Back in 2011, our former corporate overlords at Massively-of-old noticed that games like League of Legends were getting pretty damn popular and asked us to work them into the site. In order to incorporate them into an MMO blog without disrupting the existing MMO news coverage, we decided to put all of the news on games that may not fit the MMO definition into a new roundup-style column called Not So Massively. In the years that followed, the column kept track of dozens of online games in various stages of development, watched the MOBA genre mature, saw many games plod slowly into an early grave, and witnessed the e-sports explosion on a weekly basis.
It’s no secret that online gaming has been trending away from the persistent online universes of MMOs and into the shorter session-based gameplay of MOBAs, action RPGs and first person shooters. With gaming preferences changing, it wasn’t long before Not So Massively became oversaturated with news each week and began drawing more traffic than some of the MMO news. Naturally, we’ve now adapted and started rolling MOBAs and other online games into our everyday news coverage. As we hit the end of 2015 and approach almost a full year since Massively was reborn independently as MassivelyOP, I’d like to look back at the past year and highlight the top ten most surprising and controversial Not So Massively stories of 2015 in no particular order.
Derek Smart and The Escapist vs. Star Citizen
The world’s supply of popcorn ran dangerously low this year during the insane internet war between Derek Smart and Star Citizen. It started fairly innocuously with the MMO developer claiming that Star Citizen couldn’t be made on its current budget, but things quickly got out of hand. Smart began sending letters to Roberts threatening legal action, demanding that the company refund all Kickstarter backers and submit to forensic accounting, and suggesting that the FTC was actually investigating RSI’s financials.
The story hit its peak when a blogger ran an article on The Escapist claiming to cite anonymous sources with some serious accusations. Among the accusations were claims that Star Citizen was running out of money, that Chris Roberts misappropriated crowdfunding for personal expenses, and that Marketing VP Sandi Gardiner was a racist. Chris Roberts responded with a lengthy rant accusing The Escapist of defamation and suggesting that the blogger was a prominent GamerGate supporter with a pre-existing anti-Star Citizen agenda and known connections with Derek Smart.
Roberts threatened legal action if the article wasn’t withdrawn, but The Escapist stood by the article and asserted that all sources had been appropriately vetted. We don’t yet know whether any lawsuit was actually filed, and the world’s supply of popcorn may never fully recover from this protracted internet dispute.
Dota 2 puts over $20 million into e-sports prizes
There’s been a running theme in 2015 of huge cash prizes for e-sports. League of Legends put $5 million into its competitive scene throughout the year, with $1 million reserved for its world championship. SMITE planned to disperse at least $2 million in prize money into its competitive scene and announced that it would be spread out more evenly in order to make e-sports more viable as a long-term career.
Dota 2 blew everyone else out of the water with its prize pool of $18 million for The International 5 world championship and a top prize of over $6 million for the winners. The funds were primarily raised through sales of the digital tournament compendium which this year combined a system of crowdfunding stretch goals, endless levels you could buy with real money as a gambling mechanic for rewards in order to reach nearly $70 million in revenue, with 25% going toward The International’s prize pool. Shortly after, Valve announced that it would run several more tournament seasons throughout the year with prize pools of $3 million each.
The LoL subreddit moderation drama
Shortly after, e-sports reporter Richard Lewis leaked information on the topic from a source inside the LoL subreddit’s moderator staff. The leaks showed that the video was removed after a complaint from professional player Voyboy, who was being sponsored by WTFast at the time and so had a financial interest in having the video removed. Lewis also highlighted evidence that many of the LoL subreddit’s moderators had signed non-disclosure agreements with Riot and were getting free swag from the developer, which he considered to be inappropriate.
The end result was a blanket ban on linking anything Richard Lewis’ name is attached to. The official reason given for the ban was that Lewis had allegedly been manipulating the Reddit vote system using his Twitter audience and harassing moderators and other Reddit members. Lewis himself suggested that it was actually part of an organised effort to get him fired, to discredit independent e-sports journalism, and to suppress stories from unofficial or unapproved sources. If nothing else, this unexpected twist in what should be a fun and light-hearted game shows that no online community is immune to internet drama.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive nerfs everything
Counter-Strike is one of the original competitive online first person shooters, having a thriving e-sports scene before most people had even heard of e-sports. The game’s latest incarnation is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which is like its predecessors in that the game is all about player skill, aim, fast reactions and tactics. It’s no surprise then that players were in an uproar recently when developer Valve handed down a huge list of weapon nerfs that added more randomness and inaccuracy to many weapons. All pistols had their accuracy run into the ground and staple rifles like the AK47 and M4A1 became a lot less controllable.
The patch also added the new R8 revolver pistol to the game that has about a second of charge-up time before it fires, but which could reliably kill people in one hit. It had practically the same the accuracy, range, damage and armour penetration of the AWP sniper rifle for a fraction of the cost. Valve nerfed the R8 revolver after just three days, and later went on to revert all of the rifle and pistol nerfs. Players complained that the changes were developed without consulting the playerbase or the professional gaming scene.
