Scandals and controversies make the world go round. Or, at least politics and the internet. However, gaming hasn’t escaped the watchful eyes of local gossips. A whole host of scandals has plagued the video game world from its very inception. These controversies range from glitch-filled games and poor PC ports to claims that video games cause mass shootings and beyond.
Now, there are way too many to put on a single list. Heck, the Pokémon and Grand Theft Auto series could probably each have their own dedicated lists. In Grand Theft Auto’s case, most of the scandals are actually created on purpose as a way to increase PR. We dedicated an article to fifteen of these controversial stunts not too long ago. Pokémon isn’t nearly as insidious, but that doesn’t stop the controversies from coming. Even arcade games can't avoid making the news.
In this list, I offer a walk down memory lane. Many of these scandals are recent, but some go all the way back to the days the Sega Genesis and the arcade machine. Now, be warned, some of these do cover more sensitive topics. But those who can handle it are in for a real treat.
If there are any scandals that you think should be on this list, let us know!
15 Terrorism (Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2)
Video games have been blamed for violence and shootings ever since their inception. Heck, video games were once (falsely) described as the cause of the Columbine shooting. A massive number of scientific studies looked into the relationship between kids, violence, and video games. While there is no consensus on the subject, that didn’t stop people from pointing fingers at video games. It didn’t help that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 made headlines thanks to its inappropriate subject matter.
For those who don’t know, your character played as a deep cover operative in a terrorist cell. This is already a very touchy subject, but Modern Warfare 2 decided to handle it with all grace of a hyperactive puppy in a glass museum. In the “No Russian” mission, you head into an airport and massacred a crowd of unarmed civilians. It caused a huge controversy that was so big, BBC reported on it. Infinity Ward tried to fix things by making the mission skippable and removed any collectibles from that area. Even so, people still claimed that the game promoted terrorism.
14 No Man’s Lies (No Man’s Sky)
The amount of hype that surrounded No Man’s Sky was almost legendary. The procedurally generated universe was on an unprecedented scale. So much so that a gamer could dedicate the rest of their lives to the game and still only visit a small fraction of the available planets. Hello Games showed a spectacular gameplay trailer and promised players the chance to name planets, animals, and plants that they discovered in their travels. It was even described as a kind of MMO where you could meet other players, but because of the sheer size of the game doing so would be rare. The three alien factions present in the game would be at war with one another and players could get caught in epic space battles if they weren’t careful. However, the actual game was vastly different from what Hello Games promised.
While yes, the game really was as big as they said, most of the planets were just slight variations of each other with some of the most ridiculous looking creatures imaginable. The “gameplay” trailer was actually a video they had made and asked someone to pretend to play. It was not at all representative of what No Man’s Sky actually looked like. There were no space battles, and most of the aliens were mysteriously alone. What’s more, any discoveries you made and named (aside from the planet itself) would be wiped clean from the server after just two weeks! The list goes on and on. Arguably, the biggest disappointment was that no, you couldn’t meet other players in-game.
2014 was not a great year for gamers and gaming in general. The Gamergate movement practically split the gaming community in two; with accusations and misconceptions on both sides of the issue.
Gamergate started as a small sex scandal surrounding Depression Quest developer Zoe Quinn. The rumors surrounding Zoe sparked a debate about the ethics of journalism, leading many to believe it was corrupt. Unfortunately, while some supporters of #Gamergate were genuinely concerned about this issue, the large majority of the movement was focused on harassing and demoralizing women in the gaming industry. Almost all of the targets of the movement were women, including outspoken youtube feminist Anita Sarkeesian. Anita and many of her peers had decried the harassment and Gamergate as a whole, leading to extreme harassment and threats of violence.
Many talented women, including developers and journalists, in the gaming industry, were chased out by the Gamergate movement. Gamergate was a dark mark on gaming history, one that should never be repeated.
