There are few things on this planet more capable of delivering consistent cringe than game announcements at conventions like E3. Every year, nervous developers, phoney executives, and drunken celebrities fall victim to technical difficulties, awful scripts, or a bewildering misunderstanding of what makes for a good presentation. But what happens when game announcements do more than make audiences roll their eyes? When companies announce something that inspires unexpected outrage and ire, instead?
We got a taste of that last week when Blizzard managed to piss off the entire internet when it closed its annual Blizzcon keynote by announcing the next Diablo game was a mobile spin-off. While disappointing reveals never justify lashing out at developers, Diablo Immortal was just another chapter in a long history of game companies upsetting fans by going against their expectations. With hindsight on each of these announcements, you just have to wonder: what were they thinking?
Command & Conquer: Rivals
Someone tell me if this sounds familiar: Notable developer and publisher comes on stage in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers to announce the next game in a storied and dearly loved PC gaming series only to, at the last second, reveal that it’s a slimmed down version built exclusively for mobile. That’s what happened six months ago at E3 when, during EA’s press conference, viewers were forced to watch a painfully awkward shoutcasted match of a mobile game only to be told, after, that this was Command & Conquer.
The blowback wasn’t nearly as severe as with Diablo: Immortal, but you could almost hear an audible sigh as fans realized that the once-great RTS series had devolved into a barely recognizable mobile spin-off. Command and Conquer had been a beloved PC series since 1995, and it hadn't seen a proper release in eight years. The subreddit and related communities quickly filled with dejected posts of fans who felt neglected by EA. Fortunately, EA heard the feedback and realized it had an opportunity to win fans back. Months after E3, EA took to Reddit to announce plans to remaster the first Command & Conquer while the team investigates how to revive the series on PC.
Few moments in gaming have ever sent as big of a shockwave through the industry as Microsoft's botched unveiling of the Xbox One. Though PC gamers only felt a gentle rumbling, that fated E3 2013 conference cemented the Xbox One as the weaker console for this entire generation, which in turn would play an influential role in initiatives like Xbox Play Anywhere and a redoubling of efforts to publish games for PC. And it all happened because Microsoft woefully misjudged what people valued in their gaming consoles.
Instead of focusing on the actual games, Microsoft jammed the Xbox One full of questionable features: Kinect, a clunky Windows 10 OS, odd cable TV features, and mandatory always-online functionality. When questioned about those choices, then-Xbox head Don Mattrick snidely implied that gamers who don't like it can just play on something else. So they did. Months later, Don Mattrick was out and Microsoft was backpedaling hard due to backlash that was so unanimously severe, it eventually ended up up stripping out every single contentious feature of the Xbox One. It didn't help Microsoft reclaim the crown, though, as the Xbox One has only sold an estimated 40 million units since then—just under half of what the PlayStation 4 has sold.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
World of Warcraft expansion announcements are normally met with cheers of excitement—who doesn’t love new zones filled with quests and loot? But when Chris Metzen announced Mists of Pandaria during Blizzcon 2011, it didn’t take long for players to start dogpiling into forums with angry threads ranting about how Warcraft was becoming a game for kids. It turns out people didn’t take too kindly at the thought of their very serious roleplaying game having pandas in it.
History remembers Mists of Pandaria far more favorably, but at the time the WoW community seemed completely divided over the announcement that both the Horde and Alliance could play as the goofy panda-esque pandaren. This was partly because, until then, pandaren were seen as a tiny footnote in Warcraft lore—their inclusion in Warcraft 3 was more of an April Fool’s Joke that slowly evolved over time. Combined with the fact that Mists of Pandaria also featured a contentious pet battling system similar to Pokémon and was said to have a "lighter" story than Cataclysm, players figured this was WoW selling out for a quick buck. Funny how that seems to be a theme.
Blizzard didn’t adjust any of its plans to appease the naysayers and, in the end, the uproar died down on its own. Mists of Pandaria eventually released and people must have realized that the pandaren were actually pretty cool and their homeland was one of the most gorgeous zones Blizzard had ever designed.
You don’t have to be Ashlee Simpson to know what’s it like to hear an entire stadium booing in unison. Just watch the above clip of when Artifact was first unveiled during Dota 2’s world championships in 2017. The trailer teased fans with the promise that Valve was finally making another game—could it be Half-Life 3?—but when the words "The Dota card game" graced the screen, the roughly 17,000 people sitting in Seattle's KeyArena let out an audible groan.
That bewilderment carried over to social media, where people weren't gentle about airing their grievances toward Valve. Surprising no one, Valve didn't acknowledge or comment on any of the discourse and continued playing the silent type until almost a year later, when it finally invited journalists to come see Artifact. In hindsight, though, Valve's reveal was maybe the smart way to rip off the band-aid, because no further details were released until after that initial wave of disappointment died down. People just eventually ran out of reasons to be angry at it. And maybe they never should have been at all: while there's still some time until its full release, Artifact is looking promising.
When Facepunch Studios, creators of Steam Early Access success story Rust, announced a small twin-stick shooter named Riftlight back in 2014, some Rust players went on a tirade over the idea that the developer would start a new game before finishing its other one. Rust's Steam forums filled up with angry threads decrying the announcement to a degree where Facepunch Studios founder Garry Newman had to address the complaints directly in a blog post (that has since been removed). In that post, Newman clarified that no one was pulled from Rust's development team to work on this new game and that only 0.04 percent of Rust's revenue was being used to prototype new games.
After Newman's explanation, it seemed like a classic case of people pulling out their pitchforks before reading the fine print, but it also highlighted the tense relationship players have with Early Access games that seem to exist in a perpetual state of being incomplete. It wouldn't have been the first time an Early Access game was abandoned, and I think outraged players were merely worried about being burned on a platform that offers them little protection. In the end, it didn't matter much. Facepunch hasn't said anything more on Riftlight in the four years since, but I doubt that has anything to do with the initial backlash from the announcement.