We can sometimes forget, as we are lost in the deepest dungeons of our favorite game or as we riding the hype train of the next AAA release, that developing video games is a serious business. Not only can it be incredibly expensive, it requires teams of trained coders, artists, story-writers, testers, and more to produce the big games. Fortunately, the industry is full of dedicated, hardworking men and women whose passion is obvious in a game's release.
But as with any big business, particularly when there is so much money on the line, there is often a dark side. Secret wars between publishers and developers, push-back between the creative crew and the coders, and backlash caused by the egos of the biggest names in the industry... the list goes on. These battles can be quite nasty, even if company does its best to keep it quiet and put on a friendly face for the public.
The repressions of these private scandals can be serious and can cost companies millions, and us fans are sometimes left with an unfinished product, or worse, with no game at all. Only later, when we are picking up the pieces, do we realize the fate that befell our favorite developer, or the game we were super hyped for.
Here are 20 of the biggest scandals to go on behind-the-scenes in video game development.
20 Activision Fires Infinity Ward Founders And Faces A Billion Dollar Lawsuit
Activision fired founders of Infinity Ward (the developer of the Call of Duty franchise) Jason West and Vince Zampella shortly after the release of Modern Warfare 2 due to “breaches of contract and insubordination.” Basically, they found out that West and Zampella had been in talks with EA to jump ship and develop a new studio. The story goes that the two were escorted out by security. Shortly after, more than half of the remaining Infinity Ward employees resigned their positions.
Turns out West and Zampella were owed substantial royalties from Activision (which they claimed was the reason they even began looking elsewhere) and they took up a lawsuit against their former employer, originally to the tune of $36 million, later being increased to $2 billion. For Activision's part, they called West and Zampella “self-serving schemers” and counter-sued for breach of contract. Everything was eventually settled out of court for an unknown amount.
19 Jeff Gerstmann Gives A Game A Mediocre Review… And Is Fired
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men was a perfectly average third-person shooter developed by IO Interactive, currently holding a 67% on Metacritic. So when GameSpot reviewer Jeff Gerstmann gave it a lukewarm score of 6/10, you would think it wouldn't be a big deal. The game's publisher, Eidos Interactive, didn't agree, as they were spending a large amount of money to advertise on GameSpot. To prevent loss of their advertising revenue, Gerstmann was fired.
Originally, GameSpot denied the allegations that pressure that Eidos influenced their decision, but five years later it was confirmed when Gerstmann's site Giant Bomb was purchased by the same parent company as GameSpot. Interestingly enough, Gerstmann went on to say this was not the first time advertisers had tried this, such as when Sony threatened to pull ad money over a less-than-perfect review score of Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction.
18 Hideo Kojima Is Forbidden From Accepting His Own Award
To say the end of Hideo Kojima's career at Konami was bitter is an understatement. In 2015 the two seemed to be in constant battle, most of it quite public. From the cancellation of Silent Hills despite the massive interest created by the PT, to Metal Gear Solid V's ending getting cut off and being put on a bonus disc, to allegations that Konami was mistreating its employees, things got pretty nasty. In the end, Konami dissolved Kojima productions and cut their ties with the developer.
Nothing sums up the spite between these two parties better than when Konami's lawyers forbid Kojima from accepting an award for his game at the The Game Awards 2015. The crowd booed, and the host of the show, Geoff Keighley, even took a few moments to berate the company.
Kojima would go on to reform Kojima Productions as an independent company.
17 Activision Is Sued For Guitar Hero Royalties
If you're keeping count, this is the second time on this list Activision was sued for unpaid royalties. This time it was for unpaid royalties for Guitar Hero III by former Guitar Hero developers Harmonix.
Harmonix had developed the first two Guitar Hero games for publisher RedOctane before splitting with them to work on Rock Band. Some time later, RedOctane was acquired by Activision and they wanted to put out another Guitar Hero. They struck a deal with Harmonix that featured a double royalty structure: a lower royalty if they built the new game from scratch, and a higher one if they incorporated Harmonix properties.
Activision ended up paying the lower royalty despite using Harmonix tech in the new game, so Harmonix sued them for unpaid royalties in the amount of $14.5 million. They settled out of court.
