2019 was another big year for the video game industry. Activision and Bungie broke up, we got the first details on next-generation consoles, and Apex Legends became the next big battle royale hit. These were just a few of the notable headlines from in 2019. In this gallery, we’re taking a look at a selection of the biggest news of the year
We have much more to come in our coverage of the Best of 2019 over the coming days and weeks. You can look forward to console report cards, best-of lists, and of course, our Game of the Year countdown.
Activision And Bungie Break Up
One of the first big video game news events of 2019 came in January when Bungie and Activision ended their 10-year publishing deal for the Destiny franchise early.
The announcement seemingly came out of nowhere. Up until this point, Activision and Bungie worked together on the sci-fi shooter series, which had spanned Destiny 1 and Destiny 2, and numerous expansions that apparently performed well in the market. There were reports about growing rifts between the two companies over the direction of the series and its sales performance, but few could have seen a total separation coming.
Breakups can be messy, but when Bungie and Activision went splitsville, things seemingly only improved on the consumer side. In the wake of the breakup, Destiny 2 came to Steam (ending its Battle.net exclusivity), while Bungie began allowing cross-platform save migration, which we here at GameSpot found to be a wonderful, helpful, and consumer-friendly service. In branching out on its own, Bungie now has full control over the direction of Destiny, and that is probably good news for fans worried about outside meddling or pressure from a corporate overlord.
It remains to be seen if Bungie will make Destiny 3, though that seems likely given the fervent passion behind the franchise and its sales potential. In 2018, Bungie got $100 million from Chinese gaming company NetEase for a new project outside of the Destiny franchise, but it is unclear what this may be.
As for Activision, Destiny was always something of an odd duck. Unlike its other juggernaut franchises like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, the Destiny IP was always owned by Bungie itself. Going forward, Activision has said it aims to focus more on its own wholly owned franchises, so ditching Destiny seems to line up with that vision.
Apex Legends Becomes The Next Battle Royale Hit
Without any fanfare, Titanfall developer Respawn announced and released a battle royale game, Apex Legends, the week after the Super Bowl in early February 2019. The free-to-play PS4, Xbox One, and PC game was a quick success story, picking up millions of players right out of the gate.
Apex Legends was praised as a unique and innovative spin on the battle royale genre with its different character classes, abilities, and features like respawning and the ping system.
Apex Legends became the next big battle royale success story after Fortnite. It generated lots of buzz and brought in piles of cash from its microtransaction offerings. Its success was so great that Fortnite seemingly took notice–adopting some of the features from Apex Legends like providing players with a way to revive dead teammates.
In April, with Apex Legends surging in popularity, Respawn announced that it had delayed its plans to make more Titanfall games to focus on Apex Legends instead. Respawn’s second internal game development team would go on to release Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order in November, but it remains to be seen what the studio may work on next outside of ongoing support for Apex Legends and a new Medal of Honor VR game.
Apex Legends is a testament to the enviable success of Respawn as a developer. In the space of a single console generation, Respawn formed out of the ashes of Infinity Ward and released four games across three different IPs, all of which were highly rated. It’s no wonder that Electronic Arts spent close to $500 million to acquire the California studio.
Activision And EA Layoffs
Things took a turn for the worse in February and March when the two biggest North American video game publishers, Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts, collectively cut more than 1,000 jobs at their studios and offices worldwide.
Nearly 800 people lost their jobs at Activision Blizzard amid a restructuring that saw the company aim to “de-prioritize” some businesses and cut positions outside of core development. At the same time, Activision said it is increasing staff for its development teams on key properties such as Call of Duty, Candy Crush, Overwatch, Warcraft, Hearthstone, and Diablo. The big job cuts came at a time when Activision Blizzard posted record profits and huge salaries for its executives, including CEO Robert Kotick, which caused controversy in its own right.
EA, meanwhile, announced in March that it was cutting 350 jobs in response to the “changing world” of video game production and development. Similar to the situation at Activision Blizzard, the job losses at EA came mostly from positions on marketing, publishing, and operations teams. Additionally, EA is ramping down its local businesses in Japan and Russia.
Google Stadia Enters The Streaming Space
The big first half of 2019 continued with Google’s announcement of its Stadia streaming service in March. The initial announcement was light on specifics, but the promise was to be able to play high-end games on your phone, tablet, or other device without the need to buy an expensive console.
Google didn’t just announce a new streaming service, but it also hired a big name–Assassin’s Creed producer Jade Raymond–to start a new studio, Stadia Games, that will make exclusive titles for the streaming service.
After a closed beta, Stadia launched to the public in the United States in November with a launch lineup of 22 games, including Red Dead Redemption 2 and Destiny 2. The service didn’t get off to the best start, however, as most critics bemoaned the pricing structure that requires users to pay per game instead of an all-you-can-eat model like Netflix or Xbox Game Pass. Not only that, but there was a report that said pre-orders were below expectations (though Google is committed to growing, expanding, and improving the service over time).
That remains to be seen, but what is known is that Stadia will face further competition in the years ahead. Sony continues to operate its own game-streaming service, PlayStation Now, which received a healthy price cut this year to bring it more in line with its competitors. Microsoft, meanwhile, continues with its public trials of xCloud. And at the X019 event in London, Microsoft made a big announcement: The Xbox Game Pass service will combine with xCloud in the future to allow users to stream hundreds of Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One games. Whether or not this incurs an additional fee remains to be seen, but whatever the case, the so-called streaming wars are heating up. Amazon, too, is said to be in discussions for its own game-streaming service, and we could learn more about it in 2020.