Ex-Destiny composer successfully sues Bungie
Online shooter Destiny was a huge financial success, selling over 6.3 million copies in its first month alone, but it wasn’t all good news for developer Bungie. Last year we had heard the horrible news that Bungie had missed a $2.5 million bonus because publisher Activision attached a requirement of hitting a 90% average in review scores. While we were all feeling bad for Bungie, we were surprised to hear that the company had tried to illegally strip shares from Destiny‘s ex-composer Martin O’Donnell.
O’Donnell was the original creator of the musical score for the Halo series and Audio Director on Destiny, and was later fired following a disagreement over creative use of his music. The company then revoked his shares, effectively denying him dividends from distributed profits and stopping him from exercising his rights as a shareholder. This year saw final arbitration of the case, with O’Donnell granted the right to use or sell his shares and to get back-dated dividends. He went on to start Highwire Studios with his windfall, and is now working on a new PSX exclusive VR game named Golem.
If you watch gaming YouTube videos, chances are you’ve seen more than a few by John “TotalBiscuit” Bain. Also known as The Cynical Brit, Bain has been a hugely influential force in online gaming over the past several years, having introduced countless people to games such as League of Legends, Path of Exile, SMITE, and Hearthstone. This year he was given the news that his bowel cancer is back and it is now terminal. The life expectancy of people in his condition is currently around 2-3 years, but Bain remains positive as he’s much younger and stronger than most people in his condition. Gaming communities around the world showed their support for Total Biscuit in the wake of the news, with many raising money for cancer charities and urging anyone with similar symptoms to get them checked.
RUST assigns players random bodies
Survival game RUST hit the games media three times this year with almost the exact same story, and every time it was hilarious. The story kicked off in March when developers finally added different skin tones to the game but decided to assign them randomly based on a player’s Steam ID rather than let players choose it themselves. Some players became enraged when they found themselves having to play a character with an unfamiliar skin tone and were promptly branded racists, while others discussed their experiences of racism in-game following the change and the unique social experiment the patch created.
RUST hit the news for the second time in June when developers decided to apply the same process to characters’ body proportions, including but not limited to penis size. The response to this change was a little more light-hearted, though some were disappointed that they didn’t get to design their own character. Predictably, the game hit the news again in July when female characters were added and players logged in to find they had been assigned a gender at random.
Star Citizen hits $100 million and releases Alpha 2.0
Every year I predict that the funding for Star Citizen will dry up soon, and every year I am proven wrong. Despite having dropped stretch goals entirely, this year we saw Star Citizen raise the same amount of crowdfunding as its two previous years to hit the insane milestone of $100,000,000 US. After all of the Derek Smart drama and accusations of the game not being real, Star Citizen also released its Alpha 2.0 update with an early version of the persistent universe to all backers just before it hit the 100 million mark.
Infinite Crisis closing its doors
When Turbine began making its DC Comics MOBA Infinite Crisis, the MOBA genre was already starting to mature and clear front-runners were emerging. Establishing a popular competitive MOBA was always going to be an uphill battle, but by the time Infinite Crisis was ready to release to the public that hill had become a mountain. The game languished in an open beta stage for a full year while competitors carved up the genre between them, and then officially closed its doors just a few months after officially launching.
The closure announcement was particularly bitter-sweet as it came in the same week that Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm officially released. Breakaway titles like SMITE and Heroes of the Storm have managed to make a place for themselves in this crowded emerging market, but Infinite Crisis never managed to reach the kind of wide audience required to make it worthwhile.
League of Legends‘ SpectateFaker drama
The League of Legends community got its feathers ruffled a number of times this year, but the one that stands out the most was the SpectateFaker drama. The issue started with professional player Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, who had an exclusive contract with Azubu TV to broadcast his matches on that service rather than Twitch. Another player named StarLordLucian then spectated Faker’s match using the game client and streamed his own screen to Twitch, capturing only the spectated gameplay and none of the commentary or camera footage from Faker’s own stream.
The SpectateFaker stream became so popular that Azubu decided to issue a DMCA takedown request for it, claiming that it is their copyrighted material. That’s when things got complicated, as Azubu didn’t actually own the copyright on the video. The SpectateFaker channel was streaming a completely new video of a publicly accessible game match, not rebroadcasting the Azubu stream, and ultimately players argued that Riot Games is the copyright holder on all LoL videos and may be the only one who can issue DMCA requests on it.
The drama didn’t end there, as Riot president and co-founder Marc Merrill spoke out against StarLordLucian and said that he was harassing and bullying Faker, but later said that he regretted those statements made in the heat of the moment on Reddit. Riot ruled that while StarLordLucian wasn’t breaking the terms of service, his stream was harmful to Faker’s brand and career and should be discontinued. Merrill also confirmed that Riot Games does claim full ownership of all LoL gameplay and that Azubu had no legal right to issue a DMCA takedown request against the SpectateFaker stream.