This must have seemed important at the time, when band games were booming and it seemed Activision was trying to save millions in future installments, but with the genre mostly dead now we can say that perhaps they should have just paid upfront.
16 L.A. Noire's Work Conditions Were Hell
L.A. Noire was a critical and commercial success, with many praising the meticulously crafted recreation of Los Angeles, the 3D motion capture technology used to recreate facial expressions, and fine storytelling. The game had spent seven years in development, and after the game's launch in 2011 several leaks revealed the reasons why.
It started with a website that claimed 100 names had been left off or incorrectly listed in the game's credits. This was followed by an IGN article in which some of Team Bondi's former employees discussed the high turnover rates due to brutal working conditions, including working 12-hour days and dealing with lengthy crunch time.
The controversy hit Team Bondi hard and they could not secure another project to work on. Despite L.A. Noire's success, the company was forced to close down and be liquidated.
15 Pro-Starcraft Match Fixing
E-Sports is a big deal in Korea, complete with professional teams, celebrities, sponsorships, and a whole lot of gambling. And when anything gets that big, and when that much money is exchanging hands, it's almost inevitable that some amount of corruption will take hold.
Such was the case in 2015 when several prominent Starcraft II players and their coach were arrested for match fixing. A former world champion, Life, was reportedly paid around $30,000 per match to intentionally lose from the information available. Those caught in the scandal were sentenced to jail time, fines, and a lifetime ban from the e-sports league.
The big blow here was to people's faith in the sport. If even celebrity players could be game fixing, what about other players? How many tournaments are being sponsored by gamblers?
14 Stargate Worlds Was A Legal Nightmare
In 2008, publisher FireSky announced Stargate Worlds, an MMO based on the popular Stargate SG-1 television series being developed in a collaboration by Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment and MGM.
Development of the game barely got off the ground before allegations of theft and betrayal started flying around, and a power struggle broke out between investors and than Chairman of CME Gary Whiting. Whiting was eventually removed (being accused of securities fraud, among other things), but that didn't stop the barrage of lawsuits against the company, by the company, and against Whiting. Eventually a game was released, but instead of the MMO it was a third-person shooter, Stargate: Resistance, which led to yet another lawsuit.
The game was canceled and CME declared Chapter 11, but even that didn't stop one last lawsuit from getting piled on top.
13 Infinium Labs Versus HardOCP
In 2003, startup Infinium Labs announced it would soon release a 'revolutionary new gaming platform' with an on-demand video-game service through digital delivery. It was to be called 'The Phantom." No specific information was given on the device and many sites were critical of the announcement.
One such site, computer-hardware news site HardOCP, did an in-depth investigation of the company and its founder. Infinium Labs responded with a cease and desist letter demanding the site take down the article and threatening a defamation suit. HardOCP countered by filing a lawsuit for declaratory judgment that his company had done nothing wrong.
In the end, the new site won and Infinium Labs was forced to pay $50,000. They would rename to Phantom Entertainment under new leadership and begin producing wireless keyboards. No sign of the Phantom still exists.
12 Halo Composer Fired 'Without Cause'
Marty O'Donnell had been working for Bungie for more than 14 years and was responsible for the iconic scores of the Halo franchise, as well as the more recent Destiny. O'Donnell had been at odds with Destiny's publisher… hey look, it's Activision again.
Apparently, their dispute involved Activision's marketing team wanting to score the Destiny trailers without O'Donnell's involvement. When an E3 presentation of Destiny did not involve any music from O'Donnell's “Music of the Spheres” which he had composed for the franchise, he took angrily to Twitter. His termination came soon after and he was stripped of his shares.
He fought back in a lawsuit and eventually won back his lost shares and the money he was entitled to from Bungie's profit sharing plan.
11 Disgruntled Designer Adds Speedo Clad 'Himbos'
Maxis designer Jacques Servin was fed up with the intolerable working conditions he experienced when working on Simcopter, which, as you can likely guess from the name, was a helicopter flight simulator. He decided to take out his frustrations in the form of a prank: he inserted shirtless, speedo wearing 'himbos' (male bimbos) who walked around hugging and kissing each other. Oh, and they had fluorescent nipples.
