2014 Sucked For Video Games

If most of the decade was relatively positive for video games, 2014 was the brown note. It was the year Irrational Games, the makers of BioShock, closed down. EA shut down servers for more than 50 games. A ton of long awaited games launched in incredibly buggy, sometimes outright broken states. Hell, Halo: Master Chief Collection is still ironing out the bugs. And then there was that disaster.

Bugs, bugs everywhere

Remember when people were excited for Driveclub, the racing game that was meant to launch with the PS4? That eventually got postponed by a whole year? The game that was so bugged that Sony promised to release a free version through PlayStation Plus, only for that to get delayed so much that it was "postponed until further notice", because Sony wasn't sure the game's servers could handle more people jumping on.

Things, as it turned out, were so bad that the server code and architecture had to be completely rewritten. "The stress-testing was not designed correctly," Shuhei Yoshida, the then president of Sony Worldwide Studios, told Kotaku at the time.

And that's only the start of a shockingly bad year. Assassin's Creed: Unity also showed players that publishers were happy to let them spend an extra $US100 on microtransactions after paying full price for the game in the first place. If that wasn't annoying enough, remember the part where only certain chests could be unlocked by connecting to an app on your phone? Or those Five Nights At Freddy's style texture glitches?

And even when Ubisoft tried to fix it, things didn't go according to plan. A ~7GB patch designed to correct frame rate and other stability issues, for some magical reason, was 40GB for Xbox One users. Ubisoft Montreal head Yannis Mallat ended up apologising and offering up free DLC, along with a free copy Far Cry 4, The Crew, Watch Dogs, Assassin's Creed Black Flag, Rayman Legends or Just Dance 2015 for free if they still shelled out for the season pass.

Unity wasn't alone either. Most publishers would have given up on Halo: Master Chief Collection was barely functional at launch, with players presented with half hour queue times for matchmaking. Even when 343 Industries promised to make it better, players were still getting crashes and never-ending matchmaking queues, so 343 Industries apologised a second time. It wasn't completely rectified after a month, so the studio started beta testing their patches just to make sure.

It'd gotten so bad, that 343 addressed the issue directly in their FAQs:

Q: Why are you testing the content update in the Xbox One Preview program? Don't you have internal playtesting for the very same purpose?

A: In recent weeks, 343 Industries has been conducting extensive internal testing of the upcoming content update. However, given the scale of the update, which includes changes to the Halo: The Master Chief Collection matchmaking experience and party system, we are opening it up to members of the Xbox One Preview program to provide additional testing in an "at home" environment to ensure the official release is the best possible experience for players.

The brand damage was incalculable, and Halo 5 was just around the corner. The multiplayer woes did improve by then, but Halo: MCC still needed fixing. And for years, it remained totally broken. "We ended up in a precarious situation where there was no way to make more fixes without potentially breaking something else or making things worse," Halo series director Frank O’Connor wrote in 2017.

"I should be clear here, that in terms of chicken/egg scenarios, fixing the existing “vanilla” Xbox One MCC was the Chicken that laid the Xbox One X enhanced version egg. Without the ability and opportunity to reconfigure and fix this thing, we wouldn’t touch an Xbox One update," he explained.

Imagine being a fan who bought Halo: MCC in 2014, only to read that three years later.

And the list went on. Watch Dogs, after plenty of its own delays and some over-the-top hype - including a promo package that saw the Sydney Ninemsn newsroom being evacuated because they thought it was a bomb threat. Advanced Warfare, the Call of Duty game hyped to the hills because of Kevin Spacey's appearance, was buggered on PC. (And, as it turns out, one of the more hated COD games in a while.)

Then you've got the platforms themselves. PS4 users had their consoles hard-locked after the 2.00 software update. Even then, there was the bigger problem that Sony advertised the PS4 as having a suspend/resume functionality. In February 2013. A feature that wasn't introduced until March 2015. The PlayStation network completely crapped out over Christmas that year. Xbox Live went down too, thanks to the Lizard Squad hacker group, with one of the members eventually being charged with more than 50,700 cases of "computer crimes" in 2015.

Old franchises dying the most miserable of deaths

Remember when the idea of Dungeon Keeper coming back was exciting? And then people discovered it'd been completely butchered by the most aggressive microtransaction model imaginable, a product so bad that EA would eventually close the studio responsible that same year.

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After spending the better part of two years covering the mobile gaming beat for Kotaku, I found myself puzzled over the anger surrounding the free-to-play features and rating policies of EA Mobile's new Dungeon Keeper game. Then it hit me — you guys must be new.

