While there was no lack of great games to play in 2020, there were many things about the games industry that were lacking throughout the year. Obviously, some of the issues we’ll cover here were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – particularly the launches of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X – but there were some important issues that came to light this year too. There were also some epic fumbles, and one in particular isn’t likely to be forgotten anytime soon.
Good luck buying that exciting new hardware
After 2020, we now have an answer to the question "Is it a good idea to launch a new console in the middle of a global pandemic?" The answer, for those of you who have been living under a rock for the past two months, is perhaps the most assured "no" I have ever delivered in response to any question ever. The pandemic seemed to have a negative impact on pretty much everything about these console launches, from manufacturing and shipping to logistics and even buying one.
Obviously, we expect new consoles to experience stock issues in the weeks and months following release, especially when they launch during a holiday shopping season as so many seem to, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a lot of bored people who are stuck at home and looking to buy. While Sony and Microsoft haven’t really talked about whether or not production during the pandemic has been able to meet their expectations, it seems safe to assume that it probably hasn’t. When you combine bored consumers ready to spend with restricted production, that’s a recipe for consoles that are sold out constantly.
The same goes for the new PC gaming hardware released by NVIDIA and AMD this year, which is just as hard to come by as a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. Even the Switch experienced stock issues toward the beginning of the pandemic, as lockdowns shuttered production lines and Animal Crossing: New Horizons had people looking to purchase a console. In short: if you were trying to buy gaming hardware outside of the Nintendo Switch, you had to be supremely lucky to get your hands on it this year.
The next-gen price hike that’s mostly nonsense
With the new generation comes a price hike from some major publishers as well, including Sony, 2K, and Activision. Those publishers have revealed that at least some of their PS5 and Xbox Series X games will cost $70, and while some like Ubisoft haven’t quite made it official yet, it seems to be heading in that direction.
While it is true that the upfront cost of games hasn’t gone up in a number of years, these publishers are trying to excuse these price hikes as something that must happen because the cost of game development has gone up while prices have stayed static. That is nonsense, plain and simple, and these publishers are trying to pull a fast one on us while hoping that we don’t realize that they’re full of it.
Pick out any game published by 2K, Activision, or Ubisoft in the previous generation, and there’s a good chance that those games are also packed with microtransactions. 2K doesn’t even try to hide the fact that you’re essentially gambling your money when you purchase myTeam packs in NBA 2K, and modern-day Assassin’s Creed games have been turned into grindfests so Ubisoft can sell XP boosts in single-player titles. Activision even waits until a couple of months after release before adding microtransactions to its games so reviewers who are covering the game at launch can’t knock off points because of them and day-one buyers won’t be put off their purchase by them.
These companies are making money hand-over-fist using manipulative, free-to-play mobile game monetization tactics in their retail games, so the argument that games need to cost more because development costs have risen borders on deceptive. The only publisher that can really get away with making that claim is Sony, but only because it doesn’t pack games with microtransactions since it wants to make high-quality games to move consoles. Make no mistake, publishers don’t need that extra $10 upfront to make ends meet, but they’ll happily charge it if they think players will let them get away with it.
And the award for worst publisher goes to…
There were some things that were so bad about the year in gaming that you can’t help but cringe while reading about them. If there were some kind of Golden Raspberry award for misbehaving game publishers, both CD Projekt Red and Ubisoft deserve it for 2020.
Were it not for No Man’s Sky in 2016, it would be difficult to imagine the last time a game crashed and burned as hard as Cyberpunk 2077 did. Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let’s be real: there was no way Cyberpunk 2077 was going to live up to the hype. Gamers do this all the time – they see a game, they decide that they are a fan of that game well before release, and they convince themselves that said game is going to be the greatest thing ever when it eventually releases. Even if Cyberpunk 2077 had launched in a near-perfect or even perfect state, some amount of gamers would have been let down because reality rarely ever meets our expectations.
Cyberpunk 2077 did not launch in a near perfect state. In fact, if you aren’t playing on a beefy gaming PC or a next-gen console, chances are your experience with the game was full of performance issues, crashes, and other bugs. On base PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, the experience has been outright broken. Even those who didn’t run into any performance issues found that Cyberpunk 2077 wasn’t exactly the game they were expecting.
The performance issues were so bad that Sony wound up removing Cyberpunk 2077 from the PlayStation Store, an event that’s so rare I can’t tell you the last time it happened, if it ever did at all. Console players are able to get a refund for the game if they want it, and though CD Projekt Red has committed to fixing the issues on consoles, one has to wonder if the damage has already been done.
There’s no two ways about it: Cyberpunk 2077 should not have released on PS4 and Xbox One, but CD Projekt ignored that and launched it in an unplayable state anyway. Not only did it launch a game that any person can plainly see is broken, but it didn’t allow reviewers to see the console version until the final couple of days before release. Every pre-launch review was for the PC version, which wound up hiding the sorry state the console version was in.
If you’re playing on PS4 or Xbox One, it’s hard not to feel duped by CD Projekt, and there’s no excuse for both allowing the game to launch in such a state or for keeping its performance issues under wraps until the very last minute. Even if there’s a good game underneath all the issues – and there’s a lot to suggest there is – CD Projekt Red may have lost too much goodwill with a playerbase that revered the studio just a few short months ago.
Then we have Ubisoft, which earlier this year was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal that ran shockingly deep. Following a number of accusations regarding sexual misconduct and toxic behavior in June, a number of Ubisoft executives were either fired from or stepped down from their roles at the company.
Later on in the year, Ubisoft shared the results of an anonymous survey conducted with the company’s nearly 14,000 employees with The Verge, and as The Verge says in its write-up about that survey, the results were "eye-opening." Nearly 25% of employees who responded to that survey said that had either witnessed or experienced misconduct themselves, which is a truly staggering number of people.
Clearly Ubisoft has a lot of work to do if it wants to resolve these issues, but with new console and PC hardware launches putting a cap on 2020, I worry that that the the company’s scandal will be forgotten. For his part, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has made promises to fix these issues while at the same time bolstering diversity and ensuring that women make up a larger portion of the company’s workforce by 2023, but as they say, talk is cheap. Whether or not Ubisoft actually follows through with those promises is another thing entirely, but here’s hoping it does.
So, even though there were a bunch of good games that came out in 2020, there were still plenty of frustrations associated with the gaming industry. From Cyberpunk 2077 to consoles and graphics card being sold out constantly, gamers were let down quite a bit this year, but the good news is that all of those things should improve as we move through 2021. Did you have a gaming disappointment that isn’t listed here? Head down to the comment section and let us know what it is!