Servin was fired for adding unauthorized content, which ended up delaying the release of the game and forced Maxis to miss the Christmas season. This easter egg was caught soon after release and removed from future copies.
10 Universal Sues Over Donkey Kong
Back when Nintendo was still a newcomer to the western market, Universal City Studios took out a lawsuit against them for their game Donkey Kong. The reason? Trademark infringement of their movie King Kong. They argued they already had licensed the rights to King Kong to Coleco.
The kicker to this story is that Universal had already proven that King Kong was a public domain character in a previous lawsuit, thus showing they had no right to the character. That, combined with the assertion that no consumer was at risk of confusing the two properties, caused a ruling in Nintendo's favor.
In the end, it was Universal who ended up having to pay Nintendo for damages.
9 NCAA Athletes Sue EA
A licensing deal between EA and the NCAA to put out football and basketball games under the NCAA title seems innocuous enough, until you realize that EA Sports was using the likenesses of real college athletes for their games without the athlete's knowledge or permission, and certainly without giving the athlete recompense.
When college athletes discovered that their names and physical attributes had been used in the NCAA games they sued EA and the Collegiate Licensing Company. The NCAA and EA claimed that the games didn't directly represent the players, a claim contradicted by their own internal spreadsheets. EA ended up settling for $40 million, raised to $60 million a year later.
EA ended their licensing deal with the NCAA in 2013.
8 E-Sports League Uses Players' Computers To Mine For Bitcoins
The E-Sports Entertainment Association took trying to profit off its players a little far when it decided to patch its anti-cheat software to turn 14,000 computers into bitcoin miners. Over the course of the time that the computers ran the software, the ESEA collected $3,700 worth of Bitcoins.
When this was discovered, ESEA blamed an April Fool's joke that had run away from them, and cited a server reset, an accidental upload, and a rogue employee. This explanation, of course, failed to explain why they had this software that can commandeer their players computers all written up and ready to go in the first place.
ESEA was ordered to pay a $325,000 fine, with a warning that it will go up to $1 million if they are caught doing something similar within the next decade.
7 Ouya's “Free The Games” Initiative Draws Possible Scammers
The Ouya had a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign, followed by a fairly troubled release as it was plagued by delays, buggy controls, and a confusing marketplace. In order to support developers producing games on their console, they began the “Free the Games” initiative, which promised to match any crowdfunding raised for an Ouya exclusive game.
There's an issue you might already be seeing: what's to stop someone from donating to their own project? That seemed to be the case with the game Elementary, My Dear Holmes!, which was pulled from the crowd-funding site after Kickstarter noticed that many of its donations were coming from a narrow band of IP's. It raised the question of how many other projects had faced similar fraud?
Several developers pulled out of the program on moral grounds, and backers of the Ouya were upset that their money could be getting handed out to potential scammers. Ouya kept the program going, though, pointing out the games they had helped that were not scams.
6 Mass Effect: Andromeda's Trouble With Development
Mass Effect: Andromeda was in development for a full five years, during which time fans were cautiously optimistic of the game's chances. While Mass Effect 3's ending still left a sour taste in the mouths of many, BioWare's promises regarding the start of a new story for the franchise seemed to be headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, the game we got was underwhelming and full of animation issues.
According to sources that worked on the game, development was plagued with issues, including several major re-scopes and director changes. Entire systems were designed and never used, and resources were allocated to things like procedural generated planets that were eventually discarded. Combine that with constantly understaffed teams and working with a new engine that had not been used for RPGs before and you can see where the problems came from.
By the time they got down to it, the bulk of the game was made in less than 18 months.
5 A Former President Of Rockstar Takes A Break, Finds His Partners Have Pushed Him Out
Leslie Benzies, along with his former partners Dan and Sam Houser, were the minds behind the ever popular Grand Theft Auto series. With their success, it is no surprise that publisher Take Two wanted to keep them happy and lavished them with profit shares and bonuses. It was going well for the three of them, until (as Benzies claims) the Housers strong armed him out.
