The biggest gaming screw-ups of 2017 (so far)

Here in the U.S. we just celebrated Thanksgiving, a time of year when families gather together to stuff themselves with too much food and yell at the Dallas Cowboys. The traditional meal for the holiday usually includes a turkey, or “walking bird,” so we thought we’d take a look back and see how the games industry let us down this year with the biggest turkeys of 2017.

It’s been a great year for games in general, but there are always a few stories that just make you want to look down at the ground and shake your head slowly. Here are six seven of those.

LawBreakers can’t find an audience

With LawBreakers,Cliff Blezinski and Boss Key Games set out to make an arena shooter similar to Overwatch or Team Fortress 2, but with more verticality and an edgier attitude. Originally designed as a free-to-play game, LawBreakers instead came out as a $30 budget title when it launched in August. It’s not a bad game, but gamers weren’t sure what to make of it, and player counts dropped precipitously the first week after release.

A few free weekends have bolstered the player base somewhat, but it doesn’t seem like enough people are playing for the game to remain viable, especially since there’s no single-player content. Our review questioned how the game would be faring in a year, but it seems as though LawBreakers has already fallen to a point that may be impossible to recover from. Hindsight makes us wonder if the game might have performed better if it had released as it was originally intended, a F2P game supported by microtransactions.

On the plus side, if you want to be one of the top 500 LawBreakers players in the world, your goal is easily within reach.

Cuphead Controversy

Just before Studio MDHR released the gorgeous 2D platformer Cuphead, the tough-as-nails title was shown at Germany’s Gamescom industry event. VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi, a veteran tech journalist, was recorded attempting (and failing repeatedly) to get through the game’s tutorial and first few levels. The video was uploaded as a joke, intended to show how bad Takahashi was at this particular game. It’s hard to watch as he misses one of the first jumps over and over again, but the GamesBeat staff thought it would be entertaining to share Dean’s miserable performance with the world.

A week and a half after the video was posted it was retweeted by Ian Cheong, who used the footage to ask why game journalists think they’re qualified to write about games. This kicked off a huge debate on Twitter and thoughout the games industry. Some argued game critics should be required to be competent at the games they’re covering, while others pointed out Takahashi wasn’t the critic reviewing the game, and that you can still have an informed opinion about something without being able to demonstrate mastery. Unfortunately Takahashi received the brunt of the internet’s ire, and wrote a public response to the many hateful comments and death threats he received due to the video.

While VentureBeat seriously mistook how the internet would react to the video, the real turkeys here are those who thought someone demonstrating incompetence at a video game was somehow worth becoming furious over.

PewDiePie loses Disney and YouTube sponsorships over racist language

Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, has been one of the world’s most successful YouTube personalities, racking up millions of views on his game streams and other videos. It’s estimated he made more than $14 million last year from advertising, sponsorship, and appearance fees. He was one of the first personalities to sign a contract with YouTube’s premium “YouTube Red” service, and he had a contract with the Disney corporation worth an undisclosed amount.

The reason all those sentences are in the past tense is because Kjellberg lost both contracts due to his actions on-camera. He used the freelance marketplace site Fiverr to hire two men in India to make and display a racist sign, and was later observed directing slurs at an enemy player while streaming Playerunknown’s BattleGrounds. The latter outburst caused developers Campo Santo to revoke their permission for Kjellberg to post streams of their game Firewatch, and they encouraged other developers to follow suit.

Kjellberg later apologized for his actions, but it’s difficult to imagine his behavior being tolerated in any other line of work.

Mass Effect: Andromeda kicked out the door, possibly killing the franchise

BioWare’s Mass Effect franchise just celebrated its tenth birthday, but the anniversary was more bitter than sweet this year. The most recent game in the series, Mass Effect: Andromeda, was intended to start a new series of adventures in a far-flung galaxy, set over six hundred years after the events of the previous games’ trilogy. Unfortunately Andromeda was rushed to release by its publisher Electronic Arts (EA), and ended up being a big disappointment for fans of the series. Graphical glitches and bugs marred the game’s first impressions, and although BioWare was quick to fix some of the more egregious flaws, the damage had already been done.

Andromeda must not have hit its sales targets, because all plans for downloadable content were cancelled. It’s a shame, because with a little more time to clean it up, Andromeda could have been the Mass Effect experience fans were looking for. Additional single-player content would have helped flesh out the game, but it seems as though EA has already given up on repairing the damage. The franchise is on indefinite hiatus, and story threads brought up in the game will have to be resolved through alternate media like comics and novels.

The universe of Mass Effect struck a chord with millions of gamers worldwide, and seeing the property treated this poorly by its publisher is disconcerting to say the least. Hopefully the series will get another chance sometime in the future, but considering EA’s track record, Mass Effect may be done for good.

Amazon sells SNES Classic preorders on Treasure Trucks      

Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition was nearly impossible to find last holiday, and this year’s SNES Classic has been almost as tough to get ahold of. Preorders for the miniature console sold out nearly instantly, and the fortunate folks who managed to secure a reservation counted themselves lucky. Those who preordered through online giant Amazon, however, were in for an unpleasant surprise when the consoles started to ship in late September.

