back to their desks, their company email had already been disabled. Three hours later the announcement was made public via Telltale’s twitter account.

None of the company’s 250 workers received severance, and their health benefits were terminated nine days after the meeting. Employees were left scrambling to find other employment, including one new hire who had just moved across the country to join Telltale. The abrupt closure may be in violation of state and federal WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) laws, which mandate that employers must provide at least 60 days advance notice before any mass layoffs. As such, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Telltale’s employees the day after the meeting.

To add insult to injury, angry gamers suggested Telltale’s former employees should work for free to bring the half-finished final season of The Walking Dead to completion. Fortunately, a better outcome was reached, and Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment  stepped in to help get The Final Season across the finish line, hiring many of the developers who had previously been working on the title at Telltale.

The third and fourth episodes of the series will be delayed, but at least the people who worked so hard on earlier chapters will be able to finish their stories. As for Telltale, the company entered bankruptcy proceedings on November 14 and is now well and truly defunct. The company’s former website Telltale.com has seemingly been taken over by a phishing scam, and most Telltale games have been pulled from digital storefronts.

If you get a chance, load up a Telltale game like The Wolf Among Us or Tales from the Borderlands; they’re much better than most people gave them credit for. And don’t suggest anyone else should work for free.

Overwatch League players can’t stop shooting… their mouths off

Blizzard’s Overwatch has been huge since its release in 2016, and the company has been focusing on promoting the team shooter as an e-sport since the Overwatch League (OWL) debuted early this year. The presentation of OWL matches is closer to the pageantry of a physical sport than anything we’ve seen from gaming before, and individual players like Jjonak (Bang Seong-hyun) and Seagull (Brandon Larned) have shown incredible feats of game sense and accuracy onstage that demonstrate how much better they are than average players. Unfortunately, it appears some of the nastier aspects of physical sports have leaked over into OWL, and several players have been involved in controversy since the league started in January.

Signing an OWL contract means agreeing to a conduct clause, and players found in violation can face fines or suspensions. Pro gamers tend to be in their late teens and early twenties, so it’s not really surprising that so many of them can be immature. But several have crossed the line during the league’s inaugural season, carrying over toxic behavior that seems to be encouraged by viewers of Twitch and YouTube.

No one has been in more trouble than former Dallas Fuel player Félix Lengyel, who goes by the handle “xQc”. To date he’s the only player to be suspended from the league for his actions, though several high-profile players have quit competitive Overwatch to focus on streaming or other pursuits. Before league play even began Lengyel’s main Overwatch account was temporarily banned from the game’s competitive mode, apparently for abusing the in-game reporting function while streaming. He received a four-game suspension and was fined $2000 for making homophobic remarks about an opposing player after an early season match against the Houston Outlaws. His team added a harsher penalty for this offense, suspending him for the entirety of stage one.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Lengyel learned anything from this punishment, and he continued acting in a similar manner on his personal Twitch stream. Less than two months later he was fined $4000 and suspended for four matches after the league claimed he “repeatedly used an emote in a racially disparaging manner on the league’s stream and on social media, and used disparaging language against Overwatch League casters and fellow players on social media and on his personal stream.” Several other professional players were also actioned at this time, but Lengyel received the harshest punishment due to his history. Two days later, the Fuel announced they were dropping Lengyel from their roster.

Speaking with YouTube channel Your Overwatch, Lengyel had this to say: “I don’t think I was suited for it in the first place. I just didn’t know how strict it was all going to be.” He also complained about how much his personal brand suffered while he was on the bench, and how he felt it was unfair for things he says to be taken out of context from a 12-hour streaming session. He still maintains he didn’t do anything improper, though he told the Washington Post he blames himself for not considering how things he said and did could be perceived by others.

Blizzard seemed willing to give him another chance, and he was permitted to represent Canada in the Overwatch World Cup, a separate e-sports event held during Blizzcon. But his account was suspended again recently, prompting him to once again consider changing the focus of his streams away from Overwatch.

XQC really is one of the most talented Overwatch players in the world, but his failure to conform to the league’s standards ultimately cost him his slot on the roster. It’s not quite as extreme an example as what happened to Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg last year, but Lengyel did lose thousands of dollars in league salary and potentially much more in endorsements. The league seems hopeful that the example set by Lengyel won’t be repeated by other OWL pros in the league’s second season, but time will tell. Expansion team Atlanta Reign recently announced they were signing controversial streamer Daniel  Francesca,(Dafran) who has a similar history.

Nintendo shuts down ROM sites & destroys Japanese retro game bars

Nintendo has been involved with quite a bit of entitled gamer lunacy this year, from fans’ demand to add Waluigi to Super Smash Brothers Ultimate to their recent disappointment at the reveal of the final roster. As much love as you may have for the characters in Smash Brothers, unless you’re at least 35 years old you probably haven’t played all the games the characters were drawn from.  And the reason for that comes down to Nintendo itself.