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Dungeon Keeper has only returned through spiritual indie successors, although EA did briefly make the game free for all through Origin years later. Mythic had already shut down Warhammer Online a year before, a crying shame in its own right. (If you want to know more about how that collapsed, PC Gamer's Jody Macgregor has a great yarn.) And remember the Thief reboot? Alternatively, it's probably better if you don't.

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A city full of closed doors and dead ends, boxed in and lined with nothing but rough edges: That's Thief. It's hard to know quite where to begin with a shambling mediocrity such as this.

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Finding new ways to be disappointed

Remember the launch of Destiny, playing the biggest of AAA shooters only to discover all the game's lore through a mobile app? Or one of the most shockingly phoned in voice over performances? Or realising that major games like Rise of the Tomb Raider would be an Xbox exclusive for a year, which Microsoft wasn't entirely clear about from the off, so people thought it was an Xbox exclusive permanently for a while.

And Sony started spending big - not on exclusives, just exclusive content. Certain Destiny strikes, ships and weapons were locked off for a full year, a strategy Sony deployed in later years with Call of Duty to everyone's annoyance.

It was a time when the dollar was still relatively good for Australians, so buying games digitally was real easy to do. Until publishers got upset they weren't making as much money as before, so they just gouged the living shit out of Australians. Civilization: Beyond Earth, a game that would have disappointed without the shadow of Alpha Centauri, went from $US49.95 one day to $US89.95 the next. Watch Dogs went from $US59.95 to $US74.95, a change Ubisoft chalked up to a "pricing error".

A pricing error that was rectified one week before launch.

The Australia Tax still lives on, and even when marketplaces started supporting the Australian dollar the old-world pricing approach didn't really die out. And that fabled R18+ rating for games? Well, that didn't work out quite the way everyone hoped.

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Federal funding for Aussie video games died

The industry is still fighting to have the Australian Interactive Games Fund reinstated. The fund supported 36 separate games and 10 studios in Australia with only half of its $20 million budget (since the Liberals cut the remainder of its funding in 2014). And yet, despite that relative pittance compared to the sums thrown around by government, the fund was a bonafide success.

Screen Australia's chief operating officer told a parliamentary committee that the $3.7 million from the AIGF "provided generated total production budgets of $14 million". Morgan Jaffit, founder of the former Defiant Development, said the studio received $650,000 in funds over three years, an amount which the studio was "roughly equivalent to the tax" they were due to pay in 2016.

To put that in context, PayPal's local arm paid $36,809 in tax this year, while Atlassian and Afterpay paid a combined $0 despite having taxable incomes of more than $150 million.

Games like Shooty Skies, Hand of Fate, Armello and Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock were all created with contributions from the fund. It was one of the Armello developers, League of Geeks co-founder Trent Kusters, who said it best:

But I guess when you’re dedicated to fucking the elderly, the disabled, students, the unemployed, education, families and Australia’s youth, destroying a $10m games fund is all just in a day’s work. Hey! New jets though!

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Some good games appeared, though

Image: Supplied

There were some bright spots in the rough, of course. Counter-Strike bounced back in a big way, with Valve having fully recovered from CS:GO's shaky launch by adding new maps, a better matchmaking system and the game-changing CZ75-Auto pistol, as well as the excellent Operation Phoenix.

Indies had a good year where the AAA titles failed. Endless Legend is still one of the best takes on the 4X genre, and Divinity: Original Sin would lay the groundwork for Larian to double down on Divinity: Original Sin 2. GTA 5's first person mode absolutely transformed the experience, giving the game a whole new identity that's still being explored today.

Blizzard had a stellar year: the failed Project Titan was replaced with Overwatch and one of the best introduction cinematics of the decade. Hearthstone was an instant hit, fully launching in 2014 with an iOS and Android ports shortly after. But the real star ended up being the return of Diablo 3 with a console re-release that completely transformed the experience. It couldn't wipe out the memories of how bad Diablo 3's launch was, but it was a step on the road to redemption.

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Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis system still hasn't been reverse-engineered by other devs with any success. Final Fantasy 15 actually appeared, giving everyone closure from the whole Final Fantasy Versus XIII saga. Xbox started to get its shit together, with Phil Spencer taking over as head of the division in 2014.

All in all, coupled with the never ending fracturing of the gaming world that continues to reverberate today, 2014 was a stinker of a year. It was a year where the new consoles were still searching for solid ground, one where publishers were pushing the uncomfortable boundaries of what fans would accept, and one where trust quickly found itself in short supply. The good news is that things eventually got a little better: The Witcher 3 and Bloodborne were just around the corner.

