This was supposed to be the final This Week in Business for 2019, wrapping up the column’s first year running on USgamer. But it turns out the games industry largely shuts down for the holidays, and there just wasn’t a huge amount of interesting news out there to recap. So instead of the last This Week in Business, we’re doing the first This Year in Business. And because a year has 52 weeks, we’ve put together 52 stats and quotes to remind us all of what’s been happening throughout the industry this year, the good, the bad, and the ugly. If that sounds like a lot, well… it is. But that’s appropriate for a year that has unquestionably been A Lot.
Let’s get started.
QUOTE | “We think the decision to remove the game is unfair to Steam customers, especially after a long pre-sale period.” – A Valve update on the Steam page for Metro Exodus riles up Steam fans and sets the tone for a year full of angst and abuse over PC storefront exclusivity.
QUOTE | “Going forward, Bungie will own and develop the franchise, and Activision will increase its focus on owned IP and other projects.” – Bungie and Activision announce a premature end to their partnership on the Destiny series. The original deal was announced in April of 2010 and would have terminated early next year.
QUOTE | “It will be a long road until the next time we will be able to update you on the development progress, and development time will be extensive.” – Nintendo senior managing executive officer Shinya Takahashi announces that development on Metroid Prime 4 is being rebooted, with original Metroid Prime developer Retro Studios now being added to the project.
QUOTE | “Friendly fraud” – Facebook’s internal term for unauthorized credit card charges made by children without their parents’ consent. Unsealed memos from a class action lawsuit revealed that the company made millions from such charges and devised an effective way to thwart them, but refused to implement it because it would hurt revenues.
QUOTE | “I do not condone child pornography, white supremacy, or racism in any shape or form.” – THQ Nordic PR and marketing director Philipp Brock clarifies his stance on a few things after he hosted an Ask Me Anything session to promote THQ Nordic games on 8chan, a message board known for racism, hate speech, organized harassment campaigns, and child pornography. Over the following six months, three white supremacists would post manifestoes on 8chan before engaging in mass shootings that would kill more than 70 people.
QUOTE | “In talking with our own sources, it has been suggested that the announcement of Game Pass on Switch could come as soon as this year. – Game Informer got our hopes up by corroborating a Direct Feed Games report that Microsoft would be launching a streaming version of its Game Pass subscription service on Nintendo’s console.
QUOTE | “We had deer and wolves in the game, and the wolves would hunt the deer down. But the deer would also urinate from time to time, and they would end up in these ditches, and would urinate so much they’d drown in their own urine. And the wolves would poop, but they’d have these mountains of poop because they stayed in one place.” – Noita developer Petri Purho talks about the unexpected design challenges that spring up when making a game with loads of interacting systems.
QUOTE | “While our financial results for 2018 were the best in our history, we didn’t realize our full potential.” – Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick announces record financial results for the company simultaneously with mass layoffs of about 800 employees.
QUOTE | “As we look across a changing world around us, it’s clear that we must change with it. We’re making deliberate moves to better deliver on our commitments, refine our organization and meet the needs of our players.” – EA CEO Andrew Wilson announces that the company will be laying off 350 people.
QUOTE | “I feel like there are all these red flags, canary-in-the-mine moments where things are clearly not working the way they used to, or not working.” – Former Uncharted franchise creative director Amy Hennig says regular mass layoffs are a sign that AAA development must change, and she believes a shift to outsourcing “feels inevitable.”
QUOTE | “After significant fact-finding and discussion, we think ‘Rape Day’ poses unknown costs and risks and therefore won’t be on Steam.” – Valve’s Erik Johnson implies that Steam would be just fine selling Rape Day, a visual novel about raping people, if it knew it wouldn’t be sued or lose business as a result.
QUOTE | “If we don’t utterly, and vocally, and wholly reject these people—these Nazis, and fascists, and white supremacists—then we are inviting them in. If we make room for them, then there is no room for anyone else.” – 80 Days narrative designer and IGF Awards host Meg Jayanth underscores the importance of game companies kicking toxic people out of their communities.
STAT | $500 million – The amount that Apple has reportedly invested signing over 100 new, premium titles to its Apple Arcade subscription service. Apple says these games will be “curated based on originality, quality, creativity, fun and their appeal to players of all ages.”
QUOTE | “The world works with privilege. It works with access, with resources, where you’re born, what languages you speak, the amount of money you have, what previous games you’ve made, the network you have… There are tons of factors that play into whether or not your game will be successful.” – Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail discounts the idea that gaming is a meritocracy where developers get the success (or lack of it) they deserve.
