Good job folks, that’s another year down. This year, like so many recent years, was a mess as we continued to deal with the ongoing effects of the pandemic while governments and businesses around the world pretended everything is better now. And now, I can’t even complain about it on Twitter because the site sucks, is always broken, and is called X. Thanks, Elon Musk!
So if we can’t use Twitter (X, whatever) anymore to complain about how awful 2023 was, let’s use this website to recount some of the biggest disappointments of 2023, including awful trends, bad news, shitty stuff, and negative-vibe-inducing nonsense. Please feel free to stop, take a nap, eat a snack, and return to this list if all the negativity overwhelms you. We want you all to make it to 2024, okay?
Last year, we started things off with the horrible news that Activision CEO Bobby Kotick was still running the place. And guess what? As 2023 comes to a close…well, he’s still running the company. But finally, I can bring a little good news: He’s leaving once 2024 starts.
However, it’s still horrible—and a sign of how awful the universe is (unless you are rich)—that Kotick remained as the CEO of Activision for another year. Remember, this rich loser was in charge of the company during all the years of Activision Blizzard’s horrible treatment of women. Things got so bad that in 2021 the company faced multiple lawsuits and investigations over its seemingly endemic problems with sexual harassment and toxic behavior. All of this led to executives and others leaving, apologizing, or both.
And yet, Kotick remained. Even as Microsoft closed its historic deal to acquire Activision Blizzard, Xbox boss Phil Spencer was sure to let folks know that the controversial CEO was sticking around to finish up the year and help with the transition. At least next year he’ll be gone and off this annual list of failures and bad news.
Hoo boy, if you wanted to see a master class on how not to announce product and service changes, just look at what happened to Unity this year.
In September, Unity announced new and very disliked “runtime fees” that seemed set to charge developers and publishers every time a person installed a game. Worse, it appeared that this would be applied retroactively and would count even for free-to-play games. Developers, as you might have expected, were very upset about this sudden change and the backlash started instantly.
About a week later, Unity had walked back most of the worst changes, saying it would not charge people the runtime fee if they used the free version of Unity for smaller games with little to no revenue. Unity also walked back the original plan to charge these fees for all versions of the engine, confirming that only the latest edition would be charged runtime fees and that devs could continue to use those older copies of Unity without updating to avoid extra fees.
These changes were far from perfect, but they did help calm a lot of the anger. However, in October, following the disastrous rollout and then the panicked walkback of all this nonsense, Unity’s CEO John Riccitiello stepped down from the company. You might remember him as that guy who called developers “fucking idiots.” Unsurprisingly, his departure was seen by many developers as a good thing.
The Nintendo Switch is effectively an Android tablet from 2016 that plugs into a TV and plays Mario. So expecting big AAA games built for consoles like the Xbox Series X to work on the Switch seems silly. Yet, this year saw a host of big games cut down and shoved onto the Switch with…mixed results.
For example, Mortal Kombat 1 on the Switch is fascinating. The game was developed for current-gen consoles, skipping the older PS4 and Xbox One machines. Yet, WB Games also had a studio port it to the Switch. It didn’t go well, with the Switch version of the gory fighter running poorly and looking pretty rough.
The port of Hogwarts Legacy on Switch was better, for sure, than MK1, but it still showed the limitations of bringing big games from newer consoles to Nintendo’s hybrid device. In the other versions of Hogwarts Legacy, the game offers a fully open world. In the Switch port, areas are separated by long loading screens and some parts of the world have been closed off entirely to grasp back as many frames as possible.
Then there’s the Arkham Knight Switch port, which was recently released in a damn near unplayable state, with performance tanking into slideshow territory when driving the game’s Batmobile.
While it’s interesting to see these and other games get ported to Switch—watching what gets cut and what stays—it’s becoming very clear in 2023 that the Switch isn’t capable of running new games, and these ports are often the worst way to play them.
Last year, layoffs were a problem in the game industry. And this year, they became an even bigger problem. I can’t think of a year in which I saw more developers laid off than 2023. It’s been practically a weekly occurrence during most of the last 12 months. It got so bad that I started losing track of all of the layoffs that had happened. It became a sad blur of people losing their jobs across dozens of studios and publishers.
Over 6,000 developers have been laid off since January 2023. That’s a big number that is hard to fully grok. We also saw studios shutting down, including Volition and Free Radical Design. So finding new work in this tumultuous industry just gets harder and harder as more and more people lose their jobs.
I want to say things will get better. But I expect that in 2024 I’ll be writing this list and adding a section about layoffs, again. Again.
The digital future is, well, not really the future anymore. We are living in the digital present as most people are buying games digitally in 2023. This would be fine if we could trust the companies behind these digital pieces of content and the stores they are available on. But of course we can’t.
In 2023 we saw a whole bunch of digital games and online-only titles die or get their termation dates announced. We also saw TV shows and movies removed from digital stores as licenses expired and the folks in charge decided to move on and screw all their customers in the process.
Of course, it sucks if you spent money on a game and then can no longer play it due to dead servers. But it also makes it harder and harder to preserve video games for the future, meaning that decades of this art form run the risk of one day becoming inaccessible or unplayable. And while pirates, modders, and hackers can pick up some of the slack, it’s not an ideal situation at all.
