Naughty and Nice 2017 #1: Gaming News

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Damage Control properly opens this year’s Naughty and Nice feature with a look back at the year in gaming, as is custom. I rather enjoy opening things with a bang, and no other list we do has the contentious ups and downs that the world of gaming can deliver.

So read on with some usual suspects, some new contenders and an impassioned, last-minute plea from Capcom to improve their status this December.

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1. Everything EA

EA is the epitome of everything naughty in gaming for 2017. For brevity’s sake, I’ll keep this company’s major offenses limited. In October, EA decided to shut down Visceral Studios (best known for developing Dead Space) and partially scrapped a single-player Star Wars game. While EA insisted the quality of the game was to blame, some insisted that EA wanted to focus more on “games as a service.” It was revealed that the game had a troubled production, but the news stung for anyone looking forward to a single-player Star Wars game in a similar vein to Uncharted. If that wasn’t enough, in November EA faced multiple controversies with the microtransactions found in Star Wars Battlefront II. The publisher’s planned implementation of loot crates meant that the game would essentially be pay-to-win. The system was temporarily pulled, but will eventually return in some form. EA, I know you need to make money, but you’re doing it wrong.

2. Mass Effect Andromeda is Deadly

While we’re still on the EA train, we may as well keep going. Remember Mass Effect Andromeda and its March release? It promised a glorious return to the Mass Effect universe, but it was plagued by problems from day one. Some of the technical issues such as wonky facial and running animations provided amusement for days on social media, but they did the game no favors. Fans wondered how the original Mass Effect series developed 10 years earlier could have more technical polish. Meanwhile, the game languished thanks to poor reviews and poor sales. By May, the series had gone on hiatus and developer BioWare Montreal would be absorbed into EA’s Motive Studios.

3. Scalebound No more

Microsoft started 2017 off poorly in January by announcing the cancellation of Scalebound. The game was supposed to be an Xbox One and PC exclusive action-RPG developed by Platinum Games. The appeal of the game came from it being directed by Hideki Kamiya of Bayonetta fame. Scalebound also promised to have online co-op which would have been interesting. Given the lack of Xbox One exclusives, the cancellation was not only a blow to Platinum Games, but to Microsoft’s console in general.

4. SNES Classic

Nintendo is a company capable of simultaneously doing so many things right and wrong. First, the NES Classic Edition was discontinued in April which angered many gamers because the little retro console was impossible to find. Then people found some solace in the announcement of the SNES Classic. However, when pre-orders went live in July, they sold out quickly (within a minute at some retailers). More people were able to obtain an SNES Classic, but the fact that one can’t be easily purchased is telling of how Nintendo hasn’t manufactured nearly enough units to meet demand. Consider it a (Christmas in July) miracle if you managed to preorder a console or bought one at launch.

5. Atlus Garners Ill Will

Persona 5 is a fantastic game. Atlus’ policies regarding the game? Not so much. When Persona 5 originally released in April Atlus issued a warning not to stream past the in-game date of July 7, which was later changed to November 19. The punishment for doing so was a content ID claim and/or a channel strike which could lead to an account suspension. Additionally, the PS4 share functions were disabled. Atlus said it intended the statement to be a measure against spoilers for the game, but many took it as a threat and made sure to send the publisher a wave of negative feedback. In response, the company revised the guidelines to make them less threatening, but left the PS4 share functions disabled. If that wasn’t enough, later in the year Atlus issued a DMCA takedown notice for RPCS3 (a PS3 emulator) on its Patreon page. While the emulator was generally designed to let PS3 games run on PC, it used Persona 5, the last big PS3 game to release, as promotional material, which drew Atlus’ ire. Patreon refused to take down the content, but Nekotekina, the RPCS3 creators, did take down all references to Persona 5. Fortunately, the emulator is still available.

