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Year in Review: 2019

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By Nelson Schneider - 12/15/19 at 04:15 PM CT

Another year has come and gone, and through it all, the MeltedJoystick crew has been watching. Always watching… Once again, it’s time to take a look back at the year and praise the 5 biggest Wins for the gaming community while simultaneously *facepalming* over the 5 biggest Fails.

Top 5 Fails

5. Japan Bans Console Modding

Just when our friends in the Land of the Rising Sun thought they owned the gaming hardware they bought and were free to do with it as they pleased, Japan’s government decided to crack down on hardware modding, making the practice fully illegal. We know this is all just copyright police nonsense and really has nothing to do with “security” or any other buzzwords multinational corporations like to throw out when they do something unpopular (or coerce governments to do it for them). Maybe Japan should be more worried about the Nuke-Testing Triple-Chinned Haircut on the other side of the Sea of Japan if “security” is so high on their minds? Worst of all, we know Western corporations will point to this Japanese debacle as “precedent” when they try to ram it through their own governmental bureaucracies.

4. Blizzard Caves to Totalitarians in the Wake of Hong Kong Protests

Western corporations just can’t stop thinking about the billion+ Chinese whose wallets have not been ravaged by them… yet. Tech corporations are especially bad when it comes to relations with China because, a) most of the junk they sell is manufactured there, and b) China’s nearly 3000-year history as a totalitarian surveillance state requires potential business partners to fully bow to China instead of both sides of the partnership being flexible and creating a compromise.

Blizzard, the Western PC game shoveler behind the venerable ‘Diablo,’ ‘WarCraft,’ and ‘StarCraft’ IPs (as well as recent microtransaction-driven PvP trash like “Hearthstone”) ran afoul of both China and the West this year when gamers started using Blizzard Live Service platforms to voice support for the Hong Kong protests that have been going on for months. China demanded Blizzard punish such grave offenses to its monolithic identity, and Blizzard obeyed, stripping rank, title, prize, and privilege from one of their eSport champions who dared to use his cult of personality to espouse an opinion. The Western Internet blew up at Blizzard, calling them out for their cowardice and completely anti-American, anti-Democracy, anti-Progress behavior. In response, Blizzard tried to walk-back their misguided decision, then ultimately moved on to distracting the games media by pointing at some “Diablo 4” signs they’d printed and shouting, “Look over there!”

This is truly emblematic of the fact that corporations and the plutocrats who run them are NOT our friends, and they don’t have ANYONE’S best interests in mind. Only their own profits.

3. The Year of Subscriptions

EA Access
Uplay Plus
PlayStation Plus
Nintendo Network Online
Xbox Live Gold
Microsoft Gamepass
Apple Arcade
Google Play Pass

Oh boy! Look at all those things we can use to play games without paying to buy the games! For one small, MONTHLY fee, each of the corporations behind those names will gladly take your money in order to allow you to play some games – naturally with a bunch of caveats attached. But what happens when you multiply a small, monthly fee by the number of small, monthly fees that have popped up like so many weeds? You get a HUEG-ASS cumulative monthly fee.

TV and movie corporations have learned the hard way that fragmenting a subscription ecosystem only invites piracy, as the pirates are offering a better service. Yet the games corporations are blindly following the same path, expecting things to turn out differently – or, perhaps more likely, struggling tooth and nail to become the alpha predator subscription that manages to survive while all the others go extinct. Either way, nobody really needs any of these things, the value to the customer is dubious, and the profits to be gleaned by game developers that put their products on these services even moreso.

Why are videogame companies trying to force this new model? “Monkey See, Monkey Do,” is probably the main reason, but it also comes down to perpetual revenue. Corporations love to bring in consistent-to-rising profits every month. Game releases make profits spike before they trail off as customers stop buying copies. Subscriptions, on the other hand, are constant. Furthermore, we’ve seen huge pushback against microtransactions and ads in games, as the blight has spread from mobile gaming trash to more legitimate consoles and PC. These corporate mafias are panicking, trying to figure out a new scam, and subscriptions are it.

2. Epic Games Becomes a Hoarder

As should be obvious from MeltedJoystick’s Games of the Year rundown, something has gone awry in the world of PC gaming. And that something is the Epic Games Store. While last year, we were excited about the prospect of a new digital distributor providing some competition to Steam and GOG, while possibly bringing something novel to the table (unlike Origin, Uplay,, the Bethesda Launcher, and the Rock* Launcher), we had to walk back that assessment even more quickly than Blizzard walked back their decisions regarding China and Hong Kong, as the Epic Store proved to be a disaster all year long. Instead of providing real incentives to use their store, Epic just used their gobs and gobs of ill-gotten “Fortnite” loot piñata money and some money given to them by Chinese gaming titan, Tencent, to outright BUY exclusivity deals for months or years. The result? Almost all of 2019’s most desirable games can only be purchased on the Epic Games Store on PC, just like they can only be purchased from Sony on PSN and Microsoft on Xbox Live. This is some real low-brow anti-customer behavior, and Epic should be ashamed of themselves… but Epic is a Western corporation, and, as we should know by now, those have NO shame.

