Hottest Mess 2024: Spring Check-In

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ALLTheDinos

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Edited By ALLTheDinos
Pictured: Embracer entering the games industry (source: news dot xbox dot com)
Pictured: Embracer entering the games industry (source: news dot xbox dot com)

When I started this series in 2022, it was to resurrect a defunct feature of Game of the Year discussions that I’ve enjoyed in the past. After 2023 and 2024 so far, it’s clear why Giant Bomb staff past and present shelved it. The real winner of Hottest Mess in the game industry is the forces that continuously abuse, exploit, and dispose of industry labor, including within the media that covers it. In the last 15 months, this has manifested as unprecedented layoffs that have ranged from studios that released supposedly underperforming games, to Game of the Year contenders whose parent companies decided to arbitrarily shed 8% of the workforce. It’s led to the closures of studios and media outlets, all for the sake of an infinite profit engine that is as capricious as it is impossible. The issue is so dire that it has its own Wikipedia page. And afterwards? Bullshit excuses are given, and the leadership that made the poor decisions leading to layoffs almost always escape all accountability. It’s a total garbage fire and unquestionably the largest challenge facing the industry as a whole.

I wanted to give that explanation before discussing the reason I run this series a few times a year now. If the ultimate form of Hottest Mess is tracking layoffs, I’m not interested in writing any more about that. The types of Hottest Mess I enjoy are things like the Unity trash fire from last year or chasing that dragon: the Randy Pitchford USB stick at Medieval Times saga. Most of the following candidates are bad news, but they don’t feel quite as soul-crushing as the layoff counter racing upwards on a weekly basis. Here’s what I’ve been tracking over the first three months of the year:

  • Apple unveils a new anticompetitive app policy that gets slammed by the EGDF and Microsoft. Later, Apple terminates Epic’s developer account temporarily, prompting an investigation by the European Union. Finally, the US Department of Justice sues Apple over a smartphone ‘monopoly’, accusing the company of preventing developers from offering cloud gaming apps on the App Store.
  • Dragon Ball FighterZ unveils one of the worst rollback netcode patches ever implemented.
  • Dragon’s Dogma II releases with major performance bugs; the game also offers microtransactions that appear to contradict the development team's intent with how the game should be played. Capcom later apologizes for its launch state.
  • Foamstars uses Midjourney, a highly unethical AI tool, to generate art and music; the game reviews poorly on release.
  • Last Epoch uses machine translation that is so terrible, the Polish translation includes ChatGPT requests (in English) for more information in response to a prompt.
  • Nintendo sues Yuzu’s Switch emulator out of existence, with Yuzu Discord instructions cited as proof of malfeasance. Citra and Pizza Emulators also shut down out of fear for being sued by Nintendo.
  • PEGI and other ratings boards spontaneously change Balatro’s rating for being a gambling game, which it is decidedly not. This change temporarily removes Balatro from digital storefronts in many countries.
  • Rockstar forces employees back into the office to finish Grand Theft Auto VI, prompting blowback from their workforce.
  • SAG-AFTRA seems to bypass actual voice actor feedback and agree to deal that allows use of AI voice copies for its members.
  • Skull & Bones fails to hit 1 million total players even after offering a free game trial.
  • Sony loses an estimated $10 billion in value after profit margins and console units sold substantially underperform to expectations.
  • Star Wars: Battlefront Classic Collection launches in an extremely rough state, including only having server room for less than 1% of its PC audience; Aspyr has also allegedly stolen modder work without credit.
  • Steam opens the AI game floodgates, and it’s unclear if Valve is capable of moderating stolen content.
  • Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League gets pulled from early window launch for giving players full story completion on startup; after releasing to poor reviews, it gets lower concurrent numbers than previous games in the Batman franchise.
  • Warner Bros. continues its assault on its own IP by delisting Adult Swim games from Steam.
  • Xbox bans users that upload sex scenes from Baldur’s Gate 3.
  • Xbox offers a confusing response to rumors about several games changing from console exclusives to multiplatform, allowing speculation to run rampant on whether they will continue to exist as a console.