QUOTE | “Each time we introduced something, there was a bit of an outcry: ‘You’re prying into our lives.’ But we slowly increased the sensitivity of stuff, and eventually people understood it’s all voluntary, there’s no gun to your head, and we’re going to reward you if you choose to do it.” – Activision Blizzard VP of global benefits Milt Ezzard explains how the company found a way around privacy concerns for its incentivized employee health monitoring program, which includes tracking of ovulation cycles, pregnancy, mental health, sleep habits, and diet, as well as autism and cancer care.
QUOTE | “It’s killing people. Something has to change. I can’t see how we can go on like this for another year… The workload is just endless.” – An Epic Games developer was among a dozen who spoke to Polygon about extreme crunch at the studio since the success of Fortnite Battle Royale.
QUOTE | “It’s dehumanizing. You felt like a body crammed into a corner. Basically, you’re just a cog in the machine to turn out the product they want.” – A NetherRealm Studios contractor was among a number of current and former worker talking about the Mortal Kombat studio’s crunch culture and shoddy treatment of employees.
QUOTE | “That classification does not imply that gaming disorder exists.” – Newly promoted Entertainment Software Association CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis offers a novel spin on the World Health Organization adding gaming disorders to its International Compendium of Diseases database.
QUOTE | “Today’s digital entertainment ecosystem is an online gauntlet for children. Inherently manipulative game features that take advantage of kids and turn play time into pay time should be out of bounds.” – Democrat Senator Ed Markey explains why he is co-sponsoring a bill banning loot box and pay-to-win mechanics in games for children that has been introduced by Republican Senator Josh Hawley.
QUOTE | “We’ve tried to create a game and write a story that has stakes, that has dramatic moments that reflect the level of drama and emotion that you see in the films and the books. I don’t think being in a perilous situation is unique to our Harry Potter game when you compare it to the films and the books.” – Jam City president Josh Yguado defends a controversial part of the company’s mobile game Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery in which players must escape from a magical plant called Devil’s Snare. If they don’t have enough energy, they can either pay money to replenish their energy and escape, or wait and watch the player’s child avatar being strangled for however long it takes for the player’s energy to refill for free.
QUOTE | “We don’t call them loot boxes… We call them surprise mechanics.” – Electronic Arts vice president of legal and government affairs Kerry Hopkins attempts to rebrand the controversial mechanic during her testimony to the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee as part of an ongoing inquiry into immersive and addictive technologies.
QUOTE | “This game has a message for sure… The message of this game is: ordinary people need to put aside their differences and come together. It’s not the politicians, it’s not the dude from the mountain who’s going to come down and save us all. It’s us. Putting aside our differences and fighting back against things that are obviously wrong — that’s what we need to do.” – Despite Ubisoft executives’ repeated insistence that their games are apolitical and not trying to convey messages, Watch Dogs: Legion creative director Clint Hocking plainly lays out the game’s message.
STAT | 17% – The percentage of Sony’s mineral supply chain for its hardware that hasn’t conformed to industry standards for preventing human rights abuses. Microsoft also had several non-conformant sources. Valve did not comment.
QUOTE | “If we simply kinda lean back on the world that we’ve known for the past 25 years, we’re at grave risk of having events around us overtake us. So, we have to show an open-mindedness and a desire to do things to an extent that we haven’t had to in the past.” – PlayStation division president and CEO Jim Ryan discusses Microsoft and Sony’s cooperative partnership as a sign of drastically changing attitudes in the industry.
QUOTE | “The audience is absolutely ruthless, and we should never suspect for a second that they’re not. They’re absolutely ruthless. They don’t care how many people died making the product. [laughing] I mean literally. They don’t care.” – Lorne Lanning explains why Oddworld Inhabitants has always resorted to “terrible” crunch in order to make games transparently against the exploitation of workers.
QUOTE | “I think that cloud gaming will become more widespread in the future, but I have no doubt that there will continue to be games that are fun because they are running locally and not on the cloud.” – Speaking to investors, Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto says the company isn’t falling behind in either VR or network services, but prefers to keep its innovations quiet until it is ready to release a product.
QUOTE | “These exploits risk jeopardizing the overall quality, integrity, and purpose of Story Creator Mode and results in less visibility for the creative, interesting and frankly fantastic community stories that have been published.” – Ubisoft explains why it is cracking down on XP-farming quests in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Story Creator Mode. Another likely reason not mentioned by the publisher is that it sells permanent XP boosters as microtransactions.
QUOTE | “I try to talk to game developers about this, and even the ones who are doing really slimy stuff, they want to think of themselves as good people. I haven’t spoken to many people in Asia about this, but when I talk to people in the West they act like it’s complicated and hard to think about, and I don’t think it is. I think it’s very simple: how do you treat the person that you’re making the game for?” – Braid and The Witness developer Jon Blow is skeptical about microtransactions in gaming.
