Home   >   Features

Daniel Griffiths' top stories of 2023: AI, Unity's runtime fee farrago, and crunch time for ByteDance

From A.I. to Zelnick… editor Daniel Griffiths picks his favourite stories from throughout 2023
Daniel Griffiths' top stories of 2023: AI, Unity's runtime fee farrago, and crunch time for ByteDance
  • It seems that for every brave new move and bold intention we report on up front there's always that little extra backstory and perspective that the team just can't help but share…
Stay Informed
Get Industry News In Your Inbox…
Sign Up Today

Regular readers of our weekly 'Week In Views' round-ups will be familiar with the team's candid takes on the week's events. It seems that for every brave new move and bold intention we report on up front, there's always that little extra backstory and perspective that the team just can't help but share…

We asked the team to each pick their favourite stories of the year and shed a little light on what's really going on. Here's editor Daniel Griffiths' take on the year's events.

Daniel Griffiths

Daniel Griffiths

Editor -

Kwalee bring AI into game production

Let's kick off with arguably the year's hottest topic - AI.

It’s a knotty one and while it’s hard not to cast minds back to AI-gone-crazy disasters such as the society-smashing Butlerian Jihad of Frank Herbert’s Dune, claustrophobic 70s computer-gone-powercrazy thriller The Forbin Project or, more recently (and most famously) Terminator’s all-seeing, all conquering Skynet. 2023's upswing of AI is - right now, at least - only offering all of us creative superpowers for good that can make amazing things happen.

Now we can all write poetry, paint a landscape or get that perfect job. And game developers - no matter how small or un-bankrolled - can create assets that rival the big guys, allowing them to put all their energy, money and manpower into creativity, rule-breaking and ceiling smashing.

Kwalee’s all-in on AI at such an early stage is therefore admirable. With years of experience at the sharp end of budgets and deadlines behind them, AI only opens doors and makes better games for these old pros. This is no shortcut, this is gearing up with bigger and better creative weapons and using them to make an even bigger blast.

I hope that AI continues to be a force for good and the pessimist’s industry armageddon remains science fiction.

Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick wants to monetise 100% of its audience

You have to hand it to him. It was a textbook performance. What do you say to your stockholders and investors after announcing great, record-breaking figures? Do you say “My team are the best and they’ve all worked very hard”? Or do you say, “For us, it’s all about great games and great business going hand in hand”? Don’t be stupid. Of course you don’t. Instead you say “This is not enough money and we want even more.”

What a winner.

For Zelnick the fact that only 10% of Take-Two’s mobile audience are paying up - as revealed in their August earnings - is a thorn in his side. The spanner in his works. The massive mother-loving pea under his Princess mattress. This man - a man who is 50% of a management cerberus which is quite literally fuelled by a bonus system tailor-made to encourage in-app infamy - wants more. And now, after literally getting a cut of every in-app microtransaction in every game they publish, NOW he’s going to double down on ads to get it.

“The question is how do you do that and create a high-quality experience? And I think the answer is… We can do that,” he said following the earnings call. Wise words. And that’s why they pay him the big bucks.

Revolution Software announces the return of the Broken Sword series

August's news that Broken Sword is back (and on mobile) was great news. This classic series is pure gaming nostalgia for me and the