12 Amateur Hour (Mass Effect Andromeda)
It’s no secret that the highly anticipated sequel to the Mass Effect series was a major disappointment. While it wasn’t all bad, the dead-eyed stares of the characters, incompetent animations, and glitches ranging from hilarious to game breaking made the game practically unplayable. BioWare Montreal, the team in charge of Mass Effect Andromeda, did such a poor job with the game that it doesn’t even look like it released in 2017. Heck, the original Mass Effect looks and plays better than the new game and that game is a decade old. Granted, Andromeda was BioWare Montreal's first title, but that isn't a very good excuse.
The backlash against Andromeda was almost immediate. Critics and players alike panned the game. BioWare has been doing damage control ever since. Several patches helped to clear out a lot of the bugs and increased the quality of the animations and textures. But the damage was done. BioWare Montreal was downsized to a support studio. Many of the team members were moved to EA Motive, a sister studio. To top it all off, the entire Mass Effect series was placed on an indefinite hiatus.
11 The Konami And Kojima Breakup
Hideo Kojima was one of Konami’s best developers. He was the creator of the Metal Gear Solid franchise and worked at Konami for over three decades. Kojima was even working on the upcoming Silent Hills. Yet, in 2015, the decades-long partnership between Konami and Kojima came to a horrible end.
Shortly after the release of the wildly popular P.T., a playable trailer for Silent Hills, Konami announced that it was working on reconstructing the company internally. While it wasn’t clear at the time what that meant, things quickly took a turn for the worse. Konami silently removed Kojima’s name from any promotional materials for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain, and Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection. P.T. was pulled from the PlayStation Store and Silent Hills was canceled. Things came to a head when Konami banned Kojima from accepting his own award at the 2015 Game Awards.
Konami didn’t get the last laugh. Eventually, Kojima formed his own company, taking many of Konami’s best developers with him. Kojima even managed to get his award in the end.
10 Poor PC Port (Batman Arkham Knight)
Batman Arkham Knight was a great game — if you bought the console version. The PC version was a complete nightmare.
The system requirements for the PC version were increased just hours before the game launched. Review copies of the game weren’t sent out until the day of launch, with a few notable exceptions. Rocksteady had capped the framerate for the game at 30 frames per second, and the game still suffered from massive framerate drops. Joe Lopez (aka Other Joe from the Angry Joe Show) equated the framerate drops to slow mo. Graphics on the PC version were noticeably inferior to the console versions. Textures would fail so spectacularly that I’ve seen N64 games that looked better. Additionally, if certain features were enabled, it would cause the game to flicker and stutter. Plus, the PC version of Arkham Knight was prone to crashing.
Rocksteady eventually pulled Arkham Knight from Steam and issued full refunds for anyone who had purchased the PC version. Eventually, an improved made its way back onto Steam. But, let's be honest, it shouldn't have come out that way in the first place.
9 No Microtransactions? No way. (Payday 2)
No one likes microtransactions. They are an evil that began with arcades but was mostly forgotten until the Xbox 360's marketplace took the world by storm. From there, it was only a matter of time before our $60 AAA titles started supporting those vile things. While microtransactions are understandable in freemium games, they do not belong in full titles. So when the developers of Payday 2 announced that there would be no microtransactions in their game, everyone was thrilled. If only it had lasted.
It didn’t take long for Overkill to break that promise. Microtransactions managed to find their way into Overkill 2 after all. What’s more, a lot of gamers argued that they created a pay-to-win scenario. Many of the items available had better stats than those that could be found through normal gameplay. Other players argued that, since the game was a one player game, the microtransactions didn’t really break the game (even if they were sleazy). Eventually, Seabreeze obtained the rights to Payday 2 and removed the microtransactions from the game once and for all.
8 On Disk DLC (Street Fighter X Tekken)
Speaking of microtransactions, Street Fighter X Tekken managed to get itself into some really hot water because of its DLC. The game launched on the PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3, and the Xbox 360. However, 12 of the fighters were semi-exclusive to the Vita. They were available for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions, but only as DLC. Many of these characters were fan-favorites like Pac-Man, Guy, and Elena.
