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12 biggest video games news stories of 2020 – PS5 launch to Cyberpunk

Read more at metro.co.uk

Cyberpunk 2077 – how did it come to this? (pic: Michael Does Life)

The launch of a new generation of consoles is always a big moment for video games, but that was almost reduced to a sideshow in the hell year of 2020.

2020 was, as you no doubt noticed, a bit of a funny year. What’s almost forgotten now though is that, for the video games industry, it already started off peculiar before coronavirus was even a factor. Nintendo’s current radio silence began months before the pandemic did and while Microsoft had announced the Xbox Series back in December 2019 Sony was being extra secretive about the PlayStation 5 from the very start.

There’s never been any explanation for why the companies were acting that way, and there probably never will be, but once the coronavirus kicked in the year was thrown into further chaos, with games delayed, events cancelled, and video games becoming a lifeline for many – as a means to maintain their sanity during lockdown.

There are plenty of news stories here that will continue to be relevant for a long time to come, especially the rise of cloud gaming and Microsoft’s appetite for buying up other companies, but if there’s only one story that 2020 is going to be remembered for it’s the disaster of Cyberpunk 2077’s launch. That’ll remain legendary long after the chaos of the next gen launch is forgotten and, in its own way, may also have a lasting effect on the games industry as a whole.

1. Launching the PlayStation 5

By the start of the year it was already well known that the PlayStation 5 would be announced in 2020 and launch around Christmas, even if it took a while for Sony to get around to confirming it. Their marketing campaign started off well, as the PlayStation 5 logo became the most liked gaming-related Instagram ever and the reveal of the DualSense went equally well. The Unreal Engine 5 demo is still the most impressive bit of next gen footage yet seen and the launch line-up of games was, given the pandemic, very good.

Everything seemed to go perfectly until Sony revealed that most of their first party games cost £70, which, especially when compared to Xbox Game Pass, quickly became the clearest point of difference between the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

Closer to launch though there were a string of unforced errors where Sony mangled the explanation of whether Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a sequel or not and then suddenly revealed that it and a number of other games were also coming to the PlayStation 4 – in direct contrast to all their earlier rhetoric.

Even so they have, as expected, taken an early lead in the next generation console war and will be generally happy as to how the PlayStation 5 has gone so far.

2. The legend of Craig the Brute

The Xbox Series X was first announced at The Game Awards 2019 in December, so initially Microsoft’s hype train was a little further ahead than Sony’s. Although the first major announcement of the year was that there’d be no first party exclusives for the first two years or so, a reveal that Microsoft tried to paint as a positive, consumer friendly move but still seems baffling today.

Whether it is still official policy is no longer clear as Microsoft stumbled into a series of unconvincing showcases that avoided showing any proper Xbox Series X footage and culminated in what may be the most disastrous new game reveal of all time, with Halo Infinite.

The last gen-looking (at best) graphics were a victim of instant internet mockery, turning Craig the dead-eyed Brute into an overnight star and within a few weeks causing Microsoft to delay the game until autumn 2021. That left them without any new first party games or major exclusives of any kind for the Xbox Series X/S launch and the final indignity that many multiformat games currently run better on PlayStation 5, despite the Xbox Series X allegedly being more powerful.

It would be folly to count Xbox out though and Microsoft are clearly playing the long game, in terms of not only their burgeoning stable of first party developers but their plans to expand Xbox beyond just being a simple console brand…

3. The gathering cloud

Stadia may have made little impact when it launched back in late 2019 but it shouldn’t be counted out yet, especially as competition from Amazon and Facebook Gaming is likely to reenergise Stadia’s interest in video game streaming.

It’s still not clear what Sony intends to do beyond PlayStation Now, but Microsoft is clearly planning to make xCloud (whose real name is too stupid to be repeated here) central to their future plans. As far as Xbox boss Phil Spencer is concerned Sony and Nintendo cannot compete and the only speed bump so far has been Apple’s restrictive rules for iOS, that meant the service wasn’t available on iPhone for most of the year.

Microsoft already seems to have found a workaround for that though, as it predicts that Xbox will be available on TV, without need of a console, within the year.

