Video games and controversy are no strangers. Every year there’s new drama involving a certain fanbase, a game company’s business practices or some sort of government action. In 2019, one story had all three. Blizzard, Epic Games and Nintendo all felt what happened when a company’s business decisions go against what gamers think is right.
This year’s controversies in the gaming industry showed how far-reaching certain issues can be, with even US lawmakers putting in their two cents. The bigger question is whether companies will learn from what happened in 2019 or continue on making decisions benefitting themselves rather than their customers.
Blizzard takes a stand against free speech
On Oct. 6, pro Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai won a tournament, and then, during a post-game interview, wearing a pair of goggles and a gas mask, he loudly proclaimed, “Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our age!” He was making a show of support for the protest by Hong Kong citizens against a proposed law that could put them in the grasp of mainland China’s law enforcement.
Two days later, publisher Blizzard Entertainmentfor his outburst by banning him from tournaments for a year and taking away his tournaments earnings. It also suspended the commentators who interviewed him.
What followed was a wave of rage toward Blizzard from gamers across the political spectrum. Many canceled preorders for upcoming games, demanded refunds on games and even deleted their Battle.net accounts. But it wasn’t only gamers who became involved. Republican and Democratic politicians found common ground over a US company punishing a person for expressing themselves to appease the Chinese government. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida,and wrote a letter to CEO Bobby Kotick.
Blizzard stayed quiet for days, but a statement from company president J. Allen Breck on Oct. 11 said China played no role in the decision. It reduced the suspension of Blitzchung and the commentators to six months.
Still, gamers were livid, and they were going to let Blizzard know their feelings during the publisher’s fan festival,, on Nov. 1. Protests were planned, signs were made and shirts were worn for the event. But Blizzard had an ace up its sleeve in the form of a . The event started with Breck coming on stage to discuss the company’s actions but not really apologize for it. Then came the Diablo 4 reveal and all was seemingly forgiven, or at least forgotten.
The Pokedex problem
was going to be a big jump in the series. It would be the first time the monster-catching game would have a proper console release. However, developer Game Freak made one change that caused some Poke-drama and spurred the creation of the #Dexit hashtag.
In the past, every new Pokemon game received its own unique Pokemon added to the Pokedex, which totals more than 1,000 across all generations. Game Freak announced at E3 2019, however, thatwould make it into Sword and Shield. Instead, the new games would be limited to 400.
Longtime fans were upset at the possibility of their favorite Pokemons being unavailable in the game. This led to a backlash, with calls for a boycott of the franchise. Even though the controversy lasted for months, Pokemon Sword and Shield soldduring its launch weekend.
Epic Games opens a store
Publisher Epic Games has made a killing off its incredibly popular battle royale game Fortnite. The company was so successful that it opened its own online store, simply called the Epic Games Store, in 2018. To compete with the popular PC platform Steam in 2019, Epic used one thing it had plenty of: money.
The Fortnite maker struck several deals with other companies to gain exclusive rights to popular games such as Metro: Exodus, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 and Shenmue 3. One major incentive the Epic Games Store has over Steam is the profit split. A game sold on Steam has 30% of the sale going to platform owner Valve. Epic, on the other hand, only takes 12%.
PC gamers took issue with Epic’s competitive tactics. Some cited the annoyance of requiring additional software to download in order to play certain games, while others were concerned that Epic may have too much power within the industry. Epic and developers who signed exclusivity deals with the company were subject to ridicule on social media.
This year held a lot of promise for the Nintendo Switch. It was gaining support from developers as Nintendo pushed quality titles such as, and . But it was an unseen “push” that caused the Mario company to provide free repairs to its console.
Since its release in 2016, some Switch owners noticed their Joy-Con controllers didn’t return to the center position, resulting in a slight drift in a direction. Drifting, as it came to be known, received a lot of attention in July when a thread on the Switch subreddit had hundreds of console owners commenting on the issue, and some had to go through several Joy-Cons over the years.
A law firm filed aagainst Nintendo over the defective controllers, saying the company was aware of the problem. In response, the company began offering for those affected by the issue.