- 2023 treated us to some of the best games in the history of this industry.
- The year was also plagued with layoffs, mediocre games, disappointments, and bad PC ports.
- Corporations need to change their expectations & goals to ensure a bright future for gaming.
It’s been over a month since we bid farewell to one of the most bittersweet years the gaming industry has ever seen—2023. We got to experience a lot of hit titles that cemented the year as one of the industry’s best. However, many things happened that made you question whether it was all worth it.
The problem here is that nothing can ever be on a trajectory of perpetual growth; a decline is inevitable. Despite being aware of this fact, companies aggressively chase revenue. You won’t have to look hard to find examples of such instances. This endless race combined with the natural order of things resulted in severe problems for gaming throughout 2023.
Huge Budgets, Mediocre Games, Minimal Profits, & Layoffs
First of all, I’d like to highlight a fundamental problem in the industry—development budgets. It has been an issue for some time now but gaming in 2023 showed just how far this has gone. budgets nowadays are extremely perplexing and questionable. These rising costs join other aspects of the industry, leading to the whole “AAA unsustainability” debate but is that what truly makes blockbuster games a problem?
One piece of this puzzle is the definition of AAA. It’s an informal and murky term assigned to games with “higher development & marketing” budgets, distributed by a renowned publisher. These budgets are relative to smaller titles. See the problem here? In case you don’t, it’s the unclear nature of what counts as “high.” There’s no limit here, no one to draw a line, and that’s why it all turns into one big mess. I’ll elaborate but first, we need to look at a few games from 2023, how much they cost to make, and other factors.
Before I continue, In no way am I claiming or asserting that these budgets are not being fairly allocated or utilized. I’m only stating disparities that caught my eye and asking a question. With that out of the way, the first game on the list is Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. It cost a staggering $300 million to make yet all we got were two new islands, a symbiote, web wings, and new animations.
As a bonus, we got Bryan Intihar openly saying that they didn’t hit the quality that they wanted to overall, most notably in Act 3. Aside from that, we received improved Mary Jane missions, one instance with Venom, and a character model downgrade. A lot of the assets were likely carried over from the first game while a lot of aspects were pulled back.
And yet, it somehow cost $300 million. In simple words, this is disastrous no matter how you slice it. The studio was recently attacked by Rhysida which resulted in the theft of a gargantuan amount of data. With 1.67 Terabytes worth of files stolen and published on the net, people saw all kinds of information that they were not supposed to see. Makes you wonder why Sony refused to pay or take appropriate action to prevent this loss.
Coming back on topic, Hogwarts Legacy, Baldur’s Gate 3, and Elden Ring were a massive success despite their huge budgets. I strongly believe that AAA development isn’t inherently unsustainable. The exclusivity factor, focusing on the wrong areas, and rampant fan demands & expectations make it problematic. On the flip side, the success of various AA games, such as Hi-Fi Rush, shows that players appreciate good titles first and foremost.
In my opinion, there are two scenarios in which a game fails. The first is if the title is fundamentally bad and can’t be saved. Second is when the budgets reach a point that makes breaking even a gigantic challenge. You can also add the fusion of bad reputation and unreasonable expectations to that part. If you need examples, look no further than Forspoken, Marvel’s Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy.
And when the ship doesn’t sail, studios get sold off and the employees get booted. Square Enix sold Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal to Embracer stating that it feared some sort of game “cannibalization.” Plus, with how badly Forspoken performed, Luminous Studios ended up re-merging with its parent company to “continue making great games.”
While it’s great to be optimistic, the streak of layoffs in 2023 seems to be continuing. It’s been one month since 2024 began and we already have Unity and Microsoft saying goodbye to a sizeable portion of its workforce. Analyst predictions for this year have stated that a high possibility of more layoffs is in the cards.
Despite the industry justifying the need for a remake, I will continue hoping that this will all get better someday. But this was just one of the many things wrong with gaming in 2023. Even if most of this stuff has been going on for many years, last year showed just how bad it’s gotten.
Bad Ports And Pointless Remasters
This particular angle has been around for many years but 2023 had something special. It’s the fact that many, if not all, high-profile titles fell into this trap. As far as bad ports are concerned, 2022’s Elden Ring wreaked havoc on the PC platform. It was plagued with myriad issues including stuttering; we know how bad stuttering can be in a game like that.
Yet, I pushed myself to get through it because it was a genuinely great title by FromSoftware. However, it doesn’t erase the hell I and many other players had to face. That thing carried over to try and ruin more gaming experiences throughout 2023.
Hogwarts Legacy generated a ton of buzz and controversy last year. It recently became the first non-CoD or Rockstar title to top US sales charts in 15 years. It managed to capture the vibe of the Wizarding World perfectly but even that didn’t prevent its PC port from being phenomenally abysmal. Texture pop-ins, excessive stuttering & freezing, and even crashes.
It’s hilarious to me how the last-gen and Nintendo Switch versions ended up being far better shows of performance than whatever we got on PC despite the latter requiring some hefty trade-offs. I get the whole idea of the PC platform having an unfathomable amount of hardware configurations but using that as an excuse to make sloppy decisions, release a bad port, and then get on the patch train is wrong.
Moving on, even the critically acclaimed remake of Dead Space suffered from stutters. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor followed suit and brought a full package of problems on PC. Weeks of patches were announced for it even before the game launched, with the devs even declining the offer of taking extra time to polish the product. And that’s not where the list ends. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, Wild Hearts, and The Last of Us Part 1 were all disasters on PC.
And it’s not just the developers’ fault if I’m being honest. Delaying projects leads to a budget increase and unhappy investors. To top it off, a good portion of the player base grabs pitchforks whenever a notice of delay is published. All parties involved need to be more patient & reasonable but the suits love money and what better way to make it than to release live service games, add microtransactions, and put out pointless remasters? Looking at you, Naughty Dog.
The “Please Wrap It Up” TGA 2023 Drama
Then we have The Game Awards—an event eagerly anticipated by the gaming community every year. However, the 2023 edition left me and many other people scratching their heads with how it all went down. Despite a few interesting announcements, the overall show felt lackluster to me. As if that wasn’t enough, the effects of Christopher Judge’s infamous speech were so monumental, that it led to blatant disrespect for those who won.
The event failed to utilize its duration effectively. Most of the time was allocated to performances, barebones and pointless interviews, and overextended promotion spots for the industry’s big names. Though it’s marketed as a “celebration of games,” TGA 2023 felt like a sponsor show to me. The “Please Wrap It Up” sign shown during Larian’s GOTY speech is still the most disrespectful thing to come out of that event.
The Game Awards activated a prompter asking Swen Vickne to “wrap it up” during… his GOTY acceptance speech where he was dedicating it to the dev team members who had passed away.
I’m all for incorporating new elements and adding fun to a show. However, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to compromise on a program’s core and have your priorities all messed up. Instead of allocating its time to overextended speeches and whatnot, it would have been far better to let developers speak instead. Perhaps it would have also been a good idea to address the mass layoffs that continue to plague the industry but I digress.
Hopeful For The Industry In 2024
As 2024 begins to pick up steam, I hope things take a turn for the better. The challenges and disappointments seen in the gaming industry during 2023 have once more set the stage for a critical examination of the ecosystem’s priorities. Developers, publishers, & players must band together and play their parts to take gaming back to what it truly was instead of suits hyper-fixating on lining their pockets and hoping for perpetually increasing profits.
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