There were plenty of big news stories and trends in 2014. What were the biggest? We have the recap for you, compiled in no particular order of importance.
The Assassination of The Interview
One of the most captivating news stories of 2014 didn’t really materialize until earlier this month, as the Sony Pictures saga has gone from “unfortunate security breach,” to full-on PR hurricane.
Sony Pictures’ woes started in late November, when it announced that hackers had broken into its computer network, making off with tens of thousands of documents. While some of the leaked information was the usual Hollywood news – Sony’s talks with Marvel, and a Jump Street-Men in Black crossover – much of the stolen data had more dire consequences attached. 47,000 Social Security numbers were stolen in the hack, along with a number of passwords for email accounts, social media accounts, and Sony computer systems. The leak was so bad that former employees, who were not afforded the same identity theft protection plans as current Sony staffers, initiated a class action lawsuit.
But the drama passed beyond the normal sphere of cybersecurity and hacker malfeasance. Eventually, the media answered the question of “who hacked Sony?” on its own, by alluding to North Korea’s involvement. Sony was ready to release The Interview in theaters on Christmas Day, and North Korea had months before filed a complaint about the Kim Jong-un assassination flick with the United Nations. A spokesperson for the DPRK even threatened war with the United States if The Interview was released, calling the film an “act of war.”
So the motive was established, and that’s when the hackers, calling themselves the Guardians of Peace, started making demands. These demands, and threats of releasing more of Channing Tatum’s amazing emails to Sony executives, were followed by real-life threats of violence. At this point, the nation’s largest movie theater chains pulled out from The Interview, and Sony was forced to cancel the release.
Or so we thought.
That cancellation, ordered on December 17th, was up in smoke by the 23rd. In that time, the FBI formally accused North Korea of the Sony Pictures hack, and President Obama said that the cancellation plan was a mistake from the start. Since then, North Korea’s Internet access has been the victim of attack by an unknown party, and Sony has completed a near-complete course correction. Not only will Sony release The Interview on Video On Demand, but several hundred independent movie theaters are screening the film with the blessing of the distributor.
Since being released online and in theaters last week, The Interview has made close to $20 million – at least $15 million online, and another $2.8-plus million via the silver screen.
This all begs the question: If Sony and the theater chains had waited until after the FBI investigation had concluded, to reveal North Korea as the prime suspect, would they have cancelled the release? Physical threats of violence should always be taken seriously, but the odds of North Korea pulling off such a terror attack would be a factor from any sort of Monday morning quarterback position.
And that’s not to say there aren’t security experts out there who see the North Korea involvement as flimsy, including a recent investigation by the network security firm Norse. Its investigation points to zero North Korean involvement, but rather a former Sony Pictures employee who helped pull off an inside job.
Regardless of suspect, added patience could have helped avoid a wholly unnecessary quagmire for Sony, Hollywood, and the FBI.
– Devin Connors
Buyouts, Buyouts Everywhere
Usually, when a major buyout or merger happens in the world of video games, it’s a pretty big deal. Well, this year we had not just one, but three, with each buyout being more shocking and unexpected than the last. Let’s start off with Facebook, who decided that it wanted an in for this whole “video games” thing and bought out Kickstarter poster child: Oculus VR. The result was chaos. Fans who had been supporting the device from its earliest days felt betrayed that the product which was meant to be “by gamers for gamers” had “sold out” to a massive corporate entity. Marcus “Notch” Persson even went so far as to cancel an Oculus Rift version of Minecraft that was in the works, because “Facebook creeps him out”. Nonetheless, the world did not end, we got some calming words from an industry legend, and it looks like Facebook will allow Oculus to continue with pretty much the same autonomy as it previously enjoyed.
