Between the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and a tense presidential election, 2020 brought a steady stream of great news. This was also true for the video game industry, which saw a huge increase in business as people started playing more during the blockade. That would have been enough to make 2020 a critical year for games, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to portraying the industry in 2020.
In a word, 2020 was explosive for video games. There were shocking acquisitions, fierce rivalries between companies, and a gaming controversy to end all gaming controversies. All of this came together to make 2020 a completely unpredictable year for gaming enthusiasts who placed themselves between exciting and worrying at every step. It’s hard to keep up with everything that happened in such a relentless and seemingly endless year, so here’s a recap of all the most significant game stories of the year.
COVID-19’s effect on the industry
This year was to be a celebration for video games, with the launch of two new consoles and tons of major software releases. Live events like E3 would usher in an exciting new generation, part of a yearlong revelation party for Sony and Microsoft. Of course, all of those plans were destroyed when the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
The whole industry turned upside down in March. E3 and the Game Developers Conference were canceled, throwing all companies’ plans out the window. Developers were forced to adapt to a work environment at home, which slowed the development of some of the most anticipated releases of the year. Huge titles like The Last of Us Part II were postponed for a few months in response. Halo Infinite was supposed to be the big launch title for the Xbox Series X before it was postponed indefinitely. CD Projekt Red has inadvertently become a meme for the number of times it pushed Cyberpunk 2077 with its dreaded yellow background ads.
Game delays and conference cancellations are small compared to the incalculable damage that COVID-19 has caused, and continues to do, to human life. Ultimately, the industry still found ways to prosper and recover, but we have yet to see the full impact. The games take many years to develop, which means that the titles that are currently in development will be the most affected. This may mean that in the coming years there will be few major launches. It’s a little bit mysterious going forward, but it looks like the effect of COVID-19 on games will be felt in the coming years.
Ubisoft’s misconduct reckoning
The conditions under which the games were played have undergone scrutiny this year. The biggest example of this came from Ubisoft, which was forced to consider its workplace culture toxic during the summer. Dark stories leaked out of the company, portraying it as a harmful environment full of harassment and misconduct at its highest levels. This caused some of the company’s top names to leave the company in some way, including Rayman creator Michel Ancel and former Assassin’s Creed Valhalla creative director Ashraf Ismail. The reports say that one in four Ubisoft employees has experienced inappropriate behavior in some way at the company.
The scandals only accumulated for Ubisoft throughout the year, when the company was criticized for using a Black Lives Matter symbol to represent a terrorist organization in one of its games. All the bad press eventually led CEO Yves Guillemot to formally apologize and commit to the changes. It is not yet known whether the studio will deliver on that promise, but the situation has highlighted the turbulence behind the scenes at one of the largest game studios in the world.
Apple vs. Epic Games
Fortnite may be a few years old at this point, but the battle royale game made its biggest headlines so far in 2020. Publisher Epic Games engaged in a fierce battle with Apple over the company’s practice of getting a 30% reduction in App Store developers . Epic tried to circumvent Apple’s rules by directing users to purchase V-bucks within the game, which prompted Apple to remove Fortnite entirely from the App Store. Google followed suit by removing the game on Android, but Epic directed its fury at Apple in the form of lawsuits and a satirical #FreeFortnite campaign.
Both companies were criticized for the complicated situation. Some complained about Apple for its steep 30% cut, while others criticized Epic for its attempts to turn children into weapons in a legal battle. Months later, not much has changed. Epic lost the legal case when a judge ruled that Apple did not need to bring Fortnite back to iOS, but Epic appears to be setting the stage for retaliation in 2021. The company just added the Spotify app to the Epic Games Store, the which may signal that Epic is trying to turn its Games Store into a competitor to the App Store. The battle may have been lost, but the war is just beginning.
Microsoft acquires Bethesda
There was not much that could leave people jaw-dropping in 2020, but Microsoft was a real stun. In September, the company announced that it intended to acquire ZeniMax Media and, by extension, Bethesda Softworks. The historic $ 7.5 billion deal is the largest in video game history and gives Microsoft access to beloved studios like id Software and Arkane Studios.
The deal will not be finalized until the beginning of next year, so we still need to see what the deal really means for the industry. The news quickly raised doubts about whether or not games published by Bethesda would be exclusive to Microsoft from now on. Microsoft said it would honor all current exclusivity deals, meaning games like Deathloop will still be released as an exclusive console on PS5, but it is unclear what the deal means for games like The Elder Scrolls VI. Whatever happens, the change is a legitimate game changer for the Xbox Game Pass, which will add Bethesda’s robust game library, further establishing it as the best gaming business.
Cyberpunk 2077’s rocky launch
As the old saying goes: Any press is a good press. Unfortunately, that was not true when it came to Cyberpunk 2077. This was supposed to be the ambitious year of the open world game – and in many ways it was … just not in the way CD Projekt Red expected. It all started with several delays as the game’s launch window continued to advance in 2020. Then developer CD Projekt Red reversed its promises about the crunch, reportedly implementing a mandatory six-day crunch for developers before the game’s release. A final last-second delay set off the alarm as fans began to wonder in what form the final game would be.
It turns out that the answer was much worse than anyone could have imagined. The game was released with significant bugs and graphics issues. These were especially prevalent in the latest generation versions of the game, which have serious performance problems. CD Projekt Red was accused of purposely hiding the state of the game from the press, players and investors in order to launch the game in time. After initially recovering the cost of the game with the orders, the company’s stock plummeted and its founders reportedly lost $ 1 billion in wealth overnight. In addition, Sony has completely withdrawn the game from the PlayStation and several retailers are offering full refunds for the game.
It is no exaggeration to call the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 the worst in video game history. The situation is apparently getting worse every day as more game-breaking bugs are discovered. The release leaves us wondering if the development of modern games is sustainable as developers try to create bigger and bigger games using problematic work practices. Like all the stories on this list, the situation is likely to bleed by 2021 as it continues to cause headaches for everyone involved. We can only hope that the disaster will serve as a cautionary tale for everyone else.