The 10 Biggest Video Game Controversies of 2020

2020 has been a wild ride for a lot of people. It’s been a tumultuous year, full of highs and lows and some unique controversies. It’s not a stretch to say that many people are eagerly awaiting the end of the year and a fresh start in 2021.

However, despite the uncertainty that 2020 brought, it was also a pretty incredible year for the gaming community. Big name releases like The Last of Us 2, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla mixed with multiplayer breakouts like Fall Guys and Among Us brought exciting additions to the gaming sphere. Not everything was smooth sailing, though, leading to some of the biggest controversies of the year.

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Apple vs. Epic Games Lawsuit

Epic Games released a parody of Apple's 1984 ad, putting the company in the position of Big Brother.

In August, Fortnite developer Epic Games pulled a bold move by embedding a new option to purchase V-Bucks, the currency used in-game, in the mobile version of the game. The added purchasing method bypassed the Apple App Store, meaning players could buy V-Bucks for 20% cheaper than they were on the App Store. However, this added feature directly violated the contract that Epic Games agreed to with Apple, leading to a swift removal of Fortnite from the App Store.

Litigation is still ongoing between both companies, and Epic Games has thrown a few punches against Apple outside of the courtroom. These instances include an advertisement mocking an old Apple commercial, and merchandise that proclaims “free Fortnite” with a rainbow llama silhouette—a direct reference to Apple’s original rainbow apple logo. In more recent news, the CEO of Epic Games, Tim Sweeney, landed himself in some hot water after he likened the lawsuit against Apple to the Civil Rights Movement. 

Crunch Culture

CD Projekt Red crunch

The term “crunch” isn’t new to video game developers, but it’s become increasingly prominent and drawn out in game development in recent years. 2020 was no exception to this, with heavy crunch times placed on AAA releases like The Last of Us 2 and Cyberpunk 2077, the latter of which was actually delayed three times from its slated release date of April 16, 2020. When developers crunch, they work mandatory overtime to accomplish a variety of tasks, including preparing a game for launch. Most of the time, though, crunch culture leads to high stress and burnout among developers.

Both Naughty Dog and CD Projekt Red, the developers behind the aforementioned games, put their employees under insane crunch periods, and still had to delay the release of the games. It’s becoming more and more apparent that crunch time is only detrimental to the health and well-being of employees, and there isn’t even a guarantee that having a long crunch period during the development of a game will lead to a perfect product.

Halo Infinite Graphics Controversy

Halo Infinite Calendar

In July 2020, the Xbox Games Showcase featured a trailer for Halo Infinite, the newest installment of the Halo universe. Fans immediately took to Twitter to rip on the graphics of the anticipated game, underwhelmed by the lackluster reveal. Memes flooded the timelines—even a Domino’s in the UK tweeted out a picture of a half-pixelated pizza calling it “next-gen?” with the caption “Don’t worry Chief, Domino’s always delivers.” 

343 Industries released a statement, claiming that the trailer footage was from an older version of the game, citing complications due to working from home amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and promising an improvement in actual gameplay graphics. This was followed-up with an indefinite delay and the recent revelation that it’ll be Fall 2021 before Halo Infinite drops.

Madden NFL 21 and NBA 2K21 Reception

devin booker shooting 2k21

Sports-game enthusiasts were anything but impressed with the release of both Madden NFL 21 and NBA 2K21. Each game retailed for $70, leading to players (obviously) wanting to make sure they got their money’s worth out of the game. If a game’s visuals are impressive, but the gameplay is all wrong, it feels like a lackluster, rinse-and-repeat release—which is exactly how many players felt about these two releases.

Despite its status as the best-selling title, Madden NFL 21 fans expressed immense discouragement in the final product of the game, which was riddled with bugs, glitches, and missing key features from installments past. NBA 2K21 found itself in similarly hot water, with players complaining about the look of some players, unskippable ads, and a myriad of technical bugs and issues.

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Saudi Arabia Acquiring a Majority Stake in SNK

snk games

SNK, the Japanese arcade game developer and creator of the Neo Geo gaming system, has received a lot of negative reception recently surrounding its newest shareholder, the Electronic Gaming Development Company, or the EGDC. Saudi Arabia’s EGDC was created to diversify Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s business ventures, and now that company is the largest SNK stockholder with 33.3% of shares. 

The issue with this business deal between SNK and the EGDC lies in multiple fundamental human rights issues. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia stands accused of orchestrating the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi (a Washington Post journalist) and other mass executions, not to mention the fact that it’s illegal to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia. This business deal wasn’t the first time SNK landed itself in hot water this year either.

