Throughout the second half of 2023, we charted its hottest messes and debated which terrible thing was the most worth screaming at. The polls have closed (not really), and the people have spoken. Without further ado, it's time to crown the winner...
Poll Winner: The Embracer Group's Leadership
Summarizing the actions of The Embracer Group without neglecting at least a few key details is basically impossible, but I'll try my best. The company attempted to partner with a Saudi-based firm, only to see their value plummet after that deal fell through. This started a devastating chain reaction, leading to studio closures and fire sale offers despite solid performance from the games its studios released in 2023. After months of cuts and lives ruined, many of whom were cut off from health insurance in the US right before the start of a new month for extra spite, the board announced that leadership was "discharged from liability". This vomit icing on top of a shit cake was enough for the GB community to give Embracer a lifetime achievement award in late-stage capitalist malfeasance. I assume they will take this award and try to flip it to Amazon for 1/4 of its market value.
Runner-Up #1: Unity
Like Embracer, fully summarizing this sad saga without omission is difficult. It started when Unity announced changes to its monetization and received an incredible level of backlash immediately. It escalated enough to the point where developers were announcing that they would change the platform for their game, and the backpedaling began soon thereafter. For his part in the disaster, John Riccitiello stepped down (though not until April 2024). Since then, Unity has been laying people offin droves (without giving them a six-month grace period, of course), showing how little actual labor matters to the c-suite. It's unclear if the brand will ever recover from this debacle, which feels like it could have been easily avoided. And they still couldn't even win this category!
Runner-Up #2 (Tie!): Jirard "The Completionist" Khalil
Well, this one came out of nowhere, both as a story and in the poll results. Jirard was accused of misleading charitable donors for an organization he ran with his family by a YouTuber whom I won't link to. A number of things happened afterwards, most notably Jirard stepping down from the aforementioned organization and releasing a response. The organization suddenly found an acceptable recipient for the funds, though some money is still allegedly unaccounted for. There were some ripples around the industry, including Sea of Stars removing Jirard's facsimile from the game and Friends Per Second dropping him from the roster. It's unclear if his brand will ever recover from the controversy, but it's sure to be debated online forever.
Runner-Up #2-2: Twitter (Currently Known as 'X')
Most of the impact of this one lies outside the sphere of games. However, Twitter became the de facto place for game announcements, updates, and other releases for developers, publishers, and the media. Its implosion and march to the grave has already made it more difficult for larger companies to communicate with their fans, and it's hurt smaller companies by limiting their outreach. Changes to how links are displayed harmed journalistic outlets, not to mention the rampant banning of journalists that don't parrot Elon Musk's soft-brained musings. Scattering an audience to the winds in an increasingly user-hostile internet is definitely a mess, and it's probably no surprise the community chose it as one of the hottest of 2023.
Honorable Mention: The Day Before
The above entries were the most passionately discussed throughout the various Hottest Mess Blogs, so I gave this slot to the game that surely would have garnered more attention if the news broke a week earlier. The Day Before
is was a game some have called an obvious scam, and it seemed to fight off the responsibility of actually launching for months. The reason anyone cared is that it was, at some point, the most wishlisted game in Steam's history. Of course the game came out, delivered absolutely none of its promises, was delisted, and then the developer permanently turned off the lights. This all happened in a matter of days. The rest of the finalists were more of a tire fire, but we give credit to the fire that burned brightest for the shortest time.
Write-In Winner: Layoffs in General
I resisted including this because I think it goes against the more fun vibe I'd like Hottest Mess to have. But looking at the above entries, it would be disingenuous to disqualify it (particularly since Embracer and Unity might be the largest contributors). Over 9,000 people lost their jobs due to layoffs in game development last year. Media suffered greatly, with the Washington Post's Launcher and Vice's Waypoint shutting down for good. This very website suffered its first-ever layoffs of on-camera staff. And tech in general suffered (and continues to suffer in 2024) massive layoffs of bracing proportions. Seemingly the only CEO to pay for the mistakes, all of which have been generated by management, was John Riccitiello at Unity, who has a steady job for another 3 months. This will end up being the story of 2023, if there's any justice. Maybe some year, leadership and business executives will accept blame for their poor acumen and not shift all collateral damage to the people, you know, doing the work to try and make it succeed. But 2023 was certainly not that year, and 2024 doesn't look promising either.
With all of that, let's raise the jerseys of these winners to the rafters of Hottest Mess (formerly crypto dot com) Arena, and let's never speak of them again. See you for this feature again in 5-6 months!