The video game industry bid a fond fareweell to one of its most esteemed and veteran executives when Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime announced his retirement from the famed company. The affable executive was well known as a friendly figure and public face, not just for Nintendo but for the video games industry as a whole. Messages of thanks and tribute poured from developers and even executives at rival companies poured in after Fils-Aime made his announcement. He will indeed be missed.
Fils-Aime, who officially stepped down in April, was replaced by sales VP Doug Bowser–and yes, that is his real name. No, the company has not turned evil with a Bowser at the head.
In his post-Nintendo life, Fils-Aime is keeping busy. He’s returning to his alma mater, Cornell University, to become a Leader in Residence. In October, he gave an illuminating presentation at the school that you can watch right here.
Next-Gen Comes Into Focus
Microsoft and Sony laid the groundwork for a big 2020 by announcing and sharing the first details on their upcoming next-generation consoles. Both had been rumoured for a long time, but things got official when Microsoft announced Project Scarlett as the name of its next-generation platform during its E3 2019 briefing in June.
The announcement video was light on specifics and heavy on hype, but Microsoft did confirm the next-generation console will offer upgraded specs such as a 1 TB SSD and 16 GB of GDDR6 SDRAM. Sony, meanwhile, has said the PS5 will offer faster loading times with its own solid-state drive. A demonstration of this with PS4’s Spider-Man showed a dramatic speed-up. Both consoles are backwards compatible, too, which is a welcome feature.
The consoles will go head-to-head next year, as they are scheduled to release in Holiday 2020. The all-important matter of pricing remains a mystery, though Xbox boss Phil Spencer recently confidently stated that Microsoft will not be “out of position” as it relates to price and power.
This next wave of consoles could serve as a fresh start for Microsoft, which stumbled out of the gate with the Xbox One. The initial stumble was dramatic, and Microsoft has said it would never be able to make up the marketshare against the incredibly popular PlayStation 4. Spencer has said he doesn’t like the idea of “console wars,” but Microsoft will want to see Scarlett get off to a better start in 2020, while Sony no doubt would like to see its run as top-performer continue as well. When companies compete, consumers usually wins–and that’s something to look forward to.
Loot Box Changes
The debate and discussion about loot boxes that began in 2017 after Star Wars: Battlefront II continued in 2019 with a number of notable developments. Perhaps the biggest piece of news came in August when Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo voluntarily agreed to change their policies about loot boxes amid increased pressure and scrutiny from governments in the United States and abroad. Titles from each company that feature loot boxes will need to disclose rarity odds beginning at the end of 2020.
This announcement came out of the Federal Trade Commission’s workshop that aimed to take a closer look at loot boxes following the increasing calls to regulate them. There was a bill that would ban the practice but that will seemingly go nowhere now that Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have agreed to these new standards.
The popular soccer-with-cars game Rocket League announced plans to do away with loot boxes this year while Gears 5 launched with the developer taking a stance against them. The juggernaut shooter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare also did away with loot boxes after earlier games featured them. Additionally, Crystal Dynamics announced at E3 that Marvel’s Avengers will have no loot boxes. Also in June, executives from Electronic Arts and Epic Games were grilled by government officials about loot boxes and how they operate.
This will be an ongoing story, as there are many who believe loot boxes are teaching children to gamble at a young age. “They’re grooming children to normalize gambling activity by encouraging speculative transactions where you don’t know what you’re going to get,” UK government official Carolyn Harris told The Guardian.
Blizzard And Hong Kong
Gaming giant Blizzard, the company behind mega-franchises like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Diablo, and Hearthstone, found itself in hot water in October. The company banned a professional Hearthstone player, Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai, and rescinded his championship prize money after he spoke out in support of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. This generated a lot of controversy, with people commenting that Blizzard was unjustly suppressing free speech. Some also wondered if Activision Blizzard–which owns Blizzard–was trying to appease the famously rigid Chinese entertainment censors to approve the release of money-generator of a game, Call of Duty Mobile, in China.
Blizzard eventually reduced the suspension and restored Blitzchung’s prize money, but the company’s statement left some with a bad taste in their mouth and questions about how the company really feels about free speech. This all transpired in the weeks before BlizzCon, which inspired some groups and individuals to protest against the developer at the site of the event in Southern California. The protests were ultimately peaceful, and Blizzard’s new CEO, J. Allen Brack, opened his BlizzCon keynote by addressing the controversy, though some remarked that his comments came across as glossy and bare-minium in nature.
Other Notable Stories
- Jim Ryan named new Sony Interactive Entertainment president (February)
- Epic buys Rocket League developer Psyonix (May)
- Microsoft buys Brutal Legend studio Double Fine (June)
- Microsoft launches all-digital Xbox One (May)
- Former PlayStation executive Kaz Hirai retires (June)
- Sony buys Spider-Man studio Insomniac (August)
- Apple launches new video game subscription service, Apple Arcade (September)
- Red Dead Redemption 2 comes to PC, as Rockstar launches its own PC store (October)
- Veteran PlayStation executive Shawn Layden leaves Sony (September)
- EA brings games back to Steam, beginning with Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order (October)
- Hermen Hulst named SIE boss/Shuhei Yoshida moves to new role (November)
Source: Game Spot Mashup