The biggest PC gaming controversies of 2018

There are a few events each year that set the tone for the next. In 2017, Battlefront 2's loot boxes set up a year of governmental investigation into videogames. In 2016, Blizzard sent a cease-and-desist order to vanilla WoW server Nostalrius, and in 2017, the developer announced its own vanilla WoW project. These controversies are more than just angry Reddit threads: they shape the industry and the views of players going forward.

So, what's ahead for 2019? Let's investigate by looking back at this year's most talked-about moments. From unbelievably disastrous launches to mobile spin-offs igniting widespread internet indignation, these are the biggest PC gaming controversies of 2018.

Legislation against loot boxes gains momentum 

The controversy surrounding loot boxes shaped gaming in 2017, and that discussion naturally boiled over into 2018. Though this past year lacked the same flashpoints like The Great Battlefront 2 Loot Box Controversy, it did see legislators across the world take serious steps to investigate and regulate games that used them. Leading that charge are countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, both of which have cracked down on loot boxes in various games. Most of the infringing companies, like Blizzard, complied and removed loot boxes, while EA is going to court over the issue.

Other countries, like Australia, France, the UK, and the USA have launched formal investigations into loot boxes with both France and the UK finding the connection between them and gambling to be dubious. But while the legal future of loot boxes is still uncertain, it seems that game developers are very aware of how sensitive the issue is considering it's now major news when a game confirms that it won't have any loot boxes, like Anthem. Whether we should be inviting our governments to regulate gaming is still a hot topic to battle over, but chances are loot boxes will continue being one of the biggest ongoing conversations in PC gaming for the next few years. Expect to see this appear on 2019's biggest controversies too. 

Nier still didn't receive a damn patch 

Almost two years ago, Nier: Automata released on PC. As Andy said in his review at the time, Nier is a really good game that is held back by some annoying performance issues and missing settings. Cutscenes locked to 30 fps and a mouse cursor that continually appeared in the middle of the screen were definitely annoying, but it's also the kind of thing that could be fixed in a post-launch update—and that's exactly what we expected would happen. Except it didn't.

Eight months after Nier's release, Wes took Square Enix to task over their complete lack of post-launch support. Nier's plethora of bugs and broken features were still there. Sure, modder Kaldaien created a tool that fixed just about every one of these issues, but it's unacceptable that players should be expected to fix broken games on their own. That summer, Square Enix said it was working on fixes but so far had nothing to show for it, and that's the last we've heard about the matter in the year and a half since.

Now it's been almost two years and Nier still never received that promised patch. What happened? Did Square Enix just give up and think that Kaldaien and other modders' work was good enough? Will the leaked Game of the Year edition still be just as broken?  

Diablo Immortal pisses off the entire internet 

Blizzard tried to temper expectations going into BlizzCon 2018 when it let fans know ahead of time that there are several Diablo projects in the works but that it isn't ready to reveal them all quite yet. Apparently that didn't work, because when BlizzCon 2018 ended with a spectacular Diablo trailer announcing that the next game would be a mobile spin-off co-developed by Chinese company NetEase, people were very upset. The backlash was immediate and severe. 

The controversy only grew more furious when it was discovered that Diablo Immortal was somewhat similar to another NetEase mobile game. And when executive producer Allen Adham said Blizzard had "many of [its] best developers now working on new mobile titles," that only fanned the flames. Things weren't helped by the fact that World of Warcraft was also enduring months of scathing criticism following the release of its new Battle for Azeroth expansion.

For many, this was an ill omen. A report from Kotaku told of how Blizzard was trying to cut costs due to growing influence from parent company Activision Blizzard, making it easy to view its new mobile focus as part of a transformation into a soulless big-budget developer. Whether or not that's actually happening is unclear, but either way, BlizzCon 2019 will sure be interesting.

Riot turns out to be an ugly place to work 

When the developer of one of the biggest games of all time turns out to be a horrible place to work for many people, you can bet it'll be news. That's exactly what happened when Kotaku published an exhaustive report detailing rampant sexism at League of Legends developer Riot Games. Speaking to 28 current and former employees, Kotaku exposed how Riot's leadership cultivated a sexist culture that saw women repeatedly harassed or discriminated against.