As some window into my process, I also track developing and debunked stories. I’ve got the following early candidates entered into my Notes app:

  • Debunked: Altec Lansing accidentally reveals the Nintendo Switch 2 launch window while trying to announce an AI-driven GameShark reboot. There’s no way Altec Lansing would be privy to this launch date, and also they probably missed the mark by 6+ months.
  • Developing: Borderlands movie, which has the potential to be absolutely terrible.
  • Developing: The Palworld and Pokemon saga, which is bound to turn up some bizarre mess, right?
  • Debunked: Palworld steals digital assets from Pokemon. This was revealed as a hoax from an artist that’s a Pokemon fan.

Have I missed anything so far in 2024? Do any of the candidates feel out of place and not worth considering in December? I’ll probably update this in June unless something absolutely batshit happens in the meantime.

(Editor's Note: an earlier draft of this blog had links for all the relevant stories, and it returned a 403 Forbidden error. I like to cite my messes, but I wasn't able to this time.)

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PeezMachine

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I don't think it will hang on this list, but as a fan of cautionary tales, I always get a good chuckle when something goes awry with Overwatch, and with the most recent "oops no PvE after all" announcement, I've lost track of how many times this particular feature has been cancelled or un-cancelled. I'm also going to reserve some space for something out of Epic -- I just feel something in my bones.

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AV_Gamer

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#2  Edited By AV_Gamer

The Overwatch 2 reveal that Blizzard scrapped the whole PvE feature should definitely be on the list. Because it pretty much confirms what many people suspected, there were never any plans for PvE in the first place and the whole Overwatch 2 move was to turn a paid game with content updates, into a free-to-play microtransaction model. Adding to the mess, is developers realizing that the 5v5 move was a mistake and pretty much made the game stale.

Out of the list, I think the Xbox not admitting they are going multiplatform with their future games is a good one. Because when they finally get around to admitting it, it's going to piss a lot of people off. They may still make a console, but they won't have any more exclusives for it. And yes, those game will eventually get ported to the PlayStation and the new Switch when it comes out.

Another one would be what happened to Yuzu, not because of Nintendo, but because of Yuzu profiting off of their emulator using Patreon, which is a big no no. They were asking for it, and now the gamers are suffering for it. The makers of Dolphin were a lot smarter with their approach.

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bigsocrates

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Some of these feel like stretches, though it is obviously early in the year. I don't really think Xbox banning people for Baldur's Gate sex scenes is that hot a mess because it got resolved pretty quickly. Similarly the whole kerfuffle over exclusives seems to have died down. I disagree with @av_gamer here because I don't think you can call something a hot mess THIS year based on what may or may not happen in the coming years. If Xbox ever goes full "no exclusives," which Phil Spencer has hinted at that will be an enormous hot mess, but for now their testing of the waters hasn't seemed to cause many issues. I would put that in "developing" with the other potential messes.

The CONSTANT leaks out of Xbox (the latest being their new digital only console, and the always leaked E3 stuff) is an ongoing hot mess.

Sony's value taking a dive isn't so much a hot mess as just a business thing.

On the other hand I think Embracer's continued melt down and selling the whole company off piecemeal should count.

Dragon's Dogma II reviewed well and seems well received by its specific audience so again it's not a hot mess to me. Those are just...issues.

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ALLTheDinos

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@bigsocrates: Admittedly, I don't expect most of these to hang. I jot them down into a Notes app as I become aware of stuff, and I intend to re-examine them each time I update this list. A few of them are hints of bigger issues (like DD2 and Tekken 8 both revealing micropurchases after reviews are in) that might blossom into true hot messes in the fall. The further we get from the news, the less likely I am to remember it existed, and I never know what gets a pop on these things.

For clarification: the Xbox multiplatform candidate is not about them going multiplatform (which seems like a solid business decision but idk), so much as it is about them completely fumbling their messaging during two weeks of rampant speculation. Rolling the "news" out on a podcast that didn't answer anything, not even the names of the first 4 games, was a bizarre way to address it. I think it speaks to a larger issue at Xbox of them simply not knowing what to do with the console.

