Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

5 huge news stories that rocked the gaming world in 2020

Between the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and a tense presidential election, 2020 brought a constant stream of big news. That was true for the video game industry as well, which saw a massive boost in business as people started playing more during lockdown. That would have been enough to make 2020 a critical year for gaming, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to painting a picture of the industry in 2020.

In one word, 2020 was explosive for video games. There were shocking acquisitions, bitter rivalries between corporations, and one gaming controversy to end all gaming controversies. All of that came together to make 2020 a completely unpredictable year for gaming enthusiasts that toed the line between exciting and troubling at every turn. It’s hard to keep track of everything that happened in such a relentless and seemingly never-ending year, so here’s a recap of all of the year’s most significant gaming stories.

COVID-19’s effect on the industry

Charley Gallay / Getty Images

This year was supposed to be a celebratory one for video games, with the launch of two new consoles and tons of major software releases. Live events like E3 were going to usher in an exciting new generation, part of a yearlong reveal party for Sony and Microsoft. Of course, all of those plans were shattered when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The entire industry turned on its head in March. E3 and the Game Developers Conference were canceled, throwing every company’s plans out the window. Developers were forced to adapt to a work-from-home environment, which slowed down development on some of the year’s most anticipated releases. Huge titles like The Last of Us Part II were pushed back a few months in response. Halo Infinite was supposed to be the Xbox Series X’s big launch title before it was indefinitely delayed. CD Projekt Red inadvertently became a meme for the number of times it pushed back Cyberpunk 2077 with its dreaded yellow-background announcements.

Game delays and conference cancellations are small potatoes compared to the incalculable damage COVID-19 has caused, and continues to cause, on human life. Ultimately, the industry still found ways to thrive and recover, but we have yet to see the full impact. Games take many years to develop, which means that titles that are currently in development will be most significantly affected. That could mean the next few years are light on major releases. It’s a bit of a mystery box from here on out, but it seems like COVID-19’s effect on gaming will be felt for years to come.

Ubisoft’s misconduct reckoning


The conditions in which games were made came under heavy scrutiny this year. The biggest example of that came from Ubisoft, which was forced to reckon with its toxic workplace culture over the summer. Grim stories leaked from the company, painting it as a harmful environment rife with harassment and misconduct in its top ranks. That led to some of the company’s top names leaving the company in some form, including Rayman creator Michel Ancel and former Assassin’s Creed Valhalla creative director Ashraf Ismail. The reports say that one in four Ubisoft employees experienced misconduct of some form at the company.

The scandals only piled up for Ubisoft through the year, as the company came under fire for using a Black Lives Matter symbol to represent a terrorist organization in one of its games. All of the bad press eventually led to CEO Yves Guillemot formally apologizing and committing to changes. It’s yet to be seen if the studio will make good on that promise, but the situation highlighted the turmoil behind the scenes at one of the world’s biggest game studios.

Apple vs. Epic Games

Fortnite Chapter 2 Key Art
Epic Games

Fortnite may be a few years old at this point, but the battle royale game made its biggest headlines yet in 2020. Publisher Epic Games entered into a fierce battle with Apple over the company’s practice of taking a 30% cut from App Store developers. Epic tried to circumvent Apple’s rules by directing users to buy V-bucks in-game, which prompted Apple to remove Fortnite from the App Store entirely. Google followed suit by removing the game on Android, but Epic mostly directed its fury at Apple in the form of lawsuits and a satirical #FreeFortnite campaign.

Both companies have drawn criticism for the messy situation. Some called Apple out for its steep 30% cut, while others lambasted Epic for its attempts to weaponize kids in a legal battle. Months later, not much has changed. Epic lost the legal case as a judge ruled that Apple did not need to bring Fortnite back to iOS, but Epic appears to be setting the stage for retaliation in 2021. The company just added the Spotify app to the Epic Games Store, which may signal that Epic is looking to turn its Games Store into an App Store competitor. It may have lost the battle, but the war is just beginning.

Microsoft acquires Bethesda

Vice President of Bethesda Softworks, speaks during the Bethesda E3 Showcase
Christian Petersen / Getty Images

There wasn’t a lot that could make people’s jaws drop in 2020, but Microsoft pulled off a genuine stunner. In September, the company announced that it intended to acquire ZeniMax Media and, by extension, Bethesda Softworks. The landmark $7.5 billion deal is the biggest in video game history and gives Microsoft access to a stable of beloved studios, such as id Software and Arkane Studios.

The deal won’t be finalized until early next year, so we’ve yet to see what the deal really means for the industry. The news quickly raised questions about whether or not Bethesda-published games would be exclusive to Microsoft from now on. Microsoft said that it would honor all current exclusivity agreements, meaning that games like Deathloop will still launch as a console exclusive on PS5, but it’s unclear what the deal means for games like The Elder Scrolls VI. Whatever happens, the move is a legitimate game changer for Xbox Game Pass, which will add Bethesda’s robust library of games, further establishing it as the best deal in gaming.

Cyberpunk 2077’s rocky launch

As the old saying goes: Any press is good press. Unfortunately, that wasn’t true when it came to Cyberpunk 2077. This was supposed to be the ambitious open world game’s year — and in many ways it was … just not in the way CD Projekt Red expected. It started with multiple delays as the game’s launch window kept moving deeper into 2020. Then developer CD Projekt Red reversed its promises about crunch, reportedly implementing a mandatory six-day crunch on developers ahead of the game’s launch. One final, last-second delay set off alarm bells as fans started wondering what shape the final game would be in.