1. E3 Goes Public

For all of its history, E3 has been closed to the general public. In February ESA (the Entertainment Software Association) announced that E3 would finally be open to the public and during that month 15,000 tickets were sold. Those able to get tickets in February only paid $150 (while they cost $250 for latecomers). The tickets provided access to various events (the show floor, panel discussions, etc) from Tuesday through Thursday. While the move may seem like a ploy to remain relevant as publishers pull out from the annual event, E3 would finally be on par with other conventions such as GamesCon and Tokyo Game Show by allowing public access.

2. Applause for Sonic Mania

It has been far too long since a Sonic game has received critical acclaim and a generally positive reception. Fortunately, Sonic Mania came along and showed the world that Sega could still make a fun Sonic game (actually, developers Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, and PagodaWest in collaboration with Sonic Team). Released in August, this game looks and feels like a Genesis game. If it weren’t for the new stages, new enemies, new music, and the game clearly being in HD, it’d be hard not to mistake it for one of the 2D originals. Perhaps Sega should do more 2D collaborations with other studios.

3. Xbox One X is Selling

At E3, Project Scorpio was revealed as the Xbox One X. Fans balked at the unoriginal name and more importantly, the high price point of $500. Sure the console is the most powerful ever made as of yet, and Microsoft carefully pushed it as a premium product, but the console still wasn’t as powerful as the most powerful gaming PC rigs and more importantly it had very few exclusives compared to the PS4. Who could possibly want one? Surprisingly, a lot of people. The Xbox One X is selling well, especially in the UK. In the first week alone, the system sold 80,000 units, a number it took the PS4 Pro four weeks to reach. Despite a dearth of exclusives, people like the idea of pairing the console with a 4K HDR TV and having some of the best graphics on a system outside of an expensive gaming PC.

4. Nintendo Switches Up Gaming

When the Nintendo Switch was unveiled in January, the reaction to it was mixed. Some people felt it would be a Wii U situation all over again, others felt it was too expensive at $300, some scoffed at the portable nature, and others were disappointed by the lack of games at launch. Ultimately, the idea of having a console that’s perfectly portable coupled with a strong games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at launch helped the system sell well. At times there were shortages, but Nintendo did ramp up production on the Switch as promised. As of this writing, the software situation has drastically changed with lots of games to choose from including Mario Odyssey, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Doom, Skyrim, and many more. As a testament to how popular the Switch is, it sold well during the Thanksgiving weekend online without any price cuts or discounts. The Switch has also blown past the number of Wii U units sold for the lifetime of that console.

5. We’re All Phantom Thieves Now

Given the years of delays and also being developed for the PS4, it felt like Persona 5 would never release. Seriously, the time between Persona 4 and 5 was NINE years. Sure, we had numerous spin-offs, but the mainline entry had to be good in order to make up for a near decade long delay. Fortunately, Persona 5 is an excellent game. No doubt that a release on both the PS3 and PS4 helped sales and popularity. (Allowing Atlus to avoid having it release on a dying system like it did with P4 on the PS2.) As of this writing, Persona 5 has reached over two million in sales worldwide and has been nominated for Game of the Year, Best Art Direction, Best Music, and Best RPG. The game has some very stiff competition as 2017 was a great year for gaming, but to see a Persona title nominated for the first time is a feat in and of itself.

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1. Everything EA

I could have filled up this whole “Naughty” list with actions EA took this year, but I confined it to one category so as not to give them the satisfaction. From the handling of Mass Effect: Andromeda, to the cancellation of the single-player Ragtag Star Wars game and closure of developer Visceral Games, to being too overbearing with microtransactions and loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront II and Need for Speed: Payback, EA didn’t put their best foot forward this year. The company has crippling management issues, and cares too much about money they can make from their products, and it’s hamstrung their developers. Sadly, there aren’t any signs of this improving soon.

2. Loot boxes and microtransactions in games

In fact, plenty of other companies fell in love with loot boxes this year, and microtransactions have remained options in several games that already require a $60 investment. Ubisoft reported that microtransactions have done incredibly well for them, and Take Two admitted that all their games going forward will have them. Expect them to stay around, and don’t be surprised if loot boxes do the same, unless people stop spending money on them.

