October 9, 2023
Hello and welcome to the first in a regular series of posts looking back at the month in games. At the end of every month we’ll be rounding up the biggest stories from the industry, discussing the latest releases and highlighting just about anything game related that we’ve enjoyed. Enough messing about, let’s get going.
There’s only one place to start this month and that’s with, arguably, the greatest leak of confidential documents in the history of gaming. As part of Microsoft’s trial with the FTC over its proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard, a series of internal Xbox documents somehow made their way into the public domain. It’s not quite clear how it happened, although the FTC has pointed the finger of blame squarely at Microsoft.
Whoever’s at fault, this was a massive blow to the platform holder as it revealed many of the plans that MS have for Xbox in the coming years. We won’t go into all the details here, there’s simply too much info, but here are the highlights, along with links to further reading:
The leak didn’t just contain Microsoft’s plans for world domination during the next decade. We also got to enjoy a sneaky peak at some high level internal Xbox chat, including Phil Spencer claiming that he’d quite like to buy Nintendo at some point. Calm down, Phil.
Perhaps, as GI’s Chris Dring pointed out, none of the above should really come as a surprise. These timelines for new hardware and games all make sense and are to be expected. But for an industry that loves to tightly control the PR narrative, it’s fascinating to see these plans laid bare.
It’s also worth noting that these documents appear to date back to April 2022 and a lot could have changed in the last 18 months. Indeed, Phil Spencer took to X (formerly Twitter) to express his disappointment in the leak and their intention to reveal their ‘real plans’ when they’re ready.
No company would have been happier to see the Xbox leak than Unity, with the engine maker enduring a torrid month of bad PR. It all started on 12 September when the company announced changes to its terms of service that would see developers charged a fee every time a game using their engine was installed on a device - the Runtime Fee.
As developers were quick to point out, not only would this move have potentially catastrophic effects on the viability of many studios, it was also open to abuse. Let’s not forget, somewhere in the region of 60-70% of games are made using Unity so the impact these changes could have had are not to be underestimated.
The next day, Unity attempted to surf the wave of negativity by releasing an updated FAQ which sought to address developer concerns. Unfortunately, this had the effect of pouring petrol on the fire as it failed to walk back the installation fee and left important questions unanswered.
In particular, there was no word on how the company was planning to track user installs, other than to say that they would ‘leverage our own proprietary data model’. Effectively asking developers to place their trust in Unity, a company that had just announced fundamental changes to its ToS without warning.
On September 18, the engine maker apologised ‘for the confusion’ and declared that changes to the policy were on the way. On Friday 22, there came another apology, this time in the form of an open letter from Unity Create president, Marc Whitten. The letter also announced a set of changes to Runtime Fee, including its removal from certain versions of the engine and the news that the fee will no longer be retroactive and will only apply to games made from next year onwards.
There’s cautious optimism from some in the dev community, but It’s possible that this has come too late for Unity, with many exasperated developers deciding that whatever happens from now on, trust has been broken forever.
Sadly, September saw a wave of redundancies hit the industry. Ubisoft closed its London studio with the loss of 54 jobs, Epic laid off 830 people - with UK dev Mediatonic hit hard - and redundancies were also confirmed at Creative Assembly following the sudden cancellation of Hyenas.
Our thoughts are with those affected. If that includes you, we’ve listed a bunch of resources below that will hopefully help:
Best of luck to those looking for their next job.
In better news, there were some high profile game releases this month. Baldur’s Gate 3 followed up its astonishing success on PC by releasing on PS5 and promptly becoming the console’s highest rated game on Metacritic, tied with Elden Ring.
Xbox had its own RPG megahit thanks to the long awaited release of Starfield. According to Bethesda, it’s the company’s biggest launch ever, attracting 6 million players in its first 24 hours alone.
The Crew Motorfest exploded out of the blocks after its release on 14 September. The third game in Ubisoft’s racing franchise was well received critically and enjoyed the biggest launch in the history of the series.
Towards the end of the month we got to see EA’s first football game sans FIFA with the release of EA Sports FC 24. It’s too early to tell what long term effect - if any - the rebrand will have on the success of the title although physical sales of the game were down 30% in the UK on FIFA 23’s launch. Of course, digital sales aren’t included in these figures so the gap may not be as large as it looks on the surface.
We’ve been thoroughly enjoying our time playing Starfield but, just like Bethesda’s other games, it does throw up the odd funny moment. Our favourite genre of Starfield glitch is the type you see in the video below, an enemy intruding on an otherwise tender moment.
Credit to Reddit user tuckdash for the video.
That’s it from us. Hopefully you enjoyed this lightning fast recap of the month in games. Let us know what caught your attention in September by looking us up on X, Instagram or LinkedIn. Until next time.
October 9, 2023