2023 was definitely a year of surprises for me. Not all of them were pleasant! If you’ve been watching my columns, you probably have a sense of some of it. But we’re not here to talk about the things that have gone wonky in my own life; we’re here to talk about the surprising things that happened this year in MMO news – as we do every year, as we will continue to do for the future years. It’s kind of our thing at this point.
Some years not as much surprising stuff happens, so this roundup is a bit less interesting or we have to stretch the definition of “surprise” a little bit. This was not a problem this year, however. I don’t think anyone could have seen most of this coming, and so much of it is just insane. So let’s take a tour back through the year at the most surprising stories of the year, some good, some bad, and some just head-scratchingly bizarre.
When it comes to self-owns, there’s stupid, there’s profoundly stupid, and then there’s what Unity decided to do this year. After having worked very hard to establish itself as a genuine outsider engine for game development that became absurdly popular, Unity not only pissed away all of its goodwill but managed to turn into the industry punching bag to the extreme degree where it made Epic Games look like the good guys. And those guys are awful. Just pure clownfoolery to a degree that would be funny if it weren’t kicking indie game development directly in the teeth. Thanks, you [WHOOPSIE-DOODLE THAT’S A CURSE WORD].
We all expected to hear about the next World of Warcraft expansion at BlizzCon. We did not expect to hear about the next two expansions after that, complete with names and a basic outline of the plot. After several years of seeming to lack a plan and generally not swinging big, Blizzard clearly wants to go hard on its 20-year mark and an image rehabilitation. As the meme says, it’s a bold strategy; let’s see if it pays off.
There were so many industry layoffs that I have honestly lost track of all of them without clicking through our tag. That isn’t hyperbole. It was almost everywhere, and that coincided with stuff like Embracer execs who oversaw a massive business deal go up in smoke ejecting workers to save the company – instead of ejecting themselves. Just a terrible year across the industry, honestly.
I don’t like saying this, but it feels as if watching Star Wars The Old Republic has been like watching the slowest-ever failure play out over the course of years. This big, expensive, ambitious game did not make the industry-disrupting impact that its developers and owners thought it was going to, and ever since then it’s been a struggle to keep it going. That’s not to say that I think the game is bad (far from it), and I think it moving over to Broadsword is a net benefit for the game, so I’m hopeful this is a bright new era for its next several years.
It’d be wrong to call Diablo IV any sort of abject failure; it sold well on release, after all. But you don’t spend the kind of money and development time on a new live service game like this to just sell well on release, and it’s become clear from financial reports and general player sentiment that once people finished their momentary rush of “they turned down the saturation, this is what my teenage mind remembered!” the game just did not stick to the ribs. Fortunately, everything else is going great at Blizzard!
A scam MMO launching on Kickstarter? Sadly not all that surprising. A scam MMO launching on Kickstarter and lying to pretend that we endorsed them? That’s surprising, and it also meant that our eyes were glued to every shady or untoward or illegal thing that the studio was doing along the way, which I guess means the strategy sort of worked if your only goal was attracting attention. In another, far more tangible way, it did not work at all.
Technically, Overwatch 2 launched last year. This year all it did was… lose players, get review-bombed on Steam when it launched there, cancel its reason for existence, and shut down its ill-advised esports league altogether. In other words, this game has spent 2023 failing with an intensity and focus that is usually reserved for success.
I don’t think the reception when Wayfinder launched was really what Digital Extremes as a publisher or Airship Syndicate as a developer was hoping to see. That’s fair. It’s a story that’s as old as our industry. But I also didn’t expect the game to get dropped as if it were being published by Amazon after a couple of months, and it apparently took the actual development team by surprise as well. I’m hoping they come up with a plan to pull things back on track, but if that doesn’t happen… well, the ending won’t be surprising, but it will still be kinda sad.
Honestly, I do not like mascot fighters. Never have. But whether or not I was terribly enthusiastic about MultiVersus does not change the fact that it was released into one of those beta-but-really-a-release test stages and it was received well. Did it sell well enough to justify the cost? I suspect not, and I suspect that’s the reason it got pulled out of its open testing, but… that’s not something that’s really going to change when it supposedly goes into full release next year. I did not see this coming, but it’s not a positive.
It’s all right if you totally forgot about this because if you were spending 2023 watching social media bought by rich people trying to milk money and destroying what made a functional platform work, it probably wasn’t Reddit. But Reddit’s attempt to monetize its users badly backfired with an open revolt that functionally shut the site down for a bit, marked by some horrendously tone-deaf comments comparing the unpaid volunteer moderators to “landed gentry,” and it’s still reverberating even now. Just a reminder that sites run by third parties may not actually be the best repository for all of your information.
Hey, how’s that “shift all our social groups to Discord” movement going?
So if you felt like Project Gorgon was running out of steam… it was, because one of the two leads (Sandra Powers) is dying of cancer, and as the other lead (Eric Heimburg) explained they were basically just out of development money, with enough to keep the game running and little more. This is just sad. It’s always been a quirky, adventurous little niche project, but it’s hard to come back from that, and he just honestly explained that they had to dial things back because “no money” and “dying of cancer” takes priority. And fans… rallied and spread the good word of the game, donating en masse, promoting and buying the game, and basically making it clear that while no one could fix the medical issues, they could sure as hell fix money.
And that’s just wonderful. Project Gorgon may not be your favorite game ever, but it is a game that is so unique, original, and willing to swing for the fences that anyone who cares about the genre cannot help but love it. We certainly all love it here. How great is it that one of our big surprises this year is people rallying for a cause? That’s got my vote.