Next up, we had Twitch. Over the last year or so, Twitch has really exploded into the mainstream, being used for pretty much every major video game related broadcast ever, and pulling in viewers by the thousand with oddities like Twitch Plays Pokemon. It had become a hot commodity, and as with most hot tech-related commodities, many were fearing that it would go the way of YouTube and be swallowed up by Google. However, due to some antitrust laws, Google had to drop out of the deal, and instead, somewhat surprisingly, Amazon swooped in.
Lastly, we had easily the most controversial buyout of the three: Minecraft. Remember our friend Notch? How he had a little hissy fit about a big faceless corporation buying up the indie darling Oculus VR? Well, guess what he went ahead and did with his own indie darling? He sold it to a big faceless corporation for an eye-popping 2.5 billion dollars. Granted, Notch and his fellow founders left the company shortly after the sale, so we’ll never know just how much of the decision was on him.
– Steven Bogos
LucasArts and GOG
There are certain sad facts that gamers have come to accept about the video game industry. Take Half-Life 3, for instance. Everyone might want it and Valve would probably make a bajillion dollars from it, but it will never happen. Same deal with a Final Fantasy VII remake. We all want it, but it’s never going to happen.
Up until recently the re-release of LucasArts’s old school PC library was one of these sad “never-gonna-happens.” For years, gamers had been pining after the company’s classic library, always knowing on some deep down level that it was most likely just a pipe dream. Then, out of the blue, forum users at GOG uncovered a series of Star Wars game pages that quickly disappeared only to be followed by an official announcement confirming that the site would be adding a total of 30 LucasArts titles in the near future.
And while the initial round of releases only included five games (X-Wing, Tie Fighter, The Secret of Monkey Island, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), the excitement among many gamers was palpable. For many longtime fans this would be the first chance they’d had to play some of these titles in years. Other gamers meanwhile, were getting their first opportunity to try titles that had taken on an almost legendary status among PC gamers.
Granted, in the grand scheme of the industry, the re-release of some retro games probably didn’t leave more than a few ripples in the pond. Nonetheless, it was still easily one of the most unexpected and welcome surprises of 2014 and will probably stand as one of the most exciting retro gaming announcements for years to come.
– Stew Shearer
One of the biggest industry stories of the year started in August with a blog post by Eron Gjoni that alleged improprieties of his ex-girlfriend, indie developer Zoe Quinn. Actor Adam Baldwin gave the ensuing outrage a name: Gamergate. The controversy spurred from Gjoni’s post touched the entire industry. No one seemed unaffected, but those hardest hit were the ones who were the most vocal, for or against. Harassment and threats of violence against many prominent women in the industry – notably Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu – brought cries of misogyny, while pro-GGers claimed the real crux of the GG movement was ethics in game journalism. There were also reports of threats against some of the pro-GG movement as well. The Gamergate controversy eventually made so much noise that the mainstream press picked up on it, including the New York Times and the Huffington Post. Stephen Colbert even had a segment about it on his show
By the end of the year, the furor had died down, but not without consequence. Many game professionals questioned whether involvement in the industry was worth it given the level of toxicity from the extreme elements on both sides. Gamergate was definitely not a shining moment for video games.
– John Keefer
Net Neutrality and Throttling the Internet
The terms “Net Neutrality” and “Open Internet” have been thrown around by politicians and netizens alike for years, but not until 2014 did the public really get any skin in the Internet classification game.
The current battle over your Internet tubes really did start at the beginning of 2014, when a U.S. Appeals court said that the FCC could not impose new rules on Internet providers – specifically when it came to traffic prioritization. In other words, ISPs could slow down some traffic while speeding up specific sites and services. Providers like Comcast and Verizon immediately took advantage of the decision, as Netflix agreed to pay up for priority access on their networks.
This ruling set of a chain of events that has yet to conclude, and has involved virtually every level of business and government. For the FCC, it meant coming up with new rules and Internet regulations that didn’t involve some sort of reclassification, while also appeasing the courts – something that has yet to be accomplished. But the FCC is trying, desperately, even going as far as to take public comments on the matter. This is a somewhat regular occurrence, but not all calls for public comment involve John Oliver dedicating an entire show to the issue. The FCC also stumbled a bit when it proposed a “fast lane” set of rules that would allow ISPs to charge for priority network access – something that seemingly goes against the core principles of an open Internet.