His story is that he was convinced to take a sabbatical for six months. During this time, Rockstar fired his own son and some of his friends. When he tried to return he was ordered off the premises by an office manager. Benzies responded by making a bunch of claims about the Housers, including that they promoted a sexually deviant company culture, and trying to sue them for his shares of the profits he was been denied, to the tune of $150 million.
For their part, the Housers claim Benzies left of his own volition (even releasing a press statement to that regard) and claim that since Benzies is no longer a part of the company he is not entitled to any more profits.
4 Super Smash Bros Melee Pushed Sakurai And His Team's Endurance
With its predecessor, Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64, being so popular, game developer Sakuria wanted Super Smash Bros. Melee as a launch title for the Gamecube. He also wanted to highlight to advancements in technology, featuring orchestrated music and real 'polygon' graphics. And a limited time to do it if they wanted to coincide with the launch.
For 13 months the team worked without a single holiday or Sunday off. Sakuria described the experience: “I was living a really destructive lifestyle–I'd work for over 40 hours in a row, then go back home to sleep for four.” The team was really pushed to their physical limits.
Unlike similar stories on this list, it has a happy end. Melee ended up wildly popular, and Sakuria remains proud of what he and his team managed to accomplish with it.
3 Too Human Is In Development For Nine Years, Then Gets In A Fight With Epic
'Development hell' is the term we have for games that seem stuck perpetually in development due to engine shuffling and developer wish-washyness. This was certainly the case with Silicon Knights' Too Human, which, during its nine year development cycle, made its way from PlayStation, to Gamecube, to Xbox 360. For that latest iteration they settled on Epic Games' Unreal 3 engine.
During an E3 showing of the game they were criticized for technical problems and general unpolish. Meanwhile, Epic's Gear of Wars, using the same engine, won best in show. Frustrated, Silicon Knights sued Epic, claiming that Epic had kept a better version of their engine for themselves and gave an inferior product to their licensees to have an advantage with their games. They also claimed that the version of the engine they were working with was unusable and they had been forced to build their own.
When it was proven the Silicon Knights' 'own engine' used much of Epic's own code, Epic counter-sued and won and were awarded $4.45 million, and Silicon Knights were ordered to destroy all unsold copies of their game.
2 Ultima IX Is Doomed By EA
EA bought out developer Origin shortly after the release of Ultima VII, and most fans would agree that is a point in which the series begins a downward spiral, in part due to strict deadlines from publisher. The final entry, Ultima IX, went through several iterations, but as the game was finally settling into a software-rendered 3D engine EA ordered Origin to put all their focus on finishing Ultima Online. By the time the team got back to Ultima IX, the graphics were already outdated.
They gave it one last shot with a new, updated engine with an over-the-shoulder camera. Then, in 1999, EA ordered that the game be released by that Christmas. Origin scrambled to get a finished product together, being forced to cut mass amounts of the world, the story, and features from the game, and having no time to squash the many problems that came from the emergence of Direct3D.
Despite its many obvious problems, EA forced the deadline and the game was shipped in an almost unplayable state. Fans were disappointed, and Origin's founder, Richard Garriot, left the company soon after. EA shut down all projects related to the Ultima franchise and Origin only continued to exist to manage Ultima Online until 2004.
1 Driver 3 Gives Early Access In Exchange For Favorable Reviews
There's a lot of talk about ethics in games journalism, and this is not the first time on this list that the issue has come up, but it is the first time a game developer is accused of blatantly fixing its reviews. In a scandal that would become known as “DRIV3Rgate,” publisher Atari is believed to have given exclusive advanced copies of the game Driver 3 to review outlets operated by Future plc, PSM2 and Xbox World. These two magazines rated the game 9/10, so gamers were surprised and suspicious when the game came out and other outlets reviewed it much more negatively.
The scandal thickened when posts on the topic on GamesRadar forums (also operated by Future) began to get deleted by moderators, causing some to cry 'cover-up.' Meanwhile, some comments defending the game were traced back to marketing firm Babel Media, a company that participated in astroturfing.
For their part, Atari and Future denied any wrongdoing.