2016 In Review: The Year’s Most Unexpected Events

I can’t always predict the future. No, it’s true, and I am willing to admit what may just be the only flaw in an otherwise perfect being. I’m just that humble. So yea, 2016 brought with it some big surprises, and you won’t believe #6 (because this list only goes up to 5). What happened in 2016 that you didn’t expect? Let me know how you saw it coming in the comments below.

1. Wildstar’s Continued Existence

This one surprised me more than anything, and while the legion of doomsayers run around the net every year calling for the impending deaths of World of Warcraft, Eve Online, and every other game under the sun, this one had good reason behind it. NCSoft is not known for its kindness and understanding when it comes to under-performing titles, and I have made a few attempts to explain why Wildstar is in a bit of a different situation.

If you look back at the titles that NCSoft has shut down, they mostly all share one common bond: Money, not the individual game’s money but NCSoft’s money. These cuts came at a time when NCSoft was doing poorly overall as a company and needed to shed some of its liabilities, which meant losing their games/subsidiaries that were struggling or failing to make a profit. It happened to Lineage, Tabula Rasa, Exteel, City of Heroes, etc. In the case of City of Heroes, we learned that while the game itself was profitable, Paragon Studios was not.

So Wildstar survived 2016 against all odds and despite the fact that free to play and Steam just gave a momentary boost to their revenue. At this point, Wildstar is living on borrowed time. While I won’t outright claim its sunsetting in 2017, I will say that should NCSoft hit some financial trouble again this year, Wildstar will be the first thing scuttled to save the ship.

2. Daybreak Game Company and Turbine Entertainment

If Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online become part of Daybreak’s all access program, you can just hook that IV of nutrition right into my arm and funnel my checks straight to whoever is in John Smedley’s old office, right next to all the stuff that Columbus Nova has pawned off to save a buck, because I am never leaving the house. I’ve said a few times that my dream is that other multi-game publishers take a note from SOE and have an all access pass, and you know what? They don’t.

Turbine is moving away from gaming and going into the mobile app pseudo-games, a world where mediocrity isn’t just rewarded, it pays enough to afford Super Bowl advertising money. I think most of us expected that Turbine would spin off the two MMO teams into their own company, although it was likely more blind prayer that they wouldn’t just shut the whole division down and shutter everything, but who could have seen Daybreak Game Company coming? The company whose name is synonymous with slowly carving up the remains of Sony Online Entertainment like it was a delicious honey baked ham.

The plus side is that Daybreak doesn’t own Standing Stone Games, so this agreement likely won’t see much (if any) in the way of holiday layoffs. But seriously, Daybreak, that All Access. Get on it.

3. Korea Makes Cheat Development a Criminal Offense

This could only happen in a country where eSports is as big as it is in Korea, and I’m not talking about North Korea where Kim Jong Un most recently not only took all three top spots in the World Overwatch League, but also managed to pull in Most Handsome/Intelligent Gamer. This is South Korea, where pro gamers are treated like gods, where your account is associated with your social security number, and where there is a ton of money to be made in cheating.

Creating cheats in South Korea is now punishable by up to $43 thousand in fines or a maximum of five years in jail. You have to assume that the punishment will fit the crime, and that most cheat makers will be handed a hefty fine based on whatever profit they were bringing in. It seems highly unlikely that anyone will face an actual jail sentence of more than a week or so, unless the penal system is exceptionally harsh in Korea.

No, not that Korea. You don’t even want to know what happens if you’re caught aimbotting against Lil Kim.

4. Digital Homicide’s Existence

What can I say about Digital Homicide that hasn’t already been said about Milli Vanilli? It had fifteen seconds of fame and now nobody cares. The only time you hear them being brought up is when someone says “hey, remember Digital Homicide? I may be living in squalor but at least I’m not that guy,” and everyone goes back to eating their KFC (Nashville Hot now in stores, big thanks to KFC for being smart enough not to sponsor this article).

From the outset, Digital Homicide seemed to be like every other mediocre indie developer, a fragile ego hastily compiling the kind of shoddy work that you normally make before you start showing your work to the public, and not only showing it to the public but placing it for sale. Their existence had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Steam’s Greenlight program was broken and not serving its function, a mountain of garbage built by the ultimate garbageman himself, James Romine (or Romaine if you read my earliest pieces).

But not content with merely saturating the store with heaps upon heaps of copy and pasted assets, Romine took the meta one step further by launching an active lawsuit against a Youtuber for criticizing his games. The lawsuit went nowhere and is currently in limbo waiting for dismissal by the judge, but not before pulling the ultimate bastard move: Serving Valve with a subpoena for the identity of 100 users in the hopes of finding out their identities. Finally deciding that they had had enough, Valve dropped the hammer and cut its ties completely with Digital Homicide, destroying the company financially and sending Digital Homicide back into the depths from which it had surfaced.

5. SAG Goes On Strike, People Stop Paying Attention

You could virtually count in seconds how long it took for the Screen Actors Guild to go on strike and for the public/press to stop taking notice. I find the whole ordeal laughable, not because I am anti-union or disagree with what the strike is demanding, but because the games industry overall is a pretty despicable place to work in and, if I had to offer advice to the folks currently on strike, it’d be to take a nice safe paycheck in the growing animated/CG film industry. This isn’t the part where I say “the industry is sleazy, deal with it or leave.”

If you take the time to actually read the demands of the SAG union, they’re pretty tame. A bonus for every 2 million copies sold or 2 million subscribers up to a maximum of 8 million, aka four payments. They want standard safety equipment/people on set to prevent unnecessary injuries, reduced hours, and an updated contract that was written in 1994 when video games were about as serious a product as Big Bird’s Speak and Spell, except less valuable as a market commodity.

The reason I say that the strike makes me laugh is because, at the end of the day, this industry can be pretty horrible. We’re talking about companies that, with little or no shame, pull tactics like $10 online passes to harass the second-hand market, where Microsoft was willing to risk shooting its platform in the head with the initial (revoked) decision to restrict used games, cut out entire parts of the world by launching an online-only console and simply refusing service to countries because they didn’t feel like it, where Capcom demands you pay more money to unlock content already installed on the disc, where companies shamelessly announce that selling you more DLC is a higher priority than actually fixing their product. And let’s not go into how poorly game developers can be treated, this isn’t a contest to see who is more abused.

So I can’t say I have too much confidence that the bean counters in the industry will take the strike seriously, you can tell them that even though they’ll save money by hiring scab actors that the quality will likely drop, all they’ll hear is that they’re saving money. While there are countless numbers of passionate people who love their work on all levels of gaming, from the lowly QA tester to the philanthropic president who really likes video games, I can’t help but feel that the people that SAG is targeting would gladly sacrifice quality for the sake of not putting a little extra in the collection plate. They’ve been doing it for years. How does that satisfy the shareholders? Pro-tip: It doesn’t. Worse comes to worst, they’ll sacrifice a beloved franchise with a predatory mobile port for some upfront cash, then kill off the studio and fire everyone involved before they can collect their bonus.

If this industry has to go back to having the developers themselves provide their untrained voices, I fear that’s exactly what they’ll do, and nobody should have to suffer through another fully voiced Ultima.

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