Scalping Problem for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Graphics Cards, and CPUs

december 2020 trailer

While scalping has always been a problem for things like tickets to concerts or events, it’s increasingly become a problem in the gaming industry. To “scalp” something is to buy up mass amounts of stock when the product launches, and then reselling the item for a vastly inflated price. Scalping wouldn’t work if buyers didn’t purchase items from resell sites like eBay or Gumtree for so much more than their retail price, but some don’t have the patience to wait for stores to restock.

New gaming tech has increasingly become the target of scalping, going all the way back to PlayStation 2 days. Recently, scalpers have bought next-gen consoles to sell at a marked up price, along with new graphics card releases from Nvidia and CPU (central processing unit) releases from AMD. The scalping issue was so bad with Nvidia’s RTX 3080 that the company actually delayed the release of the RTX 3070 to crack down on ways to prevent scalpers from buying and reselling the product.

Super Smash Bros. Sexual Misconduct Controversy

smash bros. ultimate roster

In recent years, the #MeToo movement has prompted many survivors of sexual abuse and assault to share their stories. Though the gaming industry isn’t as extreme as certain high-profile celebrity cases, the Super Smash Bros. community became another group with a litany of sexual assault allegations against key players in 2020.

Notable Smash players such as Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada, Cinnamon “Cinnpie” Dunson, and Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios were among some of those accused of sexual misconduct and having relationships with minors. The founder of EVO, Joey Cuellar, was another prominent member of the Smash community to have allegations brought against him. Nintendo issued a statement standing with the survivors of the abuse, and Cuellar has since lost his job as the CEO of EVO. Twitch banned both Nairo and ZeRo from using the platform again, but Cinnpie has still yet to respond to the allegations made against her in July.

The Last of Us 2 Metacritic Review Bombing and Harassment

abby and ellie protagonists

TLoU 2 also saw voice actress Laura Bailey, who voiced controversial character Abby, receive scathing messages from players for the actions of her character. Bailey received death threats, violent messages, and more via direct message from unhappy TLoU fans. She, on the other hand, also received an outpouring of love and support from fans and others in the gaming community, but at the end of the day, it’s fair to say that harassment targeted at anyone, let alone voice actors simply doing their job, is unacceptable, toxic behavior.

Twitch Controversies

2020 was a big year for Twitch, but not without a few major controversies. In June, at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement‘s 2020, Twitch wasn’t the only company to release a video in support of the movement and protests for social equity. However, the support video released seemed to completely miss the point of the movement and didn’t even feature prominent Black Twitch creators. 

Besides the video, Twitch also garnered some controversy after the ban of streamer Dr. Disrespect, which seemingly came out of nowhere. Though he’s continuing to stream on YouTube, there has still been no official reason given for Dr. Disrespect’s ban.

The U.S. Army has been criticized throughout the year for multiple offenses, most notably the fake giveaways it would advertise in its Twitch channel chat. The links would be under the guise of a giveaway for new controllers or other gear, but would take those who clicked the link to recruitment pages for the US Armed Forces. Twitch did address this controversy, but only behind closed doors, and the US Army made an awkward return to the platform in August.

Twitch and DMCA takedowns have also made headlines for months now, as streamers have been struck with copyrighted audio takedowns. If a streamer gets hit with three DMCA claims on their channel, they could receive a permanent ban from Twitch. The fear of getting these strikes mixed with Twitch’s lackluster response to the issue led to many streamers having to delete years of VODs and clips to avoid a DMCA takedown.

Ubisoft’s “Women Don’t Sell” Controversy

assassin's creed origins aya

Ubisoft came under fire a few times this year, especially with its “women don’t sell” controversy. Different reports have talked about the toxicity and sexism found in the Ubisoft workplace, which was only furthered with the comments made by the higher ups in the company in regards to one of the dual protagonists of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Kassandra.  

In development, Kassandra was intended to be the only playable character, but Creative Officer Serge Hascoet asserted that “women don’t sell” and forced the team to move in a different direction. This isn’t the first AC game to diminish female character’s roles, as both Aya of Origins and Evie Frye of Syndicate were given less time than they deserved. In fact, Aya was meant to play a much larger role in Origins before the story was changed to focus on Bayek instead; indeed, it’s incredibly likely that Hascoet’s influence spread and damaged a lot of beloved franchises.

With all the controversies that have come to light in 2020, players and fans of different gaming communities can only hope that these instances have brought important issues to the forefront of people’s minds. Correcting controversial issues such as these are the first step to a more inclusive gaming future.

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