gaming highlights 2015

Game Changers: 7 Games That Changed Gaming History, for the Worse

Hello everyone! My name is Ryan. For GIN, I’ve written previews and reviews, and an article warning shoppers of Dell shoddy products that got the notice of the company. My background is that I am an avid gamer and have been my whole life. I started with arcade games. Atari 400 was my first home gaming system. Eventually, that led to Atari 2600, NES, Master System, Genesis, PS1, Dreamcast, and so forth. Today my two gaming platforms of choice are PC and PlayStation 4 PRO.

The origins of this article came from the endless lists that I’ve seen showcasing games that have had a positive change or made significant improvements for the industry. Instead, today, I would like to showcase seven games that I think caused considerable damage to areas of the video game industry. A fair warning up front, I won’t be holding back any spoilers because in most cases I need to use spoiler information to make a point for why the game hurt the industry. So, if you don’t want to be spoiled, skip that specific game.

#1. World of Warcraft (Windows, Mac) – Destroying a Property

Today, Blizzard’s massively multiplayer online RPG is well known to the point that it prompted former team lead Mark Kern to state once the game could not find any “more untapped swathes of gamers.” The reason? This game defined the genre. WOW’s influence continues to be seen in many MMOs today. Although maybe not as popular as in years past, MMO developers continue to follow WOW’s gameplay model in the hopes that they will dethrone WOW as the undefeated heavily weight champion of the genre. So how has Blizzard hurt the MMO genre? In two ways.

First, the initial release of their game was challenging to play. From the leveling to gaining more powerful gear, to learning how to play your class and being a cohesive teammate in dungeon and raids, all of these required a level of time, knowledge, skill and commitment that made WOW a fulltime adventure. However, the vocal majority began to beg Blizzard for less difficult experiences and a much more accessible game, and so throughout many expansions, they complied. While the changes were lauded by many, most players eventually gave up and left citing a variety of reasons, but ultimately because WOW wasn’t the game it used to be.

Which nicely leads to the second reason that is Blizzard’s iron-clad response to legacy content. For years they had repeatedly stated they have no desire to bring it back even going so far as to remove it when Cataclysm launched. On the one hand, you can understand why Blizzard would not want players to play the old content. Their new material is shiny and indicative of the quality Blizzard wants to show. However, in 2016, a non-profit service called Nostalrius painstakingly recreated the original experience from 2004 and was aggressively shut down by Blizzard. The backlash was fast and furious. People — like well-known YouTube personality Jontron, top Twitch streamer SodaPoppin, and even former lead Mark Kern — let Blizzard know what’s up in a variety of heated ways.

Days after closure the stats provided by Nostalrius revealed the server had close to a million registered accounts, around 150,000 active players (played in the past 14 days), and an average concurrency of 12,000 at its peak making Nostalrius the most massive private server of all time for any game. The hole left behind created a fevered demand for legacy content. Blizzard’s move to kill their own game was touted by many as one of the most boneheaded things Blizzard ever did and was especially true in light of Overwatch’s imminent launch, the Warcraft film, and the next WOW expansion on the horizon. Angering over a million people was a bad PR move. However, while Blizzard made an asserted effort to mollify nearly a million angry Nostalrius fans, and they officially announced a Classic server, the overall juggernaut status of World of Warcraft remains on life support. To quote a line from World of Warcraft, “No king rules forever.”

#2. No Man’s Sky (PS4, Windows) – The Downfall of Preordering

No. Man’s. Sky. In 2016, if people saw those three words before August 9th (PS4) and August 12th (Windows) there would likely be gleams in their eyes over all the adventures they would have as they explore a massive universe of wonder. Later those three words conjured up words like “liar,” “scam,” “boredom,” and “anger.” So what happened? Extreme hype. It surrounded this game like a hot pocket.

The problem sits at the foot of Sean Murray who didn’t help guide the hype to realistic expectations in any way. His “aw, shucks” demeanor was infectious. You wanted to believe him. When he said you would be able to join a faction in an on-going intergalactic conflict, or there would be something amazing at the center of the universe, or on the rare chance you ever met another player and share an adventure, we believed him. However, once the game launched the number of “NO’s” in No Man’s Sky become painfully real and then it got progressively worse.