The DLC locked characters, while obnoxious, weren’t what got Capcom into trouble. No, the real trouble started when hackers discovered that all of the locked characters were actually programmed onto the game disk. Full models, prologues, and endings were available on the disk, just locked behind a paywall. Capcom defended their decision by claiming that it was to help increase compatibility between games. But, come on, we're not stupid. Unsurprisingly, this didn't go over well with fans. I don’t blame them one bit either. Street Fighter X Tekken was a flagrant example of a game that was chopped up just to earn the developers a little extra cash at the expense of the gamer.
7 Kickstarting Anger (Godus)
Kickstarter is both a blessing and a curse. Spiritual successors like Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Yooka-Laylee managed to find their footing through crowdfunding. Smaller games like Shovel Knight and Hyper Light Drifter wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for Kickstarter. Unfortunately for us, not everything that shows up on Kickstarter has a happy ending.
Peter Molyneux, lead developer of 22 Cans, started a Kickstarter page for Godus. The game was meant to be a god simulator, turning players into gods of their own, personal, digital universes. They even created a mobile game called Curiosity to help promote Godus. Curiosity was an MMO that featured a single, gigantic cube made from 25 billion cubelets. Players raced to be the person that destroyed that final cubelet and gain a “life changing” prize. The eventual winner was promised they would become, as Molynuex put it, “the God of all people that are playing Godus.” Except that didn’t happen. After near silence, Godus was eventually released for mobile despite the promises that the PC version would be 22 Cans’ number one priority.
After raising $800,000, Godus was handed over to a mobile developer in its unfinished state and Peter Molyneux moved on to a new project. Godus became the staple for everything wrong with Kickstarter.
6 Match Fixing (Starcraft II)
Esports are great. No, Esports are fantastic! It combines the world of jocks with your mother's basement to create the ultimate test of a gamer’s skill and teamwork. Starcraft II is one of the biggest games in Esports, with the Koreans dominating the leaderboards. Two of the best Starcraft players, Lee “Life” Seung Hyun and Bung “Bbyong” Woo Yong, managed to curb stomp everyone’s hopes and dreams.
Life and Bbyong, along with seven other individuals, were convicted of match-fixing. Many were investors and gambling brokers. In this case, Hyun intentionally threw two matches. Gambling brokers paid Life and Bbyong to throw these matches in order to game betting pools. What’s more, a series of employees would go to various betting sites and place small bets to help ensure that they made a profit. With this, I guess Starcraft really has become a sport, cheating and all.
5 Microsoft Backpedaling (Xbox One)
Sorry Microsoft fans, but the Xbox One has made it onto this list. The initial reveal of the Xbox One was so bad that Sony’s stocks actually exploded. The prices for Sony stocks rose by over 9%. I can only imagine the party they were having at Microsoft’s expense.
Originally the Xbox One was planned to require an internet connection at all times. Complete DRM. There were many missteps along the road to launch, including not being able to play used games and requiring a Kinect in order to function (because those are super popular). Sony didn’t miss a beat and released a short instructional video on now to share used games on the PlayStation 4 just to poke fun at Microsoft. Of course, Microsoft did some major backpedaling. They reduced the always online requirement to once a day before removing the feature completely. DRM was removed as well. The Xbox One did initially launch with a Kinect, but later versions of the console could be bought without one at a much lower price. Not that this made people who already owned an Xbox One happy. Plus, there was a HUGE day one patch that was required in order for the console to function. Without it, you basically owned a very expensive, oversized paperweight.
4 Supposed Sex Simulation (Mass Effect)
To be fair, this one was in no way Mass Effect’s fault. Mass Effect did nothing wrong. This one is all on Fox News.