3. Capcom blew it with Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite

The newest Marvel vs. Capcom game could have been the glorious return to glory longtime fighting game fans wanted, regardless of the switch to 2-on-2 action and (re)addition of the Infinity Gems Stones. But the game featured heavy asset reuse from the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 titles, and launched with fewer characters than the original MvC3 despite that. Worse, only six characters received new 3D models among the starting cast, while other faces new to the MvC world were left as downloadable content. Plenty saw right through the scheme, as the game is struggling sales-wise, but this could and should have been a much better effort.

4. The cancellation of Scalebound

It’s also great that NieR: Automata sold well because PlatinumGames was reeling from the cancellation of Scalebound, a title planned to be published by Microsoft that would have been the biggest game in their history. There were indications of development troubles and communication issues between Microsoft and director Hideki Kamiya’s team at PlatinumGames, but it’s a shame they couldn’t settle their differences. Cancelling the game left the latter company in a precarious position, but they could be getting themselves back together after being hired for new projects.

5. Attempts to phase out single-player games

With current AAA market trends, it’s clear some publishers want to phase out single-player games in favor of more co-op and multiplayer games. See what EA did with Visceral’s Star Wars game and the company behind it, and several of Ubisoft’s recent and upcoming games are persistently online titles like For Honor, Skull and Bones, and even Beyond Good & Evil 2. Several execs have also discussed the need for more online games, thanks to the monetization possibilities with microtransactions and loot boxes. Single-player games will still remain, but there may be a fight to keep them alive as they are.

1. The Amount of Good Games

In a year where nearly everything else was absolutely terrible, 2017 will go down as one of the best years for video games. Critically-acclaimed titles of various budgets released throughout the year, including titles like Horizon Zero Dawn, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Cuphead, Wolfenstein II: The New Order, Resident Evil 7, Yakuza 0, and so many more that this description would go on far too long. They worked as an escape from the perpetually depressing current events. While this is stretching the definition of “Gaming News,” there was news about them before they released, so it counts.

2. Nintendo Switch Launched and Sold Well

Plenty of gaming types doubted whether the Switch would be a success after the January presentation. While many of them praised the idea, they figured the starting lineup and price would doom it out of the gate, and it would be only slightly more successful than Wii U. Now, not only is it already outdoing Nintendo’s previous console on a worldwide scale, there’s talk about whether its popularity could approach Wii’s. And its sales would be even higher if Nintendo could keep them on shelves. It’s always good when a core gaming system sells, and if these sales are maintained, it will mean Nintendo’s decision to go with a hybrid was the best one.

3. Ubisoft staved off Vivendi

Ubisoft’s demise seemed imminent during the period where Vivendi was acquiring more and more of the company in a hostile takeover. Several high-level staffers stood in solidarity at E3 2016 with a message that said Ubisoft should be left to themselves, but it appeared to fall on deaf ears as Vivendi continued their takeover. Now, they’ve successfully fended them off by purchasing their own stock, so the company will remain as it is… for now. They could always return.

4. NieR: Automata did well? What!?

It was tough to believe that NieR: Automata would sell that much better than the original before its release, in fairness to anyone skeptical of its success. The original wasn’t a high seller even after word-of-mouth spread, and developer PlatinumGames has a history of making unappreciated games. But against all odds, it made it to sales charts in not only Japan, but America, indicating how it was a good mid-tier success. Even director Yoko Taro was surprised at how well it sold, given his history of making comparatively abstract games. PlatinumGames’ Hideki Kamiya also claimed this game saved them after another big project was cancelled, though Taro thinks he was joking. Still, it’s great to see that this was a success, and how it could be a big franchise for Square Enix going forward.

5. Metroid and Mega Man aren’t dead after all

Miracles do happen, at least in the video game world. Nintendo confirmed that Metroid still had life in it with Metroid: Samus Returns, a MercurySteam-developed reimagining of Metroid II that released for 3DS three months after its announcement in September. They also announced Metroid Prime 4, though no details have been provided about it yet. Just yesterday, Capcom confirmed that Mega Man isn’t dead after all with the announcement of Mega Man 11, a platformer using 3D cel-shaded polygons for all consoles and PC. Apparently, there have been enough inspirations over the years that both companies felt it was time to bring them back.

