2023: Bad Games, Bad Behavior and Bad Ideas
The table has been set, the drinks have been poured and the family arguments have begun. Ah, the traditions of American Thanksgiving. Well, that means it’s time to talk turkey. By that, I mean those lame decisions, terrible games and misguided trends and tech from the past year. They make that steaming dish of mashed yams topped with marshmallows — yes, all you non-American readers, that’s a thing — look like the best side dish ever.
Of course, every industry and hobby has its annual share of boneheaded moves. The video game industry doesn’t have an exclusive patent on stupid. But given that the gaming industry is such a potent force in entertainment, when things go south it impacts a lot of people. Gamers are disappointed. People lose their jobs. The Elden Ring DLC gets delayed until the next generation…of human beings. (Don’t panic, readers, that’s a joke. Probably.)
So pull up an uncomfortable dining room chair and let’s gobble up some of the worst of 2023.
Bad Behavior: Game Industry Layoffs
Although this year has been stellar for gamers, it has been pretty horrific for a lot of the people actually making the games. What do Electronic Arts, Bungie, Unity, Microsoft and Ascendant Studios all have in common? They — and a large number of other developers — laid off a collective 6,500+ employees in 2023.
Some of the companies seemingly went out of their way to make the process as painful as possible, like literally locking out the employees without prior notice (Bungie) or laying off half the studio because a game performed poorly in the marketplace (Ascendant). But even those hard-working coders and creatives that were treated fairly found themselves faced with an uncertain future and many have left the industry, soured by their experience.
In the interest of fairness, the economics of the videogame industry is incredibly complex and the impact of the pandemic remains a disruptive force. But that doesn’t excuse treating people like expendable accessories.
Bad Timing: Too Many Games (Close Together)
I have been covering games for decades, and every time we have a good year filled with good games, people complain. But it’s true. The release schedule is way out of whack. Games that should dominate the headlines and gamers’ time for weeks (if not months) get swept aside as the next big thing comes along. Oh, look, it’s Tears of the Kingdom. No, wait, what about Final Fantasy XVI? Remember when it was the best thing ever? Do you even remember playing Hogwarts Legacy or Jedi Survivor? In some years, they would be duking it out for GOTY.
Crowding so many big titles together doesn’t serve anyone well. Gamers don’t have the time or resources to play more than a fraction of these marquee releases. And even if you throw them on the backlog pile to play in the “future,” you know you’ll be too distracted by the newest, shiny game to return. The result? Too many excellent games don’t perform well in the long run.
On the industry side, we get it. The publishers and developers need to recoup expenses and meet financial projections and, in this case, a lot of games developed during the pandemic were ready to roll in 2023. The problem will probably never go away, but developers, if you’re listening, let us come up for air!
Bad Games: Quantum Error, Payday 3, Gollum and More
On the flip side of all that goodness, there was sure a lot of stink, too. I played more bad games this year than I can count. Not just mediocre games — there were plenty of those, too — but aggressively terrible, no good, very bad games.
Top of my personal pile would have to be Quantum Error, an action adventure game whos graphics and mechanics felt decades old. The Unreal Engine 5 never looked so bad. The heist genre was knocked down a few times thanks to Crime Boss: Rockay City and Payday 3. The Skyrim wannabe Testament: Order of High Human reminded us that Bethesda at its worst is still light years better than most of its imitators.
That brings us to Lord of the Rings: Gollum, which asks the question “Wouldn’t it be fun to take an unlikeable character, give him nothing to do, and throw a bunch of technical issues on top?” The answer? No, it wouldn’t. It wasn’t. Gollum was terrible.
Bad Tech: PSVR 2? Meta Quest 3? PS5 Slim?
As I started compiling my list of bad tech, I realized that, well, there really wasn’t much to complain about. There will always be bad knockoff controllers, mediocre mice and sub-par gaming PCs. But these aren’t worth grousing over (unless you paid for them, of course). There were some significant new gaming devices that appeared this year. Most of them, like everything in the world of gaming, had their share of haters.
Take the PS5 Slim. Inside, it’s essentially identical (or better) than a PS5 in a smaller form factor. The whining started immediately. “Oh I liked the look of the original more,” “this one isn’t way better,” “It looks cheap,” and on and on. There are some downsides, like that the stand is an extra expense. But overall, the Slim is great option for those who never bought the original PS5.
Another great example is the Meta Quest 3. Admittedly, it can’t come close to the power of the tethered VR units like the PSVR 2. And it’s pretty heavy. But the wireless form factor and overall improvements from the last generation make it a great — not bad — piece of tech.
Bad Omen: A.I.
We all know that AI is a pervasive and ever-growing aspect of technology, and by extension, our lives in general. Our AI overlords aren’t going anywhere soon. Games are already built on AI technologies and there are many ways in which generative AI will only make games more lifelike and full of interesting choices.
AI in the games industry has a dark side, too, as people have come to discover. As the recent writers’ strike demonstrates, there are massive concerns over AI replacing skilled writers, editors and other creative types. And even those remaining in their jobs will need to adapt.
Another huge issue is intellectual property. Who owns content created by AI? Will developers come to rely on AI generated characters, levels and mechanics and forego the excellence of careful, human-crafted content?
Overall, 2023 was a great year for those of us consuming games, less so for the people making them. Let’s hope 2024 is a year of creativity, fairness and success for everyone.
Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.