At this point, we and others have already wasted enough ink on criticizing and dunking on the yearly commercial-a-thon that is The Game Awards. Every year we all gather and watch it, mostly because it’s our job, and every year we all hope that it will be better.
Maybe, this time around, Geoff Keighley and his cohorts will focus more on developers and their accomplishments, and also put a spotlight on the issues facing the industry. And as reliably as CEOs laying off people and fanboys yelling at you on Twitter, Geoff and the Awards fail to even meet the lowest expectations set forth by viewers, critics, and devs.
This year, like before, the show announced awards off-stage in batches and didn’t let the few devs who got to actually collect a trophy give full speeches. It all sucks so much to watch, and it’s so long, too.
So, like I said earlier this month: Geoff, stop pretending you are running an awards show and just become the new E3 now that the old one has finally died.
Remember how silly and dumb the NFT fad was? In hindsight, I wish that had succeeded and delayed the new tech bro grift: AI bullshit.
We at Kotaku have talked a lot about how awful AI technology is. So watching it grow bigger than ever in 2023 was like watching a slow-moving train crash through my living room and into the homes of people I care about. AI is already taking jobs, making it harder for artists to make a living and filling the already-filled-with-garbage internet with more gunk. If you think Google results are bad now, wait until a year or two from now when most of the web becomes AI-generated articles, lists, videos, and posts.
It’s also annoying that every part of my life is now becoming infused with AI shit. Apps, websites, and more are all getting AI chatbots and generators shoved inside as the Zuckerbergs of the world desperately pivot from failed metaverses to something that might actually make them money. And then you start to think about how this will only accelerate global warming with the massive energy drain that AI generation demands and it all becomes really sad and frustrating.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A big video game industry event happens and afterward people go, “Wait, did that whole show not include a single woman?” You’d think, in 2023, things would be better. And I guess by the lowest standards they are, but the reality is that we are still dealing with this shit.
As we reported, Summer Game Fest was all men, though host Geoff Keighley (why does he keep showing up in these things?) claimed that wasn’t the plan. They had a woman, one, set to show up but she couldn’t make it. Maybe next year!
Throughout 2023, we watched again and again as gamers and the industry treated women like crap. When we wrote about how most Switch owners, according to data, are women, the comments were filled with men explaining that actually, the moms are buying the consoles. (This was false as the data was about people who buy and play the Switch, you weird losers.) When PC Gamer wrote up a big anniversary post about its 30-year history, it failed to include one woman contributor or writer in the massive list.
And that’s just a handful of examples of how this industry, its fans, and its content creators continue to fail at representing women, supporting them, and taking them seriously as people. Do I have high hopes for next year? Not at all. In fact, I’m expecting some nasty comments or tweets about this section, thus proving it to be accurate.
Look around and you’ll notice that, man, things cost more today than they did a year or two ago. Consoles are more expensive. Vbucks are pricier to purchase. Subscription services are also going up and up. Then you have the continued trend of $US70 games, blatantly overpriced cosmetics, and publishers holding games hostage for a week unless you pay them an extra $US20 to play “early.”
It truly feels like every video game, app, store, and company is trying to squeeze more and more pennies out of my pocket with each passing week. Sure, the folks in charge will blame inflation, but it’s funny how, when the economy is doing better, the prices don’t go down. Everything just keeps going up. You can’t even argue that the price increases help make stores and shops better places to visit or use as it just sucks buying anything, anywhere in 2023.
This is, like so many things listed in this article, not going to get better in 2024. It’s probably going to get a lot worse in the next 12 months. But lucky for all of us, we will soon be replaced by AI bots who will create all the content and by other bots who will consume it and we’ll have steady jobs mining the metals for our mechanical overlords. I hope I get to mine cobalt and iron next to someone famous, like George Clooney. That sounds swell.
The internet, instead of finding new ways to elevate voices that aren’t white and/or already wealthy, continued to find ways to make women feel unwelcome in digital spaces in 2023.
In January, popular Twitch streamer Brandon “Atrioc” Ewing accidentally revealed that he was viewing deepfake porn during a livestream. The site he was visiting had a similar format to OnlyFans: different content creators could create their own pages and require visitors to pay a subscription fee to view their content. Ewing wasn’t just viewing deepfake porn (which edits people’s faces onto existing pornographic content), but deepfake porn of his female peers—some of whom he is friends with in real life.
After accidentally telling on himself, Ewing issued a tearful apology and left the streaming service until March, when he popped back up to assure people he was working hard to combat the porn he himself appeared to be, at least that one time, watching. “A week after the event, the first thing I did was wire Morrison Rothman [an LA-based law firm] about $US60,000 to cover any woman on Twitch who wanted to use their legal services for DMCA takedowns or reputation management,” he said during the stream. Kotaku confirmed with the firm that Ewing had indeed sent the retainer.
But Ewing’s efforts could not entirely erase the aftermath of such a horrible violation, or negate the fact that women on the internet face a different level of scrutiny, hatred, and harassment than men.
Ewing’s actions also served as a reminder that sometimes the call is coming from inside the house, and it’s the men you know who are the scummiest of them all. Ewing is back to regularly posting and streaming because cancel culture is a myth and everything sucks. — Alyssa Mercante, senior editor
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