At launch, the game broke on Windows and PlayStation 4 with PS4 players reporting constant game crashes. YouTube reviewer Angry Joe showed how the PS4 version crashed on him so many times he couldn’t leave the first system. Then, several days later it launched on Windows. While the game looked good in some areas, for the most part, it did not match the fidelity of the E3 footage considering this happened on top-notch computers.

Before launch, the media began to question gameplay footage Sean kept demonstrating for them. He kept using the same E3 planet over and over again. One reporter even asked Sean why he continued to show this planet. The long story short is his answer was a lie because brilliant hackers found, buried in the code, a separate E3 build that was not part of the main game. Oh but wait, it gets better, after hacking the game, another Steam user found NMS has no end. Sean made the center of the universe this mysterious thing that you want to reach one day. The big reveal is that it is not the center of the universe but the center of a galaxy, and for your efforts, you get nothing (as Willy Wonka barked)! When you reach the center, you never get to see THE center. Instead, you pull back out of the galaxy and are placed in another galaxy on another random planet, with all your stuff is broken. If that wasn’t enough if you managed to do this 255 more times the game’s procedural engine breaks and loops endlessly. Is the game infinite as Sean stated? No, it’s not.

Pushing that all aside the point is that hype was the nitro fuel that drove this game to rise and then eventually explode. Case in point, NMS debut at #1 on Steam’s Top Sellers, lasted for a week and then collapsed to #11 a week later. A week after launch the Steam stats showed an 88% drop in the number of people playing NMS. On Twitch NMS peaked at #2 on June 12th and within a rapid period dropped to #34. The level of vitriol and extreme hype by Sean and NMS has left a bad stain on gaming for a long time to come.

Eventually, the game turned itself around. However, No Man’s Sky remains the point in gaming history where blind preordering stopped, and evidence of this can be seen in current AAA-titles today sustaining lower preorder sales. Finally, gamers woke up and decided they had enough.

#3. Batman: Arkham Knight (Windows) – A Broken Product launch and Suspended Sales

The first two Batman games in Rocksteady’s catalog proved to some of the best Batman games ever made. In particular, the first, Batman: Arkham Asylum, gave birth to a new type of free-flow combat system eventually emulated in other games like Mad Max, as well as the subsequent Batman games. However, as Rocksteady continued to improve their tech, they were also under pressure from Warner Brothers to deliver a game that pushes boundaries and hit an aggressive launch date.

The difficult decision to outsourcing the PC port of Arkham Knight to Iron Galaxy Studios presented significant challenges. The foremost being Rocksteady didn’t have full oversight over what Iron Galaxy was doing. Problems only became worse when members of the Rocksteady’s team started seeing memos from Warner Brothers about issues with the Windows version of the game without including a delay.

When the game went live on June 23, 2015, all hell broke loose. PC players reported horrible framerate issues on machines that were double the recommended specs. There were reports of framerates dropping down to 10 while driving around in the Batmobile. People with costly systems and solid-state drives were able to play at a significantly less desirable framerate than what their machines were capable of in other games (for example, if 90-120 in The Witcher 3 were standard they would get 10-30 in Arkham Knight). The press hammered WB’s handling of Arkham Knight and their apparent oblivious nature of the problems. However, a fever pitch brewed when an anonymous Rocksteady staff with insider knowledge of WB’s apathy towards the PC issues, informed the media. Due to the game’s performance, WB suspended sales of the game a day later on all digital distribution platforms with a promise to approve refunds if requested. Rocksteady and Iron Galaxy worked on fixing and patching the game, and nearly five months later released the reissued version.

However, in another stupid move, WB changed the original release date on Steam to October 28, 2015, and tagged all previous reviews as PRE-RELEASE which led to a backlash from an already upset community. Thanks to the backlash either WB or Steam rectified the issue within hours.

Today, Batman: Arkham Knight sits on a very positive 82% thanks in part to Valve’s recent change to Steam’s review and rating system that separate recent reviews from overall reviews. A year later, Arkham Knight continues to be the go-to example of a terrible PC port launch, and an example to developers and publishers of what not to do. There are more than a few instances of publishers delaying their PC launches when they felt their products weren’t ready. No doubt we have the Arkham Knight debacle to thank for that.