It turned out that the answer was much worse than anyone could have imagined. The game launched with significant bugs and graphical issues. Those were especially prevalent in the last-generation versions of the game, which have severe performance issues. CD Projekt Red was accused of purposely hiding the state of the game from press, players, and investors to get the game out in time. After initially recouping the cost of the game from pre-orders, the company’s stock plummeted and its founders reportedly lost $1 billion in wealth overnight. On top of that, Sony pulled the game from PlayStation entirely and multiple retailers are offering full refunds for the game.

It’s not an exaggeration to call Cyberpunk 2077’s launch the worst in video game history. The situation gets seemingly worse by the day as more game-breaking bugs are uncovered. The release leaves us wondering if modern game development is sustainable as developers try to create bigger and bigger games by utilizing problematic labor practices. Like all of the stories on this list, the situation will likely bleed into 2021 as it continues to cause headaches for everyone involved. We can only hope that the disaster serves as a cautionary tale for everyone else.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
The Witcher reveal repeats Cyberpunk 2077’s biggest mistake
A player points a gun at a cyborg in Cyberpunk 2077's reveal trailer.

On March 21, CD Projekt Red confirmed a new The Witcher game while revealing a new Unreal Engine 5 partnership with Epic Games. Shortly after that announcement, CD Projekt Red's Global PR Director Radek Grabowski had to clarify some crucial details about this new game and the Epic Games partnership in a tweet:
While this tweet clarifies the biggest misconceptions about CD Projekt Red's The Witcher announcement, it also highlights that the developer announced this game way too early and vaguely. CD Projekt Red is already losing control of some of the discourse around the game and risks repeating one of the biggest mistakes of Cyberpunk 2077's development and marketing: Overpromising.
Cyberpunk 2077's big mistake
CD Projekt Red announced Cyberpunk 2077 in May 2012 at a press conference. At the time, the developer promised features like a "gripping non-linear story filled with life and detail" and a variety of character classes, weapons, upgrades, implants, and more to choose from. It said the game would "set [a] new standard in the futuristic RPG genre with an exceptional gaming experience."
Cyberpunk 2077 would not release until December 2020, over eight years later. But in the meantime, CD Projekt Red continued to tease the title with trailers and interviews, highlighting the game's ambitious scope and vision. CD Projekt Red developers hyped up how the main story and sidequests intertwined, how the game would feature multiplayer, how cops would be very reactive, and more. Although the game looked and sounded very impressive prior to its release, many of these features and promises were either missing or half-baked in their implementation into Cyberpunk 2077.
Cyberpunk 2077 Teaser Trailer
For eight years, an RPG that was supposed to change the genre forever was promised, but in the end, all we got was a fairly standard open-world RPG with a bevy of technical problems at release. The massive backlash happened because people were so excited for Cyberpunk 2077, partly because CD Projekt Red hyped up all of these ambitious features over eight years.
The reality is that game development is an arduous journey that doesn't always go according to plan. Designs change, features are cut, and sometimes the finished product just doesn't come together. CD Projekt Red probably never meant to lie to its fans, but priorities and development timelines shifted and what the developer ultimately delivered with Cyberpunk 2077 wasn't up to snuff.
As CD Projekt Red made the mistake of announcing Cyberpunk 2077 too early and overpromising, I thought the studio would what to share more details on its next game until it was close to release. That was not the case. 
Initial Confirmation
CD Projekt Red was not willing to share a development time frame or release window as part of The Witcher announcement, so it's likely that this game is still several years away. Although the developer didn't reveal many details at this time, announcing the next The Witcher game so early gives s the Polish studio plenty of time to do so. For example, the game's director is already promising that there will be no crunch during the development of this game, something people may hold him accountable for as stories about the game's development emerge. CD Projekt Red must be cautious about what it shares about this new game before launch if it doesn't want another PR disaster, and it already seems to be getting a bit out of hand.  
Grabowski's tweet indicates that there are already some misconceptions about the game. That will likely exponentially worsen as CD Projekt Red continues to tease this title in job listings, interviews, and trailers. It's a dangerous approach, so why did the developer make this "initial confirmation" happen so early? There are several reasons why this could be the case. First off, most of this announcement was focused on CD Projekt Red's partnership with Epic Games and the use of Unreal Engine 5, and the developer wanted to confirm the first game that will be part of this partnership to make it more exciting for fans. 

Meanwhile, CD Projekt Red is still recovering from the backlash toward Cyberpunk 2077's rocky launch. Announcing a follow-up title to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt now not only restores a little bit of goodwill with fans and investors but will also attract some Unreal Engine-experienced developers who might be nervous to come to CD Projekt Red following Cyberpunk 2077. 2022 has been a year of anticlimatic and purposefully vague game announcements. CD Projekt Red's The Witcher announcement is simply the latest one to be part of this trend, but it's also one of the most worrying because this developer has made this mistake before.  
While CD Projekt Red felt pressured to confirm this game early, they need to be very careful if they don't want to repeat the mistakes of Cyberpunk 2077. The best course of action for CD Projekt Red to take now is to stay completely silent until it has a clear idea of what the finished game will entail. If that isn't the case, this could all be building to disappointment in the year 2030. 

Read more
A new The Witcher game is in development at CD Projekt Red
A talisman depicting a dog with glowing red eyes lays in the snow.

In a surprise post on the franchise's website, CD Projekt Red announced that it is currently developing a new game based on The Witcher, one that isn't a spinoff focusing on Gwent.

Read more
Cyberpunk 2077 developer halting all game sales in Russia
V looking very angry in Cyberpunk 2077.

CD Projekt Group, the company behind Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher franchise developer CD Projekt Red, is taking a fierce stance against the invasion of Ukraine by halting sales of its products to Russia and Belarus.

Read more