Instead of delivering their first batch of SNES Classics to customers who had preordered them through the website, Amazon sold the tiny consoles to promote their “Treasure Trucks,” temporary pop up stores in major U.S. cities. Customers who had preordered online were left waiting until Amazon got more stock from Nintendo, more than a month in some cases. What’s more, those who signed up to be alerted when the consoles were available for preorder were never notified, so unless you were awake and online that night there was no way to submit an order. Understandably, those who had their orders delayed were extremely unhappy that Amazon apparently sold their consoles out from under them.

Amazon lost a lot of goodwill, and most of the 1-star reviews on the SNES Classic page refer to how poorly preorders were handled. While Nintendo has promised “dramatically increased” stocks of the SNES classic will be available through 2018, the console is still hard to find and currently sells for about double its MSRP on online auction sites like eBay.

Star Wars: Battlefront II Loot Crates

EA’s second spot on this list is the most recent story, and it started a debate about loot boxes that’s still developing. One of the first projects to come from EA’s exclusive rights to the Star Wars property was 2015’s Star Wars: Battlefront, a well-received multiplayer shooter featuring tons of fanservice. The sequel was one of this year’s most hotly anticipated games, aiming to fix some of the flaws players found with the first installment. A single-player campaign was added, and all of the DLC will be free to prevent the player base from becoming fragmented.

All good stuff, right? Well, the money to pay for all this new content has to come from somewhere, and EA thought it had the perfect solution: adding purchasable loot boxes to the game. This can work reasonably well if handled carefully; Overwatch makes sure loot box contents are purely cosmetic, preventing players from gaining an edge by swiping their credit card. Battlefront II didn’t get the memo, placing coveted hero characters and significant gameplay advantages in the loot boxes. While it’s possible to earn everything in Battlefront II through normal play, prior to the game’s launch players were looking at a 40-hour grind to unlock a single hero character. Early players were concerned, since it looked like buying loot boxes was the only realistic way to unlock all of the game’s content.

When asked about this on Reddit, EA’s official spokesperson wrote that “The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.” Gamers were furious at the tone-deaf response, and the reply became Reddit’s most downvoted post ever. Memes mocking the apparent pay-to-win nature of Battlefront II began dominating social media, and the story received mainstream media attention. EA was forced to backpedal, apologizing for “potentially giving players unfair advantages” and temporarily turning off the game’s microtransactions.

In a month in which Call of Duty: WWII literally drops loot crates on Normandy beach, it‘s saying something that EA was responsible for the most reviled instance of this mechanic. It’s been speculated that executives at Disney (which owns Star Wars) might have stepped in, unhappy with the negative attention EA was bringing to their most profitable property. The game’s sales may also have suffered due to the controversy, and Forbes reports physical sales of Battlefront II in the United Kingdom are down more than 60% compared to its predecessor.

The media attention has also helped make politicians aware of loot box mechanics, and Belgium recently called for a ban on the practice in Europe.  It’s too early to tell what the final outcome of this debacle will be, but it’s pretty clear EA are the biggest turkeys of 2017.

UPDATE: Pokémon Go Fest just plain doesn’t work

In the comments below, user John Truth pointed out that we didn’t mention the Pokémon Go Festival which happened in Chicago back in July. He’s absolutely right that this should have been included, as no one involved came out looking good.

Pokémon Go was a bigger success than anyone could have imagined when it launched in July of 2016, and developer Niantic wanted to thank their fans during the game’s first anniversary by throwing a huge party in Chicago’s Grant Park. The $20 tickets for the festival sold out instantly, and players from as far away as Japan flew into Chicago to participate. Niantic promised to debut the game’s first Raid Battle, an event where players could combine their efforts to try and capture an extremely rare and powerful creature.

When players arrived at the event, however, they were greeted by interminable lines just to get into the park. Not only that, the game’s servers were completely incapable of handling the load of so many people trying to connect from the same location. Every mobile network in the area was instantly overloaded, and event partner Sprint took the brunt of the attendee’s ire on social media.

Players couldn’t catch any Pokémon, let alone the rare Lugia they were promised. The crowd began booing the stage, and a chant of “We can’t play!” drowned out the Niantic employees attempting to hype up the event. The technical issues meant that about 20,000 people ended up sitting in a park looking at their phones for no reason, waiting for something, anything to happen. To add insult to injury, players who didn’t make the pilgrimage to Chicago gained access to Raid Battles the very next day without having to take a trip to Illinois.

While overtaxed cell networks were the biggest issue, CEO John Hanke admitted software and network problems on Niantic’s end contributed to the problems players had during the festival. To their credit, Niantic provided full refunds for the tickets to the event, and everyone in attendance received $100 worth of in-game currency in addition to the promised Lugia. Some who made the trip weren’t satisfied by the apology, however, and a class-action lawsuit was filed a few days later.