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Comments

    It says something that the best gaming news of 2014 boils down to that the Witcher 3 would be out the following year.

    "It couldn't wipe out the memories of how bad Diablo 3's launch was"

    It was? I played it twice through in the month following launch and had a great time, all I remember is not being able to connect to the servers a couple of times.

    How could you not mention Dragon Age: Inquisition, Wolfenstein The New Order, Alien: Isolation, South Park Stick of Truth, Borderlands Pre-Sequel, Child of Light, or Valiant Hearts The Great War? All great games.

      "It couldn't wipe out the memories of how bad Diablo 3's launch was"

      "It was?"

      Now bear with me here. Did you know that there are actually billions of people on planet earth? And not just you?

      The launch disaster that was diablo 3 was widely reported and documented. Blizzard themselves even apologized for it. Your anecdotal evidence does not cancel out what actually happened.

    The best thing about 2014 was Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2. Those two games were absolutely excellent exclusives for Microsoft but too many people were still on the Xbox hate train.

    I must have been living under a rock. Had no idea about gamergate (from the Deadspin article). What an incel-fed nightmare

    2014 gave us a GREAT set of additions to history's gaming library!
    Some of my favourites from 2014:

    AC: Rogue - Better than Unity, worse than Black Flag, still pretty good! Didn't end up playing it until the recent remaster, but it's a 2014 game that turned out to be pretty damn good!
    AC: Unity - At the time of launch, I was bitterly disappointed. Mostly by the fact that it wasn't Black Flag 2, what with Black Flag remaining the greatest AC game and possibly the greatest GAME ever, full stop. But there were some neat innovations, and after patching, it proved to be... pretty good.
    Age of Wonders 3 - The best HOMM-like that no-one knows exists, let alone plays. I know it gets compared to Civ a lot, but it's definitely more like HOMM. Why aren't there more HOMM-clones? Hm. Maybe it's because even HOMM itself is dead.
    Akiba's Trip - I AM NOT ASHAMED. It's good, dammit. Just… ignore the stripping bit. It's just a combat mechanic. Nothing suss.
    Alien: Isolation - The IDEA of this was better than the experience, on account of how the alien was sometimes artificially bullshit… but still, it was effective. If I ever find myself backed up and in desperate medical need to shit myself, I'll be sure to load this up again.
    Banished - Hard-as-nails but gorgeous and rewarding city-builder that was almost entirely made by one guy.
    Banner Saga - A heart-wrenching exercise in trying and failing to fight despair in a world currently undergoing a reasonably slow ancient viking apocalypse, reinforced by its punishing strategy mechanics.
    Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel - Back when, "It's more Borderlands!" was a cause for joy, rather than a cause for shrugging and pushing away from the table a little earlier than everyone involved expected. Hell, even then it was still just… pretty good. But I'm still glad we got it.
    Bound by Flame - Wasn't horrible! I will always, always give the shout-outs to the AAs who try something different, work hard, aim high, and fall short in ways that don't straight-up ruin the game. It is clearly the distorted, fuzzy shadow of the much better game the devs envisioned and might've been able to pull off if they weren't a AA studio, but it was still... OK! Some novel ideas in there.
    Broken Age Part 1 - Yeah, it was over in five minutes flat, but it was cute and fun and we only had to wait a year for the second part! Unlike SOME episodic bullshit… Seriously though, fuck episodic releases. They're awful. They should die.
    Child of Light - Ubisoft proving that it can make indie-likes and not just soulless iterations of the Open World UbiGame™. Surprisingly good with a non-game-playing second player. I want more like that, really.
    Civ 5 / Beyond Earth - The entry we had to get in order to get to Civ 6! Oh yeah. I went there. Fite me. Also, Beyond Earth was fun. Weird… confusing, but fun.
    Consortium - Incredibly underrated indie exercise in branching-plot murder mystery that plays with freedom of choice to the extreme in a real-time living world that moves on with or without you.
    Costume Quest 2 - I was worried that the cutesy imagination schtik would wear thin, but it did not! STILL GOOD. And added features etc just made it better. Doesn't out-stay its welcome either, which was a bloody relief.
    Dark Souls 2 - The second-best entry in the franchise and all extended/related properties, including Bloodborne, FITE ME. You dance/rolling punks will never get past my poise and shield so long as I stay in DS1 or DS2. Yeah, it had some flaws, but neither DS1 or DS2 have been bested by any FROM title since.