As the comment period continued, tech companies like Google petitioned the FCC to keep the Internet open, while the FCC said that all options were on the table. Eventually, the pro-net neutrality President Obama takes his position from sideline posturing to a more direct conversation with the FCC, recommending that the governing body reclassify the Internet as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
But it’s not all about the federal government here, as hard as Senator Al Franken is working to save the movement (while others in Congress attempt to bury it). Local governments and utilities have also gotten involved, asking the FCC for help as they attempt to expand government-owned municipal broadband projects.
As the year draws to a close, the trenches have been dug, and lines are drawn in the proverbial sand. Those supporting net neutrality are President Obama, content-heavy tech giants like Google, Netflix, and Facebook, and dusty little Chattanooga, Tennessee. On the other side, there’s Mark Cuban, the about-to-merge Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and the rest of their ISP contemporaries, and what seems like most of the Republican Party.
And in the middle? The FCC, desperately trying to fix the situation, without completely enraging one half the country, or the other.
– Devin Connors
Nintendo’s Comeback Tour
Nintendo didn’t exactly kick off the new generation with a bang. The Wii U’s launch was more of a dull whimper. Games were few and far between, and the market that had so eagerly purchased millions of Wiis didn’t quite… get Nintendo’s new tablet-controller-thing. Sales forecasts were repeatedly slashed. Reports of doom and gloom followed the publisher throughout 2013. Even a new 3D Mario gamecouldn’t turn things around. In early 2014, head honcho Saturo Iwata took a pay cut to make up for abysmal console sales. Things weren’t looking good.
Then, in the spring, Nintendo slowly but surely started making a comeback. It started with the smashing success of Mario Kart 8 and continued throughout a stellar E3 showing, with some of Nintendo’s games appearing on The Escapist‘s “Best of” lists. As a result of the shift in momentum, Nintendo had a surprisingly profitable second quarter.
Then came the holiday line-up, which meant two big things: Super Smash Bros. and Amiibo. One analyst has already claimed that Nintendo will make a billion dollars from the sale of its NFC figurines alone. Though that estimate seems rather high, the demand for Amiibos – even defective ones – can’t be denied.
As for Super Smash Bros., one of the Wii U’s most highly anticipated titles? Following a glowing E3 preview, our own Jonathan Bolding called it “the cure for Wii U’s doldrums” in his five-star review. It’s been predicted that the fighting game could double Wii U console sales thanks to a record-shattering number of pre-orders.
There’s no telling what 2015 holds for Nintendo, but considering its turnaround this year, it’s safe to say that it won’t be starting off the new year on such shaky ground. We had faith in Nintendo’s ability to make a comeback, simply because we’ve seen the publisher do it before – the first few months of the 3DS weren’t great, either. As of this holiday season, we can honestly say it’s a great time to own a Wii U, and we still have plenty to look forward to in the new year – Splatoon, Mario Maker, and Majora’s Mask 3DS, to name a few. The publisher still has a long way to go before the cries of “Nintendo is doomed!” are quieted completely, but at least it’s finally heading in the right direction. Nintendo has made considerable efforts to right the ship, and we hope it can keep the positive momentum going into 2015 and beyond.
– Sarah LeBoeuf
The Kinect-less Xbox One
If you’ve been following the development and release of the Xbox One, you will have no doubt heard some variation of the “Xbox One-Eighty” joke – referring to the fact that Microsoft have done more backflips with its next-gen console than a Chinese gymnastics team. First, it was always-online and had some pretty strong DRM restrictions on sharing games. Then it didnt. Then, the Kinect was a completely essential part of the system that couldn’t even be turned off. Then it could. Then, this year, Microsoft backtracked on just how “essential” the Kinect is for the system even further by announcing a cheaper, Kinectless version of the console.