1. Google Stadia Launches, World Says, “EFF YOU, GOOGLE!”

Oh, yes, let’s launch a bandwidth-and-data-hungry service in a world with spotty Internet penetration, poor average speeds, and stingy datacaps/metering. Then let’s add input lag, full-priced game purchases, subscriptions, and Google’s omnipresent pall of spying and poor customer service. The result is Google Stadia, a.k.a, Onlive 2.0, a new “gaming platform” that launched with all the fanfare of a moist cowpie hitting a flat rock.

Top 5 Wins

5. Console Makers Insist that Predatory Loot Box Odds Must be Disclosed

I don’t really consider this much of a ‘Win,’ but Chris insists it’s good news. Apparently, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft have all banded together to suggest – nay demand – that purveyors of the underage gambling mechanic in videogames colloquially known as ‘loot boxes’ must disclose the odds of winning any given prize from said boxes. Personally, I don’t see how knowing you have a 0.0000001% chance of getting anything good out of a loot box and knowing you have a 0.0000001% chance of getting anything good out of a loot box are any different, but with the year we’ve had, the Wins are few and far between, so we’re stretching for this one.

4. Videogames Go to the Movies, Don’t Completely Suck

If you’ve gone to a videogame-themed movie or a movie based on a videogame IP this year, chances are good that you didn’t want to end your life afterwards. That’s because movies like “Detective Pikachu” have done a far more admirable job of adapting videogame IP in a faithful and thoughtful way than the ‘90s cash-grabs – like “Super Mario Bros.” and “Street Fighter” – that we’ve grown used to. Maybe it’s thanks to the Internet and the ability to receive instant (and often harsh) fan input. Case in point: The upcoming “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie was (rightfully) eviscerated by videogamers who, upon seeing the original trailer, dubbed it “Sonic the Manhog” due to the weirdly nonsensical redesign of the titular character. Thankfully, old Sonic was rendered by software, and the studio behind the movie was able to simply redesign him to look more like… himself… and re-insert this actually-faithful character into the film. Too bad Jim Carrey couldn’t be redesigned to have a huge gut to go along with his spindly legs, like the original Dr. Robotnik/Eggman.

3. Microsoft Finally ‘Gets’ Acronyms with 9th Gen Xbox Name

Oh, XBONE, we only have one more year to make fun of you and your erect-penis of a nickname, as your successor is coming Holiday 2020. It’s been a good (bad) run, with plenty of dick jokes to be had at the expense of idiotic executive decision makers who didn’t immediately smash “Xbox” and “One” together in their minds to create the puerile nickname the most recent Microsoft console has ignobly borne since it launched. Neither did they realize that tacking an “S” onto the revised version of the XBONE, then making an “All” “Digital” version of that same revision would result in people dubbing it the XBONE SAD – a moniker which literally couldn’t be more accurate.

Maybe Microsoft hired some Millennials or Zoomers to come up with the name for the console-formerly-known-as-Scarlett, as the December 2019 reveal of this upcoming device (which, hilariously, looks like a refrigerator or garbage can) came with a sexy new name: The Xbox Series X. Yes, that’s literally a SeX-y new name. Of course, while it may be known as the Xbox SeX in the West, it’ll still likely tank in Japan due to the name, which Japanese gamers have taken to calling “Shiri X,” with “shiri” meaning “butt” and “x” meaning “bad/donotwant.” And, no, I don’t think you can idiomatically localize that as “Badass.”

2. Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro Hand the D&D Videogame License to Larian

Oh where, oh where
Have the RPGs gone?
Oh where, oh where can they be?
With their Dragons cut short
And their Dungeons cut long,
Oh where, oh where can they be?

It’s been a fairly long time since Dungeons & Dragons cRPGs have been anywhere on the roadmap of things to get excited about, with Wizards of the Coast handing the license to all manner of unqualified hacks, including the likes of Stormfront, Atari (delenda est), and n-Space in the decades after Interplay collapsed and took Black Isle and BioWare down with them. Fortunately for all of us who are fans of RPGs on both the tabletop and the thinking machine, the cRPG renaissance of the last few years finally dislodged the corporate stooges at Hasbro, who have controlled Wizards of the Coast since 1999, and caused them to make a good decision. Instead of handing the D&D videogame license to some “AAA” swill peddler like EA or Ubisoft, they handed it to Larian, the Belgian Single-“A”/Indie developer behind the fantastic ‘Divinity: Original Sin’ games (and several older-and-much-worse ‘Divinity’ games, but there’s no point in dwelling on the past when the present it so bright). D&D + Larian is a match made in Heaven, and Hasbro literally could not have made a better choice. What kind of fluke of probability did we witness?!

1. Study Proves, Scientifically, that Copyright Infringement is a Universal Good

Corporations don’t want to hear facts any more than religious fundamentalists do (maybe that’s why they’re both so cozy together under the GOP banner). But we’re going to keep bludgeoning them with facts until they either pay attention or die of blunt-force trauma. 2019 saw the release of a 2018 study from Indiana University that showed overwhelmingly strong evidence that copyright infringement, a.k.a., piracy, doesn’t have a negative effect on the market for so-called Intellectual Property, but actually improves the market for both the IP rightsholder and the end-user. It’s really nice for the rational people who have been espousing this view for decades to be vindicated by objective, empirical evidence after so many years. Now how many more years will the Old Economy thrash and struggle in its death throes as corporate oligarchs try to buy enough politicians to maintain the status quo?

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