QUOTE | “Say you had a game set in Ancient Egypt and you wanted to buy a chariot for a big combat that was going to come up, and you went to the marketplace in Thebes. You would not want to be buying a chariot for $2.50 US. It would be a little bit jolting and a little bit odd, so instead a publisher will make it with a historically appropriate monetary currency, such as a deben of copper, which would fit in more with the game.” – During an FTC day-long workshop around loot boxes, ESA lawyer Michael Warnecke defends virtual currency as a way to “preserve narrative integrity,” which is a funny way of saying “psychologically divorce the purchasing decision from the real world.”
QUOTE | “I recognize that none of this post equates to an apology in any way that a lot of the mob is trying to obtain, and that’s by design. While some of what I’ve said was definitely bad for PR, I stand behind it. A portion of the gaming community is indeed horrendously toxic, entitled, immature, irrationally-angry, and prone to joining hate mobs over any inconsequential issue they can cook up.” – Glumberlands developer Ben Wasser talks about the anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist abuse the studio received over Ooblets’ Epic Game Store exclusivity.
QUOTE | “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this, and it has to begin immediately.” – President Donald Trump points a finger at the games industry after a pair of mass shootings in one weekend in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. (He also blamed games after the Parkland school shooting last year.)
QUOTE | “When someone feels like an ‘other’ at their workplace, they often feel vulnerable like their job is at risk with any misstep. These are prime targets for abusers to flex their power on. It’s why we see so much abuse in entertainment, because of the male/female ratio. There is a power than men in games have inherently over women. There are far less of us. We are paid less. We fight harder for promotions. We have to fight our way into leadership. We have to beg for conferences to amplify our voices about topics other than ‘diversity.'” – Zynga lead producer Tami Sigmund was among the developers responding to a flood of sexual assault and harassment horror stories from women throughout gaming.
QUOTE |”Gaming contributes to a global industry that generates billions in revenue. It is unacceptable that some companies with millions of users and children among them should be so ill-equipped to talk to us about the potential harm of their products.” – Damian Collins MP, chair of the U.K. Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, criticizes the game industry for being “willfully obtuse” in avoiding answering questions about player spending on loot boxes.
QUOTE | “I think you can put esports up there with the likes of Bitcoin, cannabis, and a couple other major hot topics within the world.” – Dignitas CEO Michael Prindiville puts esports in some esteemed company, saying the failure of a number of esports efforts is healthy and expected in any new market that experiences a surge of interest and growth.
QUOTE | “We thought the goose was our joke. It felt like an in-joke, then we very quickly realized how many people, particularly in the northern hemisphere, have strong feelings about geese.” – House House’s Jacob Strasser talks about how Untitled Goose Game went from inane Slack channel chatter to half-serious trailer to actual commercial product.
QUOTE | “The days of the sine curve waxing and waning in the interactive entertainment business around hardware cycles… those are long gone. The transition from last gen to current gen was not taxing for us, or for the industry. It’s really the first time the industry’s gone through one of these transitions without someone going bankrupt.” – Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick says next year’s transition to next-gen consoles won’t spike development costs.
OCTOBER (Blitzchung Edition)
QUOTE | “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” – Hearthstone pro player Chung ‘Blitzchung’ Ng Wai, showing support for protesters in Hong Kong during a post-match interview during the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters tournament. Blizzard responded by banning Blitzchung for a year and stripping him of his prize money.
QUOTE | “The specific views expressed by Blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.” – Blizzard president J. Allen Brack reduces Blitzchung’s ban for supporting Hong Kong protesters and says Blitzchung will receive his winnings after all. And if you believe Blizzard’s decision had nothing to do with China, I have a Bridge of Souls to sell you.
QUOTE | “As China amplifies its campaign of intimidation, you and your company must decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values—like freedom of speech and thought—or to give in to Beijing’s demands in order or preserve market access, We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung. You have the opportunity to reverse course. We urge you to take it.” – A group of five U.S. senators and representatives call on Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick to drop the punishment for Blitzchung. Even at the height of entrenched partisan hostilities in Washington, D.C., Republicans and Democrats were willing to set aside their differences and join together to drag Kotick.
QUOTE | “Epic supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights. We wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics.” – An Epic Games spokesperson pre-emptively addresses concerns that the company would follow Blizzard’s behavior. Chinese firm Tencent has a 4.9% stake in Activision Blizzard, but 40% in Epic Games. And sure, talk is cheap, but Epic’s talk is still more than pretty much any other publisher has done, so they deserve some credit there.