So what are you left with if you pick up the Kinectless Xbox One? A machine that is less powerful than its direct competitor, for the same price, without any real defining features bar its exclusive titles. Furthermore, offering a cheaper Kinectless device has more or less assured the peripheral’s demise, as the first-generation Kinect (and the PlayStation Move) demonstrated that developers simply won’t develop for a gimmick toy that only a fraction of the user base owns. This is already evident from the fact that the system’s biggest titles, such as Titanfall, Dead Rising 3 and Sunset Overdrive, don’t have any motion controls in them at all, and a “killer app” for the device that makes the shelling out the extra $50 for it worthwhile simply doesn’t exist.
On the one hand, one could praise these kind of bold, sweeping policy reversals as Microsoft listening to its consumers. On the other hand, I was actually kind of interested to see the always-online, Kinect-focused machine that Microsoft had initially envisioned. Sure, it would have faced a lot of resistance at the start, but at least it would have been something different. Now, we’re stuck with two near-identical boxes that are trying their hardest to be PCs, but keep falling short.
– Steven Bogos
A Busy Year for Blizzard
Blizzard Entertainment has had a busy year, launching new expansions for two of its flagship games with Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls and World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor. Newcomer Hearthstone launched on PC – and then iPad and Android – and its first expansion, Goblins and Gnomes, launched this month. But Blizzard’s biggest news is likely the multiplayer FPS Overwatch, which is the company’s first new franchise in 17 years – and has met with rave early reviews, with a beta coming in early 2015. Overwatch moved from rumor to reality relatively quickly – at least by Blizzard’s “when it’s ready” release schedule – in part because the game was built from the remnants of the canceled Titan (so at least something came out of the speculated $50 million development cost).
Still it hasn’t all been good news for Blizzard. The company parted ways with Chief Creative Officer Rob Pardo, who’s been with the company since 1997 – and how this might affect the gaming giant has yet to be seen. StarCraft fans wondering when they’re ever going to see the third part of StarCraft II – which was initially intended to be part of the original game, released in 2010 – only have some extra tidbits of StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void to keep them going. Meanwhile, Blizzard’s take on MOBAs, Heroes of the Storm, has been in alpha testing since spring, though there are at least plans for the game to graduate to beta in 2015. World of Warcraft‘s subscriber numbers hit a new low of 6.8 million over the summer, causing many to wonder if Blizzard’s time dominating the MMO industry was at an end – but with numbers bouncing up to 10 million again after the Warlords of Draenor launch, speculation on the end of the decade-old MMO has gone silent … at least for now.
– Elizabeth Harper
The Upcoming Phases of Marvel Films
Marvel Studios films were already the official movie blockbusters well before 2014. Starting from a solid Phase 1 that culminated in The Avengers before enriching the mythology more with Phase 2, Marvel has done what seemed impossible: Make unabashedly fun and true-to-form superhero movies that everyone will be watching. Even the strangeness of Guardians of the Galaxy simply added to the appeal. But surely the formula has been locked down, and things won’t get any weirder for Phase 3?
What an adorable thought. One of the biggest film news stories of 2013 was Marvel simply revealing its plans to 2014, and wow, were there quite a few doozies.
After Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man wrap up Phase 2, Marvel will hit the ground running with Captain America: Civil War. Based in part on Marvel Comics Civil War event, this film will conclude Cap’s trilogy in a conflict with the other big hero of the MCU franchise: Iron Man himself. How that will tie into the broader universe, especially Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., remains to be seen. But given the impact of the last Captain America movie, the implications are already through the roof.