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1. Star Wars Battlefront 2

Where can I even begin to describe this one? It’s so massive that I almost wrote an article-length essay on this entry alone. Basically, EA got greedy and made their loot boxes pay-to-win (including items that will increase a character’s power and thus anyone who purchases these loot boxes can gain a real advantage over other players) while at the same time making it hard to unlock characters through normal gameplay (40 hours for Darth Vader, but a lot faster if you spend money). Players were incredibly angry at EA, but why get mad when you can get even? The outcry was so strong that governments started to get themselves involved, investigating whether the loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront 2 count as gambling.

This is seriously the Cliff’s Notes version after Reader’s Digest condensed it. There’s a lot more to it than that but the full story would break Drew’s Naughty/Nice grid.

2. Final Fantasy XIV

Players of Square-Enix’s MMO Final Fantasy XIV found themselves constantly frustrated by relentless and seemingly unmotivated DDoS attacks this year. Since no one ever came forward to claim responsibility and because it’s nearly impossible to fight a DDoS, players had no recourse other than to grit their teeth and bear it.

The first attack came shortly after the Stormblood expansion’s Early Access period began, with a DDoS specifically targeting the instance server, therefore denying players the opportunity to get past the quest “Best Served with Cold Steel” until Early Access was almost over. Before it was known that a DDoS attack was responsible, players blamed Square-Enix and their reputation took a hit.

Players were frustrated again when another DDoS attack made playing the game incredibly difficult for players during a period that stretched from late October to the middle of November, causing entire servers to occasionally kick everyone off.

Ironically, the players themselves were the cause of a DDoS when everyone logged in at once on October 10 to try to get a house in the new district of Shirogane. There were so many players trying to log in for the limited amount of houses available that the servers couldn’t keep up and even those who made it through the login errors were receiving errors when they tried to buy a house. For some players, things became very frustrating and anger-inducing when the house that the game was not letting them purchase was suddenly bought by someone else running up and basically stealing it out from under them.

In all, 2017 was, at times, a frustrating year for Final Fantasy XIV’s players.

3. Brash Games

Wow, does that website’s name tell the truth or what? Paul Ryan made the news this year. Not the politician, though. It turns out there’s a Paul Ryan who ran a gaming review website known as Brash Games, a site that got in trouble this year for various instances of unprofessional behaviour. Offences include:

  • Hiring reviewers and then not paying them (paying by “exposure”)
  • Removing his reviewers’ names from everything they’ve written if they ever leave the site
  • Changing review scores if they’re “too low”
  • Trying to sneak poorly disguised ads for gambling sites into editorials (for example, did you know that video slots are fun? Click here, with the word “here” typically pointing to a gambling site)
  • Shifting the blame when he was found out
  • Using the undisclosed disabilities of two of his former writers to publicly shame them

The backlash was so severe that he tried to rebrand his website as “Bonus Stage” so that no one would associate it with Brash Games. Nice try.

4. YouTube

YouTube is broken, news at 11. Yeah, that’s probably all I need to say. YouTube has been broken for years. This year, though, they seemed to go out of their way to make things harder for anyone who wanted to make a living on their site. This pertains to everyone, of course, but it should be noted that a lot of those who were affected this year ran gaming channels.

The “adpocalypse” brought about sweeping change to the website, change the likes of which last year’s WTFU movement could only dream of. It turns out that if the website’s users try to get YouTube to listen, the site turns a deaf ear to them, but if advertisers threaten to take all the money away, YouTube’s down on their knees asking “What is your bidding, my master?” Changes that users would like YouTube to implement have gone unacknowledged for years, but suddenly the website is demonetizing videos deemed “advertiser unfriendly” without notice from the uploader. Often times it’s unjustified, too, since a manual review of the content finds that it shouldn’t have been demonetized in the first place.

Furthermore, since flagging videos for copyright infringement is no longer working to stifle speech that certain game developers might not want to be publicly available, shady developers have been abusing other means of removing videos, such as complaining that the videos violate their own personal privacy. This tactic is still being tested out and hopefully it fails as hard as DMCA abuse has.