Mass Effect was a revolutionary game that allowed you to take on the role of Commander Shepard. You could change Shepherd’s appearance and gender to your liking. From there, you were presented with a series of choices throughout the game that would not only define Shepard’s personality, but also result in consequences that impacted the game. Naturally, there were several characters that could also be courted through dialogue and action. If you were lucky, you might enter into a meaningful relationship with your desired character. Of course, there is a short cutscene with a little bit of butt and even less side boob. No big deal, right?
Not according to Fox News. In a segment with the headline “Se”xbox, Fox News reported that Mass Effect was nothing more than a sex simulator with full digital nudity and playable, graphic sex. They made claims that kids were the only ones playing the game, despite its M rating, that women were displayed as object, and that it was a man who decided how many women he wanted to be with. Of course, none of this was true. The psychology expert, who Fox News had brought on to speak about the game, made these outrageous claims before freely admitting that she had never played Mass Effect before.
3 Nightmare In France (Assassin’s Creed Unity)
Assassin’s Creed is a fantastic series. However, the games suffered when Ubisoft started releasing them on a yearly schedule. While Assassin’s Creed 3 and Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag did alright, Assassin’s Creed Unity was a dumpster fire. And that’s me being nice.
Unity focused on Arno, aka Ezio Light, as he tried to avenge the death of his father, aka Assassin's Creed 2 Light. In addition, the multiplayer portion of the game had no female character models. Ubisoft tried to defend its decision by claiming that creating a female model would have drained too much time and too many resources. Of course, other developers refuted this claim by saying making a female model would only require a day or two of extra work. To make matters worse Unity was locked at 900p and 30fps.
Oddly enough, there was a review embargo on the game that didn’t let up until 12 hours after launch. It didn’t take long to figure out why. The sheer number of bugs would put an entomologists insect collection to shame. Many of the glitches were game breaking. I actually got stuck in a haystack and had to restart my PlayStation 4. But the most famous glitch came straight out of a horror movie. The faces on character models would glitch out to only show hair, eyes, and teeth. That image will forever haunt my nightmares.
2 Gotta Catch Them All (Pokémon)
The scandals surrounding Pokémon could fill up a list all on its own. Pokémon has been plagued with one controversy after another since Pokémon Red and Green (Or Blue outside of Japan). Early on, a number of head-scratching accusations were thrown at Pokémon. They ranged from promoting gambling to being satanist propaganda and teaching witchcraft to children. I personally think Harry Potter did a better job on that last charge.
Pokémon was also accused of promoting racism and blackface. This controversy was actually sparked by the Pokémon tv show and the banned episode Holiday Hi-Jynx. However, the backlash was bad enough that the design of Jynx was changed from black (as in the color) skin to purple skin.
More recently, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) decided to toss their hat into the ring and claim that Pokémon was promoting animal abuse and cockfighting. PETA even went so far as to create not one, but two ripoff games to demonstrate their point. Now, these claims are absolutely bonkers, but so is PETA.
1 ESRB (Mortal Kombat)
The ESRB, or Entertainment Software Rating Board, is in charge of rating games for their content. The scale ranges from E (everyone can play it) to M (adults only). However, the history of the ESRB is directly linked to Mortal Kombat, Sega, and Nintendo.
Mortal Kombat was its own scandal. When it launched, it was the most graphic video game to exist. Characters would pull each other’s spines out and send digital blood flying all over the screen. Sega chose to give the game a mature rating under its own rating system. Nintendo, on the other hand, simply censored the game. But the violence in Mortal Kombat created a scandal so big that Congress actually called both Nintendo and Sega to a hearing.
Once again, Nintendo and Sega chose to approach this matter in very different ways. Namely, they pointed fingers at each other. Nintendo claimed that by censoring the game, they had made it appropriate for everyone and that it Sega was at fault for allowing the graphic violence. Sega retorted by saying that their rating system was enough to keep the game out of kids hands and that Nintendo’s attempt at censorship wasn’t good enough. Congress didn’t buy either story. Congress demanded that the gaming companies create a universal oversight board and rating system, or they would do it instead. Since no one wanted Congress to regulate gaming, the ESRB was born.