Overwatch 2 has been added to my rolling list, thanks for the recommendations!

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@allthedinos: I understand what you mean about them fumbling their messaging but I just think that the whole mess has calmed down enough that unless something changes it's not really that hot anymore. To be fair it was very hot for a couple of weeks but the podcast and subsequent releases seem to have done their job and everything has cooled off. Now it's a cool mess. Maybe it burned hot and bright enough that it stays on the list for now but it's not going to be competitive come the end of the year when it's going up against Embracer group starting to sell off companies they don't even own.

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KainHighwind09

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@allthedinos: in DD2's case, the microtransactions were part of the reviewer notes/guidelins

Just nobody bothered to mention them cause the microtransactions were on the tame side

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cikame

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#7  Edited By cikame

GamerGate 2?

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ALLTheDinos

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@cikame: If I counted every time stupid right-wing shitheads got offended by something they made up, my Notes app would be nothing but those entries.

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@allthedinos: Still it feels glaringly absent when there’s just a bunch of other non issues.

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bigsocrates

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@cikame: Is that what this is being called? Considering that Gamergate 1 was a catalyst for a lot of the fascism that's been swelling up since then I'm not excited about this piece of nostalgia.

I also think it arguably transcends hot mess status in the same way layoffs do. It's a political movement with the intention of further marginalizing marginalized voices. It's part of a larger and very scary movement. Like we can all laugh at "Ha ha, Skull & Bones is a bad game" even though in reality that too has some much darker elements of worker exploitation, mismanagement, and unearned government subsidies, but I can't laugh at people lying about and attacking any kind of DEI initiative in an attempt to maintain racial/gender hegemony.

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So as the winner of last year's Hottest Mess Award, does Embracer not qualify for this year? Because I think having to sell off Gearbox, one of their biggest key acquisitions, for a massive (as in almost 2/3 of the value lost in the sale) loss just to stay afloat is pretty messy.

The Yuzu people flying too close to the sun is definitely up there as a self-own with big consequences. They didn't follow the cardinal rule of emulators: don't ask for money for work on them and don't explicitly talk about doing fixes for currently available commercial products (especially new games! Like that was extremely dumb! They were talking about TOTK fixes at the release of that game. Of course this was going to go badly). As a result of their stupidity, two major emulators are offline and others are becoming increasingly wary of having any public presence (which, they probably should have done that in the first place).

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I don't get how Nintendo suing pirates would be in any way a hot mess, unless you were implying that the pirates are the ones that messed up. When you are emulating games that are currently available on the market at fair prices, it's very clearly not an issue about accessibility, and a game like Tears of the Kingdom that sold 20+ million copies does not need to be preserved by home users at this time.

You can argue about the amount of the settlement (which the Yuzu people agreed to), but no one should be surprised that committing crimes might lead to unpleasant outcomes.

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Ben_H

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#13  Edited By Ben_H
@apewins said:

I don't get how Nintendo suing pirates would be in any way a hot mess, unless you were implying that the pirates are the ones that messed up. When you are emulating games that are currently available on the market at fair prices, it's very clearly not an issue about accessibility, and a game like Tears of the Kingdom that sold 20+ million copies does not need to be preserved by home users at this time.

You can argue about the amount of the settlement (which the Yuzu people agreed to), but no one should be surprised that committing crimes might lead to unpleasant outcomes.

It's the Yuzu side of it that's the hot mess, not Nintendo. They were being flagrant with how much they were doing in plain sight, down to promoting a Patreon that offered perks including patches for current games. Their Discord server was filled with publicly available conversations detailing things about the emulator that were extremely shaky legally (I think I saw mention that they may have discussed using Nintendo IP while developing the emulator, which is extremely illegal). Emulation has existed for decades now by following general guidelines about how to talk about and publicly discuss a project (things like never explicitly talking about copyrighted material unless it's old and not legally available for purchase anymore, and primarily talking about the emulator in context to homebrew applications, not commercial products) and they basically broke every guideline you could think of. They tried to cash in on TOTK and, well, it ended how everyone who saw them doing this said it would. I remember Gerstmann specifically not being impressed with what Yuzu were doing around the release of TOTK, and he ended up getting pretty mad at his Twitch chat since people were yelling at him to emulate the game on Yuzu rather than play it on a Switch when he was streaming the game at launch.

