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The year 2014 was a period of transition for the gaming industry. It was the first full year we got to spend with next-gen (now current-gen) consoles, which saw their share of controversies and troubled launches. It was a year that brought to the forefront social and gender issues. Kickstarter became less of a thing while virtual reality and live streaming led to billions of dollars changing hands. Here, in no particular order, are some of the biggest stories we talked about in 2014.
“Actually, it’s about ethics in games journalism.”
The #GamerGate controversy dominated social media and gaming websites for months. What began as an angry online screed by an ex-boyfriend of indie-game developer Zoe Quinn spiraled into a targeted hate campaign against Quinn, Giant Spacekat’s Brianna Wu, and critic Anita Sarkeesian, and more. The three women left their homes and contacted authorities after receiving death threats on Twitter. Sarkeesian was also forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University after an anonymous person threatened “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if the school didn’t cancel her appearance.
A bevy of articles proclaiming the “death of the gamer” added more fuel to the flames. Writer Leigh Alexander’s article on Gamasutra, “Gamers don’t have to be your audience. ‘Gamers’ are over,” drew the most ire. Offended #GamerGaters petitioned chip maker Intel to pull its advertising from the site. Many felt like they were under attack from members of the gaming press, who they dubbed “Social Justice Warriors” or SJWs, and the rift between journalists and readers persists even today — proof that the scars from #GamerGate will take a long time to completely heal.
Ubisoft’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year
Ubisoft’s troubles arguably began with the release of Watch Dogs, a much-hyped open-world action game whose PC and Wii U versions suffered from numerous technical issues. Many also felt it was formulaic and didn’t live up to its pre-release hype. It still sold more than 9 million copies, though, and caused the publisher’s Uplay service to buckle under the high demand.
Things only got worse for the French publisher when it released Assassin’s Creed Unity in November. Assassin’s Creed is one of Ubisoft’s flagship brands, yet Unity received middling reviews from critics for its sub par performance and meme-worthy glitches and bugs. The official Assassin’s Creed blog is filled with updates about patch notes, optimizations, and workarounds. Retailers have stopped selling the game’s DLC season pass, and Ubisoft is offering a free game to those who already purchased it.
Unity’s stumble has hurt both the publisher’s image and its wallet. Ubisoft’s stock dropped following the game’s release, and the company quickly issued an apology to fans, promising better service in the future.
Amazon acquires Twitch for nearly $1B
A number of big acquisitions happened in the gaming industry this year, but online retailer Amazon purchasing video game streaming service Twitch for nearly $1 billion was perhaps the most surprising. Although Twitch is only three years old, it has become the go-to source for viewing professional e-sports and conferences like E3 and PlayStation Experience. It boasts a viewership of 55 million per month, and its prime-time numbers rival cable networks like MTV, Comedy Central, and MSNBC.
The Twitch buyout is only one of the steps Amazon recently took to reposition itself as a video game content creator. The company also hired Portal designer Kim Swift, Far Cry 2 director Clint Hocking, and Killer Instinct studio Double Helix to work at its newly minted Amazon Games Studios. The shop’s first project was a sci-fi shooter for Amazon’s Fire TV called Sev Zero.
Microsoft buys Minecraft studio Mojang for $2.5B
“It’s not about the money. It’s about my sanity.”
Those are the words Minecraft creator Markus Persson wrote to close out a blog post explaining why he chose to sell his blockbuster game and Mojang, the studio that developed it, to Microsoft earlier this year for $2.5 billion.
Although Persson said he never intended for Minecraft to be a big hit, it’s had a huge impact on the gaming world. The title has been downloaded more than 100 million times on PC alone, and it remains one of the top downloads on both the iOS and Google app stores. It’s spawned a long line of merchandise, and it’s even getting the big-screen treatment courtesy of Warner Bros.
Since closing the deal, Persson has left Mojang, which is now a part of Microsoft Studios, to work on smaller projects.
For the time being, Microsoft continues to sell Minecraft across all platforms, including PC, iOS, Android, Xbox, and PlayStation.
A little bird causes a lot of flap
Like Persson, Dong Nguyen never thought his simple mobile game about a footless bird dodging pipes would become a mega-hit. Yet, Flappy Bird dominated app-store charts and tech-news headlines for a short while in early 2014. The viral sensation topped 50 million downloads and was pulling in an estimated $50,000 per day in ad revenues before Nguyen decided to remove it from stores. The frustrated developer said it had ruined his “simple life.” Although Flappy Bird was hugely popular, it also faced a lot of criticism, with many accusing Nguyen of ripping off the artwork of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. franchise. Later, Nguyen went on to add that he pulled the game because it was too addictive and had become a problem.
Months later, Flappy Bird would rise (and fall) again with the release of Flappy Bird Family, a sequel made exclusively for the Amazon Fire TV.
Facebook acquires Oculus VR for $2B
Oculus Rift has the potential to change the way we work, play, and communicate — that’s what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this year when the social-networking giant announced it was acquiring Oculus VR and its virtual reality headset for $2 billion.
Oculus has generated a lot of excitement in the gaming industry. It began as a Kickstarter project seeking to raise $250,000 on the crowdfunding website, but eager gamers wound up donating $2.4 million. Since then, thousands of early development kits have been sent out, and many studios are already hard at work creating new games for the headset or adding support for existing ones like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Among the Sleep, and Elite: Dangerous.
E.T. the video game finally goes home
For decades, the story of Atari burying unsold copies of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in a New Mexico landfill was one of gaming’s biggest urban myths. Atari developed and published the movie tie-in in five and a half weeks in 1982, producing what many consider to be the worst video game ever made. It was a commercial and critical failure, and Atari suffered massive losses as a result.
This April, an excavation team proved the legend was true. It dug up the cartridges for a documentary called “Atari: Game Over,” along with an old Atari 2600 joystick and other classic Atari games like Centipede, Space Invaders, and Asteroids. The documentary premiered exclusively on Xbox Live on Nov. 20.
DDoS attacks against game companies increase
2014 was the year we discovered a group of lizards could disrupt major online gaming services. OK, not really. But a hacker group calling itself Lizard Squad did launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against companies like Microsoft, Sony, Blizzard, League of Legends creator Riot Games, and Path of Exile studio Grinding Gear Games. The cyber attack overloaded servers, bringing many online games and services to a halt for most of the day. Lizard Squad also took responsibility for a bomb threat made to an American Airlines jet carrying Sony Online Entertainment’s president, John Smedley. The FBI is investigating the incident.
Blizzard suffered a second DDoS attack later in the year during the launch of Warlords of Draenor, an expansion for World of Warcraft. Lizard Squad took the credit for that one as well.
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