In the following weeks other Riot employees stepped forward to share their own stories, which continued to paint a damning picture of Riot's rampant "bro culture." In response, Riot built a new diversity and inclusion initiative while investigating some of the claims made in Kotaku's report—one of which led to COO Scott Gelb being suspended without pay for two months. And in early November, Riot was hit with a gender discrimination lawsuit by one former and one current employee. Whether or not Riot makes good on its promise to become a better employer remains to be seen. 

Henry Cavill to play Geralt in Netflix's The Witcher series 

Maybe Netflix's Witcher series will be good, but we weren't given much reassurance by this short clip of Henry Cavill dressed like a costume-store Geralt trying to look sexy while drinking a bottle of food coloring. 

Valve changes its mind about sexual content

Back in May of 2018, several notable developers of sexy anime games received word from Valve that their games would have to be censored even further if they wanted to stay on Steam. It was a seemingly new chapter in Valve's long history of confusing, inconsistent rulings about what kind of sexual content is permissible on Steam. Then, days later, Valve reached out to those developers to say that it was wrong and that their games could stay on Steam in their already censored versions. It was a confusing turn of events that left everyone scratching their heads until, weeks later, Valve unveiled an entirely new set of rules for Steam that completely opened the door for X-rated games as long as they weren't "trolling" or "illegal."

Steam is now a platform that allows just about anything, with Valve saying it wants to give users control of which types of games they are exposed to. Sexual content isn't really the issue, though: Steam has already had problems with hateful, racist communities and toxicity in its forums, and its new hands-off policy feels like an admission of defeat when it comes to moderating.

ArenaNet fires two employees in response to backlash 

Back in July, Guild Wars 2 writers Jessica Price and Peter Fries became the focal point of angry players after Price responded curtly to a Guild Wars 2 player on Twitter. Price had been discussing narrative techniques in Guild Wars 2 when YouTuber Deroir jumped in to disagree with Price. Price felt Deroir's feedback was condescending and implied as much when she tweeted about it.

The following day, the Guild Wars 2 subreddit hosted multiple threads calling for Price and Fries, who had defended his coworker on Twitter, to be fired. As drama spread, ArenaNet president Mike O'Brien declared Price's statements an "attack on the community" and said both Price and Fries had been fired. ArenaNet's decision was widely condemned and spurred debates over the nature of online harassment, whether there's a distinction between professional and personal social media, how companies should respond to community backlash, and to what extent they should seek to protect outspoken employees.

Fallout 76 is a disaster 

If we treated controversies like our Game of the Year Awards, then Fallout 76 would undoubtedly win. Bethesda's multiplayer take on Fallout is one of the worst game launches of all time.

Those who pre-ordered for Fallout 76's beta were upset to discover the beta only ran a few hours a week at irregular times and glitches in Bethesda's launcher forced many to have to reinstall the client—if it even worked at all. Then Fallout 76 launched and, despite Bethesda warning it'd be buggy, players were still shocked to see just how bad it was. Quests were bugged and could erase hours of progress if they even worked at all, players discovered ways to fly and could even crash servers at will if they wanted too. Fallout 76 was also missing basic features like push-to-talk, text chat, and the ability to change certain graphics settings. 

Making matters even worse, those who preordered the $200 Power Armor Edition were promised fancy Fallout canvas bags but received crappy nylon ones instead. As an apology, Bethesda gave out a paltry amount of premium in-game currency, which was not even enough to buy most items from the cosmetic store. Though Bethesda is now working to send out proper canvas bags, the saga continued when 65 players had their personal information compromised by a bug in Bethesda's support website. In the last few weeks, things seem to have finally settled down even though Fallout 76 is still a buggy mess. But the indignation is still glowing red hot.

Steven is PC Gamer's contributing editor and has a nose for sniffing out the interesting and unique stories being told every day in the PC community. He likes RPGs of the MMO persuasion but doesn't have friends so regular RPGs are good too.