Because of how brazen they were, now several prominent emulator projects are dead, which is an awful thing from a game preservation perspective. Had they kept quiet about their work and not tried to profit from it, those shuttered projects would still probably be being actively developed and publicly available.

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#14  Edited By AV_Gamer

@apewins: Pretty much everything @ben_h said. The people at Yuzu were poking the bear, bragging about how their Switch emulator was superior to the official Switch. And when you poke the bear too many times, it wakes up angry and rips your head off, which is what Nintendo did to them. And it's a hot mess, because emulation is one of the key ways games are preserved long after the industry has made its profits off of them and abandoned them. Imagine all the games lost to time if things like MAME didn't exist, for starters. Nintendo, Sony, etc have made it clear they don't care about game preservation and many game developers either don't exist anymore or have been taken over by the current greed machine that has infected many in the gaming industry. So stuff like emulation is important. Thanks to Yuzu, the block is now hot for many people who want to do this, and that sucks for everyone else, especially the gamers.

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#15  Edited By infantpipoc  Online
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apewins

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@av_gamer: @ben_h: Sorry I misread the situation then. I'm seeing a lot of people on social media blaming Nintendo for the whole thing and framing the Yuzu people as some kids that don't deserve to be in the mess that they made for themselves. But it's social media so who the hell knows if the posts that I'm seeing are even from real people nowadays. Nintendo is probably not going to sue anyone for millions if all they want to do is play A Link to the Past on their computer.

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infantpipoc

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#18 infantpipoc  Online

@cikame: Fair enough. Well, I guess the way wankers hyped up FF7 Rebirth and Stellar Blade is weird. To paraphrase Jeff Grestmann: what kind of sicko do those c***s think video game players are?

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Shindig

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I think the Embracer exodus probably takes it.

Can someone give me a quick and easy Sweet Baby Inc rundown? Is it just the developers deciding to use them for writing or is there something actually iffy about it? Or is the mess the GAMER RAGE?

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Ben_H

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#20  Edited By Ben_H
@shindig said:

I think the Embracer exodus probably takes it.

Can someone give me a quick and easy Sweet Baby Inc rundown? Is it just the developers deciding to use them for writing or is there something actually iffy about it? Or is the mess the GAMER RAGE?

Just stupid gamer rage garbage from outrage Youtubers that got out of control yet again. Sweet Baby Inc. is a diversity/inclusion/representation contractor that developers/publishers hire when making a game to ask "Hey, is there anything problematic in our portrayal of [insert thing here] in our game that we might have missed when making this" or "Hey, we want to do something involving [insert thing here], how can we do this in a way that is respectful to [thing]". What they do is extremely common in both current media and in other fields (I've heard of similar companies in academia for writing papers, for example). As an example, if a particular culture/ethnic group/etc. is included in the story of a game, the developer will consult these contractors to make sure that they aren't accidentally including something offensive/racist/bigoted in their portrayal of said group in the game. This prevents awkward things like the Banuk in Horizon: Zero Dawn, who were basically a group in the game whose whole aesthetic was culturally appropriated from the Inuit of northern Canada and criticism of this ended up on national news here in Canada (the Banuk were almost entirely absent from the second Horizon game as a result).

The Gamers(tm) are blaming this company for there being increased diversity and more women characters in the games they were hired to consult on. This has been generalized into this group being angry about diversity in games in general and claims of publishers preventing developers from including sexualized characters in games (despite there being multiple recent games released that provide evidence to the contrary). One example is that they were upset about Square adding more clothes/skin coverage to Tifa in FF7R in a flashback where she is underage. It's a whole thing.

If you want a more nuanced discussion of this with more detail, Remap Radio covered it for a couple weeks on their podcast.