For one reason or another, the eighth generation of gaming seemed to be messier and more controversial than any before.
Sure, in the past we’ve contended with the ever-long fight with politicians who link video games to violence, but this generation was different. This time, gamers turned against game devs, publishers, and even each other. Some of us even ended up agreeing with the politicians on a few issues. And that’s not to even get into the battles being fought between game workers and their bosses. Or how world politics got involved.
So from loot boxes, workers' rights, and buff ladies killing off fan-favorite characters, here’s the biggest controversies of the eighth generation of gaming.
November 2013: Xbox One Game Sharing
Sorry Microsoft, we’ll stop bringing it up one day.
While the gaming giant did go back on this decision before the launch of their eighth-gen console, it was a controversy nevertheless. In the all-important lead up to launch, Sony and Microsoft were doing the usual drip-feeding of information about the upcoming consoles.
Usually a time of hype, Microsoft made a major misstep. Two features of the Xbox One attracted hate online: that it would have to connect to the internet at least once every 24 hours, and that playing pre-owned games would be a whole lot harder to do. If you wanted to play your buddy’s copy of Sunset Overdrive, they’d have to take the disk round yours to download. They could play it fine on their login, but for you, you’d have to pay a fee. Yeah, even if they gave you the disk to keep. Seen as a blatant attempt to take money out the second-hand market, and into Microsoft’s pocket, the backlash was severe, and the gaming giant had to backtrack before release.
April 2015: P.T. (Playable Teaser)
In a move that I don’t think we’ll ever understand, Konami pulled its most Konami move yet, and removed the critically acclaimed P.T. from the PlayStation Store. The reasoning being that the game it was a demo for, Silent Hills, was scrapped. However, as many gamers agreed, P.T. can be seen as a game itself. And even as a demo, it has been largely influential in the horror scene. The gripping intensity of P.T. seems to have pushed the Resident Evil series back to its claustrophobic horror roots, and to great success with Resident Evil 7, Resident Evil 2, and 3 Remake. This makes it even more nonsensical that it has has never been re-released, even at a fee.
The backlash was severe and eroded good faith in Konami. The man behind it, Hideo Kojima, has since left the company, and fans have made multiple remakes... one of which was shut down by Konami for legal reasons. Right now, the only legitimate way to play it is by forking over up to $800 on eBay for a PS4 that had it downloaded.
November 2017: Star Wars Battlefront II
In a PR nightmare that began with angry gamers and ended with angry politicians, EA truly outdid themselves with the colossal mess that was the launch of Star Wars Battlefront II. Set to make up for the shortcomings of the previous Battlefront, it not only failed in its mission, but is responsible for any future legislation against microtransactions that gets passed.
When the beta opened for Battlefront II, instant ire was brought upon the use of loot boxes. One disgruntled gamer took to the game’s subreddit to claim that he had spent $80 just unlocking Darth Vader. EA’s response? “The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.”
The “pride and accomplishment” comment became the most downvoted in the website’s history, which is to be expected when some players reported spending up to 40 hours trying to unlock the character without spending more cash. The in-game economy was tweaked before launch, but it was already too late. The general public caught wind of something that looked like gambling in a game popular with kids, and so politicians began investigating the matter. These investigations continue today across the U.S. and U.K., with Belgium being the first to outright class loot boxes as gambling as a result.
March 2018: Video Game Violence… Again
Because apparently this one hasn’t been done to death already. Yet again, there was a mass shooting in America, and yet again, the video game industry got the blame. In the wake of the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, the White House put a video on its YouTube channel called “Violence in Video Games”: basically a montage of out-of-context violent clips from titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Fallout 4. The video was quickly delisted, but this argument was resurrected by President Donald Trump once more in August 2019. After a string of shootings, Trump said, "We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”
September 2018: Telltale Games' Closure
Hundreds of staff woke up to find out they lost their job. Thousands of fans had their favorite games cancelled. Hell, the staff apparently had just 30 minutes to clear their desks. It shook the gaming world to its core.
Right in the middle of the release of The Walking Dead: The Final Season, Telltale made the shocking announcement that it would be laying off 200 members of staff, and eventually cancelled any projects that were in development. According to the company, this was due to long-running financial woes and a backer suddenly pulling out. However, it really kicked off when staff were not given any severance pay, essentially left high and dry in the expensive California, losing their income and health care.