The worst of it is, YouTube knows that no one’s going to jump ship because they’re pretty much the only game in town. Yes, there are competing websites, but none of them have anywhere near the ubiquity that YouTube does…

5. Life of Black Tiger

Just look at it. This crap is available on the PS4!

1. Independent games journalism

This year more than ever, independent games journalists like Jim Sterling and SidAlpha reported on (and sometimes broke) stories that were of significant importance to gamers. A lot of the contents of my Naughty list this year came from stories that, if The Jimquisition wasn’t the origin, it was certainly the most significant signal boost. For example, Jim Sterling hired one of Brash Games’ former writers to write a piece on the website, paying him a fair wage in the process. SidAlpha began a series of editorial videos called Dirty Devs on his YouTube channel, largely putting voice to the findings of himself and others searching Steam specifically for developers trying to use Steam to scam gamers.

Needless to say, they made several enemies among the scammers and while there are people currently trying their best to shut SidAlpha down, Jim Sterling finally crawled out from under his lawsuit from Digital Homicide, the developer of 2014’s worst game, The Slaughtering Grounds. While the future of YouTube as a place to earn a living is very much uncertain, 2017 shall be remembered by me as a year that was filled with a higher calibre of independently produced games journalism.

2. Yogscast’s Jingle Jam

This year’s charity of note has raised over three million dollars for charity as of this writing. The Jingle Jam consists of a 31 day Humble Bundle full of games, with more being revealed daily until December 25th. Customers can pay however much they want and some have given thousands of dollars to the charity of their choice. Several charities are represented, including Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the Mental Health Foundation and Cancer Research UK. To quote the website,

“When you buy a $35 bundle, we’ll give ALL of the money to charity, and you’ll get new games unlocked through December 25th!”

Three million dollars in five days is fantastic and they’ve only just begun. Over 85,000 bundles have been sold so far, and that number is only expected to rise.

[Number removed]. …?

It’s tough to write the Nice column every year when it comes to gaming news and this year more than most, I feel like I can’t match the number of naughty items that I could come up with off the top of my head. I’ve left a lot of Naughty on the cutting room floor this year including some rather big news that I would’ve liked to have mentioned. However, there’s something that I’d like to say about some of my past years’ Nice items.

In the past, I’ve lauded developers for making announcements. That’s it, that’s all that they did to get in the Nice list, make announcements. For example, in 2015 I mentioned the announcement and funding of Shenmue III as well as the announcement of the Final Fantasy VII remake. Shenmue III is still not out, and it was announced this year that its release of December 2017 was delayed to sometime during the second half of 2018. Final Fantasy VII’s remake is nowhere close to being as ready as I’d initially assumed, with no release date in sight although Square-Enix being Square-Enix, they announced that there would be announcements “soon”.

In the past, I’ve lauded the successful Kickstarting of projects that weren’t even out at the time, so their quality was only assumed. In 2013, I gave props to the successful Kickstarting of Mighty No. 9, a game that was not received as well as its Kickstarter campaign was.

So I resolved this year to avoid announcements and avoid games that were still in development… and I’m sorry, but I’ve got nothing. These lists are supposed to be a condemnation of naughty tempered with an equal amount of celebration of the nice, but the nice of past years has sometimes turned into the naughty of later years. I lauded Valve for trying to stem the tide of crap on Steam in 2014 and look at the state it’s in now. It’s like they don’t know how to fix their own platform!

So I’m sorry, I have nothing else. The best I can come up with is…

3. My personal game of the year

The Tenth Line. I didn’t play any of the big name games this year other than more Final Fantasy XIV, but I got a lot of enjoyment out of more niche titles like Antiquia Lost, a PS4 port of a mobile RPG that looks like an RPG Maker game but plays so much better than one, as well as The Tenth Line, an RPG with a pretty unique battle system. Between the two of them, The Tenth Line is just that little bit better and in my own personal opinion, it’s my favourite game of 2017.

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