    Defense Grid 2 - GREAT TD! Classic TD. There's no need to go all creative and weird and try Anomaly style reverse TD or FPS-focused TD-lite… just some really solid, well-done TD. Grats, DG2! You did it! *heart emoji*
    Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls - The expansion that redeemed the entire game it was expanding. D3 was bullshit until this. This is what the game needed to be the best Diablo yet. I'm not convinced they're going to do very well with D4, given that they apparently feel like they made mistakes with the best thing they've ever done, and their desire to go back to the second-best thing.
    Divinity: Original Sin - So complex! So novel! So humorous! I still haven't finished it. But I love the RPG for being as complex as it is, and allowing all its systems to interact the way they do. It's rare that you're allowed such choice or creativity in a game.
    Dragon Age Inquisition - Too late for everyone's GOTY lists! Such a shame. Eclipsed later by Witcher 3. Such a shame. One of my favourite fantasy franchises, though, and easily the 2nd-best game in the series. (Best being DA2. YEAH YOU HEARD. FIGHT ME.) Soundtrack still gives me chills.
    Drakengard 3 - Scatches a really similar itch to the original Nier. This shit is fucked up, yo. Pretty great 'last hurrah' for the PS3.
    Dreamfall Chapters - OK, so it's good, but this is another argument against multi-year episodic games. Fucking quit it. Just make it and release it when it's done, or just don't make it. I don't need the heartache of thinking the final chapters might never get made. (Thanks, Winter Voices 2, Insecticide, HL2 Episodes, SiN episodes, etc.)
    Dynasty Warriors 8: Extreme Legends - Best entry in the franchise yet. Let's pretend 9 never happened and just… wait for them to get good again. 10/X has gotta be something special, right?
    Elite: Dangerous - Oh god, so good. So very good. Who can believe it, 2014? That game that captured my school holidays in the 90s, threatening to consume my life again in my 30s… I didn't let it, but it's always there. Waiting. Hungry.
    Endless Legend - Fantasy Civ with weird and novel mechanics and ways of doing things! God, the Endless series has the best art. They nailed the 4X space game, and they nailed the 4X Civ game. So good. So underrated.
    Evil Within - I really enjoyed watching this one! Not playing it! Nope! I own it… but I ended up just watching it. I'm still probably not gonna play it. Maybe the sequel, though, I hear that's better.
    Far Cry 4 - The second-best Far Cry so far. (Best being FC2. YEAH YOU HEARD. FIGHT ME.) Just really solid. Really enjoyed that one.
    FFXIV hit the PS4! - And even though it still has a separate box price on the absurd account store, it's otherwise seamless cross-save with the PC! A triumph!
    Firefall - RIP. So much potential… all gone. One of my top gaming moments of all time was planting feet at a nearby thumper as the Dreadnaught, spinning up the chaingun as a horde of bugs approached, and unleashing hell so that bug bits and shell casings were flying everywhere and victory was secured. Still haven't replicated that experience, sadly. Was hoping for it from Anthem which has stolen so much from Firefall... but not that. Shame.
    Hyrule Warriors - It's Dynasty Warriors (which I love) in Zelda worlds (which I love). What's not to love? Fuckyeah! I mean, it wasn't really at its best til it hit the switch, but whatever. STILL GREAT!
    Infamous Second Son - Not as good as Infamous 1 or 2, not as big, not as good a protagonist, but STILL… wheee, powers! It was good to revisit that world, even if they did ignore everything Cole achieved.
    Legend of Grimrock 2 - BRING ME THE NOSTALGIA. I HUNGER. I wasn't actually 100% sold on LoG2 after finding the predecessor to just be a servicably fun romp through nostalgia, but they really made improvements with the sequel. They did indie 2014 proud!
    Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky - Hands-down some of the best games writing in any RPG ever. Every single NPC has a name? And multiple lines of different dialogue? And changes what they have to say as soon as you complete any side-quest or otherwise advance 'time'? This must have taken a fucking decade to write. Oh, and I guess the 'game' part was pretty good, too.
    Lords of the Fallen - More devs need to be trying to do stuff like this. Loved many of the design decisions, loved the atmosphere, the setting, the character design, the upgrade options… there were obviously flaws, and it was aiming for Dark Souls and falling waaaaaaaaay short, but there was still a lot that was GREAT about this souls-like.
    Middle Earth: Shadow of Morder - Mentioned in the article, making LotR sexy again. Nemesis + the best bits of open world UbiGame™'ing made this a special entry for the year.
    Monument Valley - Yeah. That's right. A mobile puzzle game. It looks pretty, it sounds pretty, it suits the platform, it's satisfying in its difficulty curve… yeah. Just all around amazing and worth the price of entry.