Emulation is the easiest and most effective way to play old games, and one of the best ways to preserve game history by allowing people to experience them without having to find original hardware. As a whole, the video game industry hasn’t done a very good job of preserving its own history. Most of that has to do with the industry’s views on emulation, particularly those views espoused by Nintendo, the oldest company in the business.

Nintendo’s corporate website makes the company’s policy very clear; it views any emulation as infringement on its intellectual property, no matter if the game being emulated is unavailable elsewhere or is being played as a backup copy.

Starting in June this year, Nintendo began flexing its legal muscles, shuttering two of the largest ROM sites and encouraging the Japanese government to crack down on video game bars in its home country. Hundreds of games and consoles were confiscated, and owners of these bars were forced to remove their old games and consoles or face legal consequences up to and including arrests. Japanese copyright law prohibits showing copyrighted material in a public setting, but the law had never been enforced so strictly until now.

Critical Hit Bar in Nagoya was forced to change its business model to become a retro game shop rather than a themed bar. Picture via Funny Hat Japan.

Emulation itself isn’t illegal, but downloading copyrighted software you haven’t paid for is. For many years emulation and ROM sites have operated in a legal grey area, with caveats for end users cautioning them to delete downloaded ROMS after 24 hours or advising them only to download games they’ve already bought a license for. Until recently, it was quite easy to download any ROM you wanted from one of a few large emulation websites and play almost any old game you wanted through an emulator, or even in your browser window.

So what’s changed?

Well, in 2001 Nintendo released Animal Crossing for the GameCube, the sequel to a Japanese-only N64 game with the same name. The title was a modest hit, and players particularly enjoyed the ability to play old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games by collecting consoles in-game. This is the point at which Nintendo realized these old titles still had value, and the company released a series of “NES Classics” for the handheld Game Boy Advance console a couple of years later. Since then, Nintendo has repackaged and re-released its back catalogue many times over, from the Wii and 3DS “Virtual Console” to the abbreviated NES library available to subscribers of the Switch’s Nintendo Online service.

This is just conjecture, but I think the killing blow for these ROM sites and game bars may have started its backswing when Nintendo released the NES Classic Edition in 2016. Intended as a stopgap between the failed Wii U and the still unreleased Switch, the miniature console sold out instantly and was impossible to find for over a year after its release. Nostalgic Gen Xers and millennials wanted it to play old favorites or share it with their own kids. 

Demand vastly outstripped supply, and that Christmas the tiny NES could command more than ten times its sticker price at auction sites like eBay. Last year’s followup the Super Nintendo Classic was just as popular, and only recently has supply finally caught up with demand to the point where you may see a few SNES classics sitting on store shelves.  

Both the NES and SNES Classic are relatively simple to jailbreak and add ROMS to, and I think this may be a large part of why Nintendo is cracking down on ROM sites. Nintendo has made untold millions by selling these miniature consoles, and I think it’s safe to say the company sees the easy availability of NES and SNES ROMs as a direct threat to this new revenue stream. Adding more games to your SNES classic lessens the chance you’ll buy a second console with games that weren’t included on the original.

Nintendo wants to be the only option for people who want to play NES games, and the company’s leadership seems to think it can do so by making ROMS harder to obtain. This is ludicrous, but unless a legal precedent is established otherwise Nintendo will continue to make things difficult for people who want to enjoy classic games without tracking down original hardware. Until then, services like Console Classix may be the best legal workaround for those looking to check out old games.

Announcing Diablo Immortal just makes everybody angry

Blizzard’s Diablo series just celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, and the most recent entry in the series was recently ported to Nintendo’s Switch for demon slaying on the go. Diablo 3 had a rough start, but consistent improvements to the base game and a well-regarded expansion have made it the action RPG to beat. Recent console versions have just as many features as their PC counterpart, and allow console gamers to participate in seasons and earn special rewards for doing so. Although Diablo 3 is nearly endlessly replayable, fans haven’t heard anything new about their favorite franchise since the Necromancer character was added in June of 2017.

Expectations were high heading into Blizzcon, Blizzard’s annual celebration of its own legacy. The company frequently uses the convention’s keynote address to announce upcoming titles and updates to its stable of games. Many speculated that a new Diablo title was set to be announced during the show; either a remaster of fan favorite Diablo 2 or a brand-new game following the events of Diablo 3’s expansion, Reaper of Souls.

That’s part of why people were so disappointed when the big Diablo announcement at the end of the keynote turned out to be nothing more than a cell phone game. Blizzard’s fans tend to be PC players first and foremost, and nearly everyone in this crowd spent hundreds of dollars to visit the show. To say they were unimpressed by this news would be an understatement.