#4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600) – Contributed to the 1983 Video Game Industry Crash that Lasted Almost a Decade

Kids from the early 1980s likely remember the fandom surrounding Steven Speilberg’s classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. While not as popular as Star Wars, it did copy George Lucas’ merchandising process resulting in E.T. t-shirts, E.T. breakfast cereal, E.T. glasses, and of course you had E.T. the video game for the Atari 2600.

As someone who remembers my parents buying this game for me, and playing it, I can tell you that it remains to this day as one of the most confusing games. While I assume, there’s an ending that mirrors its film counterpart I never reached that ending to know for sure. I played it for what I recall as 10 minutes and then gave up. The bad gameplay design didn’t make any sense. Eventually, word got around that while the movie was terrific, the video game was not. It wasn’t long before sales of E.T. the video game dried up and during a time when merchants could send unsold copies back to publishers. In this case, the publisher and developer were, at the time, one of the largest in the world. Worse in 1983 the public wasn’t quite ready for video games since it was such a radical new concept. The timing of video games, hundreds of thousands of unsold copies returning to Atari, and internal and external factors all culminated into a massive recession so significant that a video game drought lasted until 1987 when Nintendo successfully launched their Nintendo Entertainment System in North America.

Today, Atari’s E.T. is something of a collector’s item perhaps for its notoriety, or maybe for the fact that original copies continue to appear on eBay for $25 – $100. However, the prized version are those from the Alamogordo landfill where thousands were exhumed. They can go for as much as $3,000 and more.

The video game crash of 1983 remains a unique moment in video game history. Today video games are a multi-billion dollar industry, so the likelihood of another 1983 crash is rare, but as a footnote in history it is fascinating to see how all the factors aligned to see an entire industry collapse and almost never recovery.

#5. Star Citizen (Windows) – Negative Taint for Crowdfunded Video Games

The idea of crowdfunding isn’t a recent thing. It began in the 1730s when war bonds issued by the Bank of England to help fund military conflicts, eventually became a way for people to protect their own money by converting the bonds to gold. Throughout history, crowdfunding remained within the financial sector as currency protection. In 2003, ArtiShare appeared as a platform for the general public to directly fund and get involved in the process of making music. Eventually, the success of ArtiShare led to other crowdsourcing sites, and by 2009, Kickstarter appeared. What made this platform different is that instead of focusing on project ownership it directly facilitated a way for creators and funders to work together. That, in turn, provided an outlet for a wide range of categories including video games.

The gaming community started using Kickstarter for small projects, but it wasn’t until Tim Schafer, and his Double Fine Adventure game (later to be known as Broken Age) funded successfully for $400,000. That’s when Kickstarter started to gain recognition for game developers. Over a short period, other well-known game developers appeared, and it became an outlet for former industry video game heavyweights to pitch their gaming prototypes and ideas to backers instead of venture capitalists and publishers. It was in that confluence that Chris Roberts, the former creator of the famous Wing Commander series of games from the 1990s, pitched a brand new Wing Commander-like game called Star Citizen and Squadron 42.

Thanks in part to a million-dollar tech demo the immediate response created a wellspring of popularity for the project and backing took off. In a matter of weeks, Star Citizen blew past the campaign’s funding goals, which prompted stretch goals. After ending on Kickstarter, funding continued on its website where financially backing the project could continue to do so. The existing backers had opportunities to continue supporting for more in the form of additional ship purchases, packages, merchandise, and subscriptions. Eventually, Star Citizen had reached so much money that it surpassed the record holder, Pebble Watch for the most crowdfunded dollars. However, funding continued, and with each stretch goal reach new records set. Eventually, the media started reporting Star Citizen, not necessarily for the game, but for the staggering amount of money it raised and continued to do so.

Once the game reached 20 million it had, according to Chris Roberts, reached his original vision for an entirely self-funded game. However, that wasn’t the end. Additional stretch goals appeared offering more until the final stretch goal of 65 million. But, it didn’t end there. The game continued to bring in more crowdfunded dollars from both existing and new backers. At the time of this writing, Star Citizen has amassed a total of $213 million dollars from 2.2 million backers; a staggering amount of money for what is necessarily an indie title that began on Kickstarter.

The reason why Star Citizen appears on this list has to do with how many people continue to point to its place in crowdfunding history as a barometer for crowdfunding success. The game has been in continuous development for around eight years (2011 – 2019), and while the single-player Squadron 42 is scheduled to come out later this year, the proper Star Citizen MMO has years to go.