But it didn’t end there. Staff started speaking out about what it was like to work at the company, speaking up about having “sleepless nights” due to crunch, with one employee saying it could be upwards of 80 hours a week.
November 2018: Battlefield V
Before there was The Last of Us Part II drama, there was Battlefield V. In the run up to the launch, a trailer drew harsh criticism from gamers due to perceived historical inaccuracies. This trailer prominently featured a female character with a prosthetic arm, who would also appear on the cover art. This triggered a debate on whether this was too much prominence for a woman, considering while they did serve a role in World War II, those close to the frontline were overwhelmingly male. On the other hand, some highlighted how this finally represented the female involvement in the war, which is often ignored in the genre. The developers defended it, with one saying “we will always put fun over authentic."
November 2018: Fallout 76
Where do we even begin? There was approximately 24 hours of hope for Fallout 76 when it was first announced at E3 2018, but that was mostly crushed for fans after it was announced it would actually be an online game—with no NPCs. Then when it hit store shelves, it set off a chain reaction of gaffes.
Firstly, there’s the bugs, which were excessive even for a Bethesda release. Then just the overall lack of anything to do, as players reportedly struggled to find each other. Those who pre-ordered kept having the delivery of their bonuses delayed—only for them to look completely different and cheaper from what was advertised. At first, Bethesda tried to appease fans with $5 worth of in-game currency, but eventually accepted refunds. But then anyone who had enough and went for the refund had their private information exposed due to an oversight with the website.
When that was fixed, Bethesda then had to contend with another collector's item being recalled, this time a power armor helmet, which was found to have a dangerous level of mold. Truly, Bethesda had whatever the opposite of the Midas Touch is. And we didn't even dive into the time they accidentally started a class war with the $100 subscription service they added...
After being mocked relentlessly, even by Todd Howard himself at the next E3, Fallout 76 appears to be in a much better state. The "Wastelanders" update finally added better quests, NPCs, and factions, making it resemble other games in the series.
October 2019: Blizzard Bans Pro-Democracy Protestor
“Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age." Those seven words cost pro-Hearthstone player Blitzchung $200,000, and slapped him with a 12-month ban. Hell, Blizzard even fired the casters whose only crime was being on stream with him at the time. Blitzchung said the phrase in a post-match interview, having won the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters in Hearthstone. It was universally agreed that this punishment was excessive, but Blizzard defended it, saying that the one-sentence protest broke a tournament rule against any act which “brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard's image.”
Many were dissatisfied with this, and it sprung a mini-protest at BlizzCon that year. Adding insult to injury, when Blizzard addressed it at the convention, they didn’t even say the guy’s name. Just referring to it as a “tough Hearthstone esports moment."
June 2020: The Last of Us Part II
The first was an instant classic, the second was review bombed to hell just hours after release. What happened?
The controversy started before release, when it was revealed that Ellie would be the protagonist and would star alongside her female love interest, Dina. Of course, Ellie getting a girlfriend shouldn’t have been surprising, but others also mocked the character designs, pointing out that two ladies fending for their lives in a zombie apocalypse didn’t look as hot as the anime girl waifus they were apparently expecting.
Adding insult to injury, an unprecedented leak put massive spoilers online just weeks before release. One such cutscene showed Joel’s brutal death at the hands of the other protagonist, Abby. The death of a beloved character was bad enough—but Naughty Dog had the audacity to give Abby muscles, without having the decency to painstakingly break down her workout regime to justify it.
Entire Generation: Workers' Rights
This hasn’t been a good generation for any AAA company’s PR department. The past few years have been a watershed moment in the industry, as workers' rights were put on the forefront. When one workplace came forward, it seemed to empower another to do the same.
Spearheaded by the closure of Telltale, employees from Rockstar, Epic, BioWare, and many more came forward to speak about excessive, unpaid overtime, also known as “crunch." And as we discovered, this could mean employees being in the office for up to 100 hours a week.
But it wasn’t all crunch. In other workplaces, such as Riot and Ubisoft, there were allegations of inappropriate behavior, such as sexual harassment, sexism, and racism. The general impression from these staff that come forward is that the game industry can be less of a workplace, and more like a frat house sometimes.
While this has been a messy generation, there’s no telling what to expect next. Live services are very much here to stay, and the loot box debate is only just getting started in countries like the U.K. Furthermore, the allegations against Activision are recent, so it will remain to be seen if the industry can get its house in order anytime soon.
What was your standout point of the generation? Let us know in the comments below!