Other successful Marvel movies will be getting their own sequels, such as Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy 2. But new additions to the universe will expand the universe even further. Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, will introduce Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme and could be the first MCU film to address magical themes. Black Panther will bring us the ruler of the African nation of Wakanda, adding his adventures and international intrigue to the film universe. But perhaps the biggest inclusion is Inhumans, culminating a long-running Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. storyline while giving the MCU a version of mutants that Fox’s X-Men license agreement normally wouldn’t allow for.
How can Marvel get any bigger than that? How about not one but two Avengers movies? Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 and 2 will tie up most of those plot threads introduced way back in Phase 1. What’s the importance of Infinity Stones? Why is Thanos so dangerous? Can the Avengers set aside their differences long enough to stop the greatest threat the universe has ever seen? Presumably it will be almost impossible to watch Marvel Studios films as standalone works at that point … but given Marvel’s track record no one will mind that much.
In other words, Marvel movies will still be innovating the superhero formula for at least the rest of the decade. Where it will go from there is anyone’s guess.
– Marshall Lemon
The Discussion of Female Characters
2014 was a year where a lot happened to women and female characters – for good and for ill. In games, comics, and movies and TV, there were discussions about what makes a good female character, a major game publisher backpedaling on a comment about playable female characters, and announcements for many films where women will lead the story.
In February, four women stood on stage at IndieCade East to talk about their goal to teach more women how to make video games. The women of Code Liberation Foundation found that many women interesting in coding just stop pursuing it at some point in their lives due to pressure to pursue other interests, video games being marketed for boys, and the industry itself being unwelcome to women. Code Liberation Foundation holds classes throughout the year for anyone who identifies as a woman to learn how to make video games in various languages, and the organization’s presentation at IndieCade East set the tone for a year of discussion on what should change.
While this has been a topic of discussion for the past couple of years, this year it became more and more obvious that the protagonists of big video game releases tend to be white men. While some games this year have added playable female characters later on as DLC or as an additional character, other studios have found themselves at ends trying to explain why they included no women as characters for the player. When showing off the cooperative multiplayer mode of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, the game’s creative director said Ubisoft chose not to include women as playable characters because doing so would have doubled the cost of everything. Ubisoft drew ire from many in games who thought its excuse was flimsy. Sarah LeBoeuf called out publishers for not allocating resources for creating playable female characters and why that decision says women aren’t worth the effort. Comments like this are still commonplace, but the greater pushback against them shows that things are changing. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot later said Ubisoft will “try to extend more diversity.”
As much of this ripped through international circles in and out of game development, a Swedish games industry organization not associated with government announced plans to create a system to rate for games on the level of sexism and gender equality. Project manager Anton Albiin said, “Of course games can be about fantasy but they can be so much more than this. They can also be a form of cultural expression – reflecting society or the society we are hoping for. Games can help us create more diverse workplaces and can even change the way we think about things.”
During this, women took the stage at New York Comic Con to lead discussions on what makes a well-rounded female character and to dismantle the myth that women don’t read comics. In fact, many women work on comics. During the panel, the hashtag #WomenofMARVEL began trending in the United States.
There was great news in comics and movies for female characters. Both DC and Marvel announced their first female superhero-led movies, featuring Wonder Woman in 2016 and Captain Marvel in 2018, respectively. This is huge; we’ve had how many Batman movies and plenty of team-based superhero movies where women have been side characters or the single woman in a team of men (and a raccoon and a sentient tree-like character). We’re going to have to wait a while to see these movies in theaters, but it’s about time we knew they were happening. In even more good news, Michelle McLaren will direct Wonder Woman.
Even outside of comics, movies are getting reboots with a women-only main cast. Many people still think women can’t be as funny as men, but the director of a rebooted Ghostbusters doesn’t think so. Paul Feig has confirmed the new Ghostbusters film will include a team of all women as the supernatural exterminators.
There’s no doubt that these conversations will continue into 2015. We’ve already seen that people want movies about superheroes who are women, comics reflecting the diversity of our real world, and games featuring new voices.
– Carly Smith