Far Cry 6 – now not out until 2021 (pic: Ubisoft)

4. Delays, delays, and more delays

The video games industry must be feeling very lucky it’s not been as badly hit by the pandemic as movies and TV but the coronavirus has still had a hugely damaging effect on game production, delaying many titles multiple times and making bug-testing in particular more difficult than ever (we’ll get to Cyberpunk 2077 in a moment).

Although they’re out now, Marvel’s Avengers, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and The Last Of Us Part 2 all saw major delays in 2020. At the same time, other games were pushed back to 2021 or beyond with The Medium, Destruction AllStars, Dying Light 2, Outriders, Far Cry 6 and Rainbow Six Quarantine all falling victim to the coronavirus. And of course Halo Infinite.

That’s clearly going to be an ongoing problem in 2021 as well though, with the pandemic set to cause havoc with game development schedules for years to come.

5. The death of E3

Certain corners of the games industry have been calling for the end of E3 for years (mostly because they don’t like paying for expensive set-ups or sharing the limelight with anyone else) and Sony already announced in January that they wouldn’t be attending E3 2020. The joke was on them though as there was no E3 2020 and in the end they were the only one to host their own event during the time when it normally would’ve been on.

Thanks to coronavirus, Gamescom and the Tokyo Game Show were also downgraded to digital-only livestreams, with everything from PAX to the BAFTA video game awards also having to be cancelled as physical events. That might not seem to make much difference to the average gamer, but it meant that it was impossible to get hands-on previews of the new consoles before their release or indeed almost any other game this year.

The whole debacle surrounding Cyberpunk 2077 on consoles would certainly have played out differently if it’d been possible to play the game in advance, or at least interrogate CD Projekt on what was going on, and that’s going to continue to be a problem while physical preview events are impossible.

6. Animal Crossing saves the world

The misery of the pandemic has affected everyone and every industry but one of the few bright spots has been Animal Crossing: New Horizons, our game of the year and for many a virtual respite from the drudgery of 2020. By sheer coincidence (it was supposed to be out last Christmas) it came out just as lockdown began in March and offered a low effort, high reward style of escapism that has already made it one of the best-selling Nintendo games ever.

Everyone from the Getty Museum to Xbox showed their support for the game, as it beat Call Of Duty’s record for the fastest-selling digital game ever and passed 22 million sales by August alone.

It wasn’t the only family friendly title to prosper thanks to the pandemic though, with Fall Guys on PlayStation 4 also breaking records and Among Us becoming so popular the creators quickly abandoned plans to make a sequel.

The Last Of Us Part 2 – award-winning material (pic: Sony)

7. The Last Of Us partly leaked

Leaks become a bigger problem every year for games companies, with both Nintendo and Capcom suffering from malicious hacks that spilled their secrets all across the internet. Although it was The Last Of Us Part 2 that generated the most interest, as the game’s carefully guarded plot details were leaked along with corroborating video clips.

The story was so different to what many fans were expecting that many refused to believe the leak was real, but once the game launched the internet once again helped to encourage the very worst of behaviour amongst certain ‘fans’, as they launched anti-Semitic, homophobic, and transphobic death threats against director Neil Druckmann and the rest of Naughty Dog.

The developers had the last laugh when the game swept The Game Awards with seven separate wins though, and become the biggest launch ever for a PlayStation 4 exclusive.

8. Big brother’s gone crazy

You might think nothing can compare to the madness of the Cyberpunk 2077 launch but Epic Games’ craziness when it comes to Fortnite on smartphones really does make you wonder about the people in charge of these big companies.

Despite Fortnite becoming more popular than ever in 2020, with a 10-minute Travis Scott concert attracting over 12 million viewers, Epic Games decided that they’d had enough of Apple taking a cut of their profits and tried to start selling DLC directly from their own store – which promptly got them banned from Google Play and the Apple Store.

Epic Games then tried to sue both companies and while they found a workaround for the Android version Fortnite is still not available on iOS. As a result, Epic is now embroiled in a lawsuit that, to a layperson at least, they seem to have no chance of winning.