Blizzard completely misread their audience with this statement, and compounded the error in a Q & A session later in the day. One fan asked if Diablo Immortal would be playable on PC, and when the reply came back that it would not, the crowd began to boo. The developers’ retort: “Do you guys not have phones? You guys all have phones” was completely tone deaf, and a later question about whether the whole debacle was an out-of-season April Fool’s joke received cheers and applause from the audience.

These reactions weren’t limited to the crowd at Blizzcon though, and the internet at large made its displeasure known. The Diablo Immortal YouTube trailer was downvoted so many times Blizzard took it offline and re-uploaded it to hide the numbers. (This tactic didn’t do much, and the negative votes currently outnumber the positive by a factor of nearly 27 to one.) Fans became even angrier when they found that Blizzard’s development partner on Immortal, NetEase, had already made a Diablo-like game for mobile phones in China.

Although Blizzard assures people Immortal is being built from the ground up, it does look suspiciously similar to a couple of NetEase’s other games such as Crusaders of Light or Endless of God. The controversy got so bad that it reached financial markets, and shares of Activision Blizzard dropped in value rather significantly following the announcement.

To be fair, the Diablo Immortal announcement may not have been intended as the capper to Blizzcon’s keynote address. Technical difficulties on the Hearthstone stage caused the program to be shuffled somewhat, and gamers probably would have reacted more positively if the final announcement had been Ashe and Bob rather than what’s being perceived as an underpowered Diablo. All of this could have been prevented with a simple assurance that a PC version of Diablo 4 was being worked on. Reportedly, Blizzard had such an announcement ready to go but decided not to show it, afraid to make an announcement too far ahead of the game’s completion.

More recent stories speculate that Diablo Immortal is a symptom of a much larger problem at Blizzard, corporate overlord Activision goading Blizzard to cut costs and monetize their franchises in any way possible. This may be why longtime Blizzard president Mike Morhaime stepped down following this year’s Blizzcon, and it’s likely we’ll find out more about this story over the coming weeks. However you look at it, Blizzard’s failure to anticipate the reaction of their audience is bewildering.

Fallout 76 is a game no one asked for, hardly anyone seems to like it

The most recent entry on this list is also one of the most disappointing. Fallout 76 is a multiplayer entry in a franchise which, to this point, could be played entirely by oneself. Anticipation for the title was low leading up to the release, and players’ fears were not abated by 76’s beta, available only to consumers who pre-ordered the game. Almost all storytelling in 76 is environmental due to the decision to exclude non-player characters. Before release it became pretty clear that players would have to make their own fun, and that style of game doesn’t appeal to everyone.

It’s gotten even worse after release, with server crashes frequent and two enormous patches required since last week’s launch. Console players were required to download a patch almost as large as the file included on the disc, and those playing on PC had to download 15 GB before they could log in again. PC players were already miffed since Fallout 76 can’t be played through Steam and must be accessed via Bethesda’s game service.

Bethesda games are known for their bugs and glitches, frequently relying on player-made mods to fix the worst offenders. This isn’t such a big issue when players can save any time they want to and revert to an earlier state if something goes wrong. But 76’s always-online requirement largely prevents players from saving their way out of danger and leads to frustrating gameplay if you lose progress because the server goes down.

Players who came to 76 expecting a new Fallout game are disappointed because the empty, lifeless world lacks a lot of the personality of previous games in the series. The new “Scorched” enemy type act like raiders in previous games, but don’t say or do anything other than attack players. Those who bought 76 expecting something like previous titles feel burned, and a recent viral video shows a man taking his rage out on a store clerk after being told he couldn’t return the game. User reviews for 76 are abysmal, and media outlets have been slow to post reviews, partly because of Bethesda’s decision not to provide review copies of its games to media outlets.

What’s worst of all is that the multiplayer component, probably the main selling point of Fallout 76, doesn’t really add much to the gameplay. Players rarely run into one another since they’re usually so spread out, and encountering another player tends to break the game’s immersion completely.

Fallout 76 has potential, but as it stands right now it’s very difficult to recommend. The game certainly wasn’t ready for launch, and probably should have come out later, at a lower price point, and/or as an early access title. It’s especially vexing when you consider that 76 came out just weeks after another open world exploration game made its way to the top of most people’s Game of the Year lists. Here’s hoping the negative publicity associated with Fallout 76 won’t prevent a true Fallout sequel somewhere down the line.

 

There were plenty of other embarrassing stories from the game industry this year, but these are some of the most cringeworthy. Are there any others you think deserve a slot here? The Harry Potter mobile game strangling kids if they don’t pay up? 2K fighting Belgium’s loot box laws by begging players to lobby for their return? Spider-Man’s “Puddlegate?” Let us know in the comments below.





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