    Murdered: Soul Suspect - …Was on sale for five bucks by the end of the year, indicating how unpopular this thig was. But I enjoyed it anyway, dammit!
    P.T. - One of the very, very few horror games I've actually played to completion. So pretty. It's a real shame we didn't get anything else out of this AND that it was 'disappeared'.
    Risen 3 - Good old, ambitious AA and their contributions towards detailed RPGs. I expect the reason AAA doesn't try nearly as much of what AA does is because they're afraid of the inevitable failings that come with that ambition. That's probably how you get Anthem and Andromeda.
    Shovel Knight - More fun to watch than play, for me, but I'm just glad it exists.
    Sims 4 - It was fucked in 2014, of course, but it's good NOW. And that's what matters. Especially if you get the packs as cheap bundles. PETS! WIZARDS!
    Sniper Elite 3 - Just getting better and better! Just straight-up improvements over V2, this was a satisfying entry in the franchise. Boom. Headshot.
    South Park: Stick of Truth - The censoring was a non-issue such that the game was actually better WITH censoring than without, and the jokes were very in-jokey references for people who had stayed current with the show, but it was still amusing, and more importantly, still a very solid RPG.
    Tales from the Borderlands - When this was announced, my immediate reaction was, "You gotta be kidding, right? You can't do a Telltale game in Borderlands… there's nothing to it! Borderlands IS its looting and shooting! The talking is garbage!" I was wrong. And the first episode proved that almost immediately. At least this one went at a fair clip on episode releases, but for fuck's sake. Fucking episodic games are the bane of my existence. If this had been released in one hit like a NORMAL adventure game, it'd have blown the socks off everyone. As it is, it met the same fate as every other episodic game. Sputtering across the finish line out of obligation, not excitement.
    Thief - THIEF WAS GOOD LALALA I'M NOT LISTENING. Look. Obviously not as good as 1-2, but it did some wonderful new things with the interconnected overworld and nailed a bunch of the atmosphere and I am a Thief tragic who plays community fan maps TO THIS DAY.
    This War of Mine - I wouldn't call it… 'fun'… but I would definitely say it's a must-play. I am STILL haunted by my failings in this game. After The Little Ones came out, I did not have the balls to replay. It's hard enough failing decent adults, but to fail innocent children? Nope. Noooope nope nope.
    Transistor - I bounced pretty hard off this one on launch, but I'm glad I sucked it up and came back again for another go, better appreciating the tactics of play this time, and not just bumming about not having much fun for the sake of a not-as-good-as-Bastion soundtrack and art. Wasn't then, but is now a favourite!
    Tropico 5 - It's a Tropico game! Another one! And it's good! It's not at all different at all! That's probably good if you like Tropico! Kinda pointless now that Tropico 6 exists, but still… good things for 2014!
    Valiant Hearts - The other hit in the Child of Light one-two punch from Ubisoft, proving their artistic and meaningful chops. Big shout out to Mashaa for gifting this to me as a present. This one sticks with me. War is not just hell… it's pointless and sad.
    Vanishing of Ethan Carter - Preeetty. I don’t usually go in for the forensic walking simulator, but this got me a little closer to there.
    Wasteland 2 - I mean, it's basically Fallout 2.5, but that's… pretty much what we wanted, right? Might not be the best in its class, but it's gotta be within spitting distance and let's all just hear it for really, really good games!
    Watch_Dogs - Look. It wasn't what was promised... it wasn't even GTA. I get it. And Aiden… yeah, he's awful. (More relateable than Marcus to me, though.) And the controls were garbage. But damn if I don't love Chicago and the fun hacking toys. Novel and fun once you got the hang of it.
    Wolf Among Us - Technically this started with 2013, but the BULK of the game we waited fucking forever for turned up in 2014!
    Xenonauts - The game that really should've been finished about three or four years earlier to keep the infinitely more polished AAA XCOM remake from eating its lunch. I mean… they had a demo out in 2011 and everything! The perils of indie development, I guess. Whatever. Xenonauts had all the frustrating complexity of the original X-COM games, and I love that about it.
    BONUS ROUND - All of the next-gen console ports. - So much good shit got re-mastered and made better. GTAV, Last of Us, AC4, Metro, Tomb Raider, etc, and it was good. The cynical said, "Second bite of the cherry!" I said: "Ooooooh, sooo pretty."

    But yeah, the uh... the rest of the stuff about the industry was pretty garbage.

    What they did to Dungeon Keeper was unholy.

    Heh. Unintentional joke.

    Still, though. I loved that game when it first came out.

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