OCTOBER (Everything Else)
QUOTE | “When I was a kid, I learned a lot about stuff through things like Schoolhouse Rock, you know what I mean? I was singing songs and I was learning about real-world things, but in an entertaining fashion. And so I think that for people today, if we learn about some of these things, even while we’re engaged in an interactive experience, I think that it’s still valuable.” – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare narrative director Taylor Kurosaki likens the game’s depictions of the violent chaos of combat to a Saturday morning series of animated shorts that taught children civics lessons like how a bill becomes a law, or what verbs, nouns, and adverbs are and how they’re used.
QUOTE | “As a creator of entertainment culture, Capcom believes that games should be enjoyed for the entertainment value they provide with gameplay, not for thrills associated with winning a lottery.” – Capcom explains why it minimizes loot box elements in its mobile games and avoids them in its console titles.
QUOTE | “When we were designing those games back then, we weren’t thinking in terms of, ‘How do we get people to come back daily in order to increase our [day 2] or [day 7] return rate,’ which is sort of the metrics-driven way of thinking of things. We didn’t approach it that way. We were always thinking, ‘We need this person to come back next month.’ And that drives a different mindset. It puts you in the mindset that we’re building long-term relationships here.” – Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies designer Raph Koster says many games-as-a-service makers have taken the wrong lessons from early MMOs.
QUOTE | “A fully physics-simulated game is one of the Holy Grails of game creation since Trespasser was being imagined 20-something years ago, and now we finally have a platform where we’ll be able to deliver some of those experiences.” – In a possible case of poetic foreshadowing, Stadia Games & Entertainment head Jade Raymond invokes a technically ambitious yet notoriously disappointing product while promoting Google’s on-demand game streaming platform.
QUOTE | “Blizzard had the opportunity to bring the world together in a tough Hearthstone esports moment about a month ago, and we did not.” – Blizzard president J Allen Brack opens Blizzcon with the understatement of the year, the best euphemism of the year (any act of profoundly craven greed works as “a tough Hearthstone esports moment”), and the most insubstantial non-apology of the year.
QUOTE | “Whether you think these are drugs — and by the way, I’m not against drugs at all — but if we’re going to be drug dealers, let’s offer people psychedelics. Let’s offer people something that’s going to help them expand and grow. Let’s not offer them crack-cocaine. Let’s not offer them meth. Let’s not literally mine for addicts.” – Devolver Digital and Good Shepherd Entertainment co-founder Mike Wilson makes a plea for developers to “be intentional” about what they offer players and not let their work be used to addict and exploit vulnerable people.
QUOTE | “When people come up to me saying ‘I have a wife and kid, but I just quit my job at EA after seeing the movie and I’m working on my first indie game!’ I always feel like I need to scream, ‘No, stop!’ at them.” – Super Meat Boy and Binding of Isaac developer Edmund McMillen talks about the impact of Indie Game: The Movie in an interview for his new game The Legend of Bum-Bo.
QUOTE | “We’re not the operator of the world’s town halls. We’re the operator of the communities that allow you to have fun through the lens of a video game. My responsibility is to make sure that our communities feel safe, secure, comfortable and satisfied and entertained. That doesn’t convey to me the right to have a platform for a lot of political views, I don’t think.” – Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who built an empire off the back of a first-person shooter franchise that capitalizes on xenophobia and fetishizes military power in all its forms, explains why he thinks games are no place for politics.
QUOTE | “The political correctness growth that has occurred in the US for the last 20 years has NOT occurred in Japan.” – A character witness offering a defense for Ben Judd, a significant player in the Japanese indie scene who was ousted from a number of roles after allegations of inappropriate conduct from former business partners and developers. Judd provided GamesIndustry.biz with three such character witnesses. Two of them confirmed he showed his genitals in public and all three acknowledged he routinely made sexually inappropriate jokes at business and networking functions.
QUOTE | “The German player Özil posted an extreme statement about China on social media. The speech hurt the feelings of Chinese fans and violated the sports spirit of love and peace. We do not understand, accept or forgive this.” – NetEase explains why it removed Mesut Özil from eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 (which it publishes in China) after the player posted on Instagram about Chinese persecution of Uighur Muslims.
QUOTE | “This is not uniquely a GameStop issue. This is a console issue, and consoles are the trigger point for our industry.” – GameStop CEO George Sherman said the company’s woes have more to do with consumers waiting for a new generation of consoles than its position as a seller of physical media in an increasingly digital industry.
QUOTE | “This is common in a tech start-up.” – A Razer spokesperson, in response to a report that the company excessively crunches employees and has an abusive and egotistical CEO who yells and throws things when he’s not satisfied with someone’s work. Razer has been around since 1998.
Phew! Told you it was a lot. Here’s hoping you have a safe and happy end to 2019, and an encouraging start to 2020.