9. Mixing it up on Twitch

Considering everything else that’s happened this year it’s easy to forget the embarrassing failure Microsoft suffered back in May, when they had to admit that Mixer was never going to catch up to Twitch as a popular streaming platforming, as they shut it down almost overnight.

That meant that prominent streamers such as Ninja and Shroud suddenly no longer needed to pretend they didn’t care about viewer figures and were able to walk away with all the money they made from being poached in the first place, and then allow themselves to be headhunted all over again for their next move.

Ninja was reportedly offered $60 million to join Facebook Gaming – Microsoft’s new partner of choice – but he and Shroud both ended up back where they started at Twitch. That wasn’t the only streaming controversy of the year though. In amongst all the usual melodramatics there was the strange case of Dr Disrespect, whose ban from Twitch still hasn’t been explained, although he seems to be doing fine now on YouTube.

Almost the story of the year (pic: Microsoft)

10. Microsoft pays to win with Bethesda

Ordinarily you would’ve expected this to be the biggest news story of the year: Microsoft paying a staggering $7.5 billion to buy Bethesda and put all their games on Game Pass. The makers of Fallout and The Elder Scrolls – who also own the studios responsible for the likes of Doom, Wolfenstein, and Dishonored – will certainly help bolster Microsoft’s first party output but the concern now is that Microsoft has initiated a push for industry consolidation that will see Sony, Amazon, Google, and the other big publishers hoovering up every smaller publisher and independent developer that isn’t tied down.

There’s also the question of whether future Bethesda games will become Xbox exclusives or not. Bethesda has implied that won’t happen with existing franchises like The Elder Scrolls but the comments from Microsoft have been vague enough that it’s clearly still a possibility for some titles.

11. Prices may vary

The next gen consoles may have got off to a good start from a technical point of view but there was one obvious problem: it was almost impossible to buy them anywhere. Or rather anywhere but eBay. Things started off badly, with Sony assuring fans that they’d be given plenty of warning before pre-orders started and then… proceeding to give no warning whatsoever. Many had no idea that pre-orders had begun and the subsequent wave of stock, and Microsoft’s handling of their own pre-orders, was barely any better.

Retailer websites dropped like flies and even now, when stock does occasionally surface (usually only for the Xbox Series S) it only last 30 minutes at best. Then, to add insult to injury, it started to become pot lock whether you were delivered an actual console or a tin of cat food.

The flipside of all this is the scalpers who have been selling the consoles at grotesquely inflated prices on eBay and elsewhere, a fact that’s made all the more unbearable because they keep boasting about it and Microsoft and Sony seem completely indifferent to the issue. Although a group of Scottish MPs did suggest making the use of bots to buy consoles illegal.

12. Cyberpunk 2077: the perfect disaster

In the months before its release Cyberpunk 2077 seemed on course to be one of the biggest games of 2020. It was suspicious that CD Projekt still hadn’t shown any footage of the game running on a base Xbox One or PlayStation 4 but surely CD Projekt wouldn’t let fans down? Not after cultivating such a positive reputation and knowing that they’d instantly be found out the moment the game launched – even if they kept things under wraps until then.

Incredibly though that was their game plan. The PC version was full of bugs but playable enough to see the gem of a game beneath. When console review copies failed to arrive on time though it was clear that something was wrong, although no one imagined that the game would end up barely playable on either of the consoles.

The fallout was immediately toxic, with CD Projekt quickly forced to offer refunds, which Microsoft and Sony refused to help them out with because they hadn’t checked with them first. Eventually Sony ended up removing the game from the PlayStation Store and Microsoft put up a warning about the game’s performance – an unprecedented move for such a major game.

Add in problems with epilepsy triggers and ongoing complaints about poor working conditions under the ‘crunch’ and CD Projekt went from hero to zero quicker than any games company in history. They’re promising patches and dedicated next gen versions for next year but with investors apparently ready to revolt, and the company’s founders alone having lost $1 billion already, things don’t look good for 2021

What a strange year it’s been (pic: Metro)

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