Effectively what you have in Star Citizen is a large piece of fragile glass. If the funding dries up, the game dies. If the game isn’t everything it’s been hyped to be by Chris Roberts, the game dies. If the Squadron 42 doesn’t win over people, the game dies. If the incredibly smart engineers leave en masse, the game dies. This game lives and breathes by its substantial foundation of existing backers. However, to survive it needs an infusion of fresh backers. If the development collapses, this will not only destroy CIG, but it will shatter both the crowdfunding funding model for video games. So far there appears to be no slowing of backer dollars coming into CIG’s coffers, but Star Citizen’s existence hurts the industry as it remains the go-to point of reference, without having released its first game beyond the early access tech demos.

#6. L.A. Noire (Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3) – The Introduction of Season Passes

L.A. Noire was a fun game. It offered at least for the time outstanding mocap work to tell a story about police detective work in early 20th century Los Angeles. For all the things that Rockstar did right the one they hurt the industry with is the creation of the Season Pass. Up until L.A. Noire DLC content was typically either a free add-on or an a la carte where you choose what you wanted, but with a season pass the publisher could force you to preorder bundled content.

Preordering the main game is one thing but preordering DLC? Worse you had no idea what you were buying because sometimes the publisher hadn’t worked on the content. Season passes turned into a staple many years later, and it has prompted many to believe led to a fundamental shift in quality. At heart with season passes, is the idea that a game that would typically have a particular content would now not because the material moved to the season pass.

#7. Star Wars: Battlefront 1 and 2 (Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4) – Squandered Licenses

Consider this scenario. You’re one of the largest video game publishers in the world. You find out Disney bought LucasFilms. They then shut down LucasArts, and to your everlasting joy they hand you the licensing keys to one of the most successful film IPs of all time: Star Wars. And how do you handle it? Well, we need not look any further than 2015’s Star Wars: Battlefront and 2017’s Star Wars: Battlefront 2. Both titles so squandered in their potential that it left a lot of people asking, “what happened to this game?”

For Battlefront 1, players lauded the game’s graphical fidelity, sound, and music. They said that it felt like they were actually in a Star Wars battle. But then something happened. Publisher EA and developer DICE turned what should’ve been a very cool Star Wars game into a mutant cow milking machine by offering a lot less for much more. The biggest issue is no single player campaign. Then there’s the tacked on season pass for the same price as the main game. For a whopping $120 at launch, you could get the super-premium edition.

That’s where EA went wrong. While the game is no doubt a wondrous sight to behold, its repetitive nature and pointlessness began to grab hold, and to date never let go. Players started to feel the experience was very hollow. The same four maps appeared over and over again. And all of it to gain access to better gear so that you can battle on the same four maps. Or, you could buy the equipment with real money beyond whatever you paid for the game and season pass. The pay schema in Star Wars: Battlefront is so bad it’s caused many players to jokingly say, “Do I need to pay for the loading screen too EA?”

The funniest thing is if EA had simply allowed DICE to make Star Wars: Battlefront 2 with a proper single player campaign in the new engine they would have made more money. There’s a large segment of gamers who don’t care for the FPS-only arena. Sales of Battlefront, while I assume they are in-line with EA’s expectations, haven’t been stellar. GameStop reported unexpected, disappointing sales in Q4 2015 prompting EA to initiate Order 66 (media damage control). But has EA learned anything? Nope. They are the publisher equivalent of a government department. They own the exclusive gaming license for Star Wars for the next decade or so, and they’re not worried about Disney suddenly taking it away. This exclusivity gives them the ability to do whatever they want, and they have. They continue to pimp out expensive DLC maps and their excessively pricy season passes.

Had EA learned from their Battlefront 1 lessons? No. Battlefront 2 brought more shenanigans namely a lackluster ten-hour single-player campaign and the most egregious loot crate system that government officials called “gambling with a Star Wars veneer aimed at children.” It was so bad that it prompted the industry itself via the ESRB to update its rating system with a new interactive element label for “In-Game Purchases.”

All of this makes you long for the day when LucasArts was a bastion of exciting ideas like 1313; one of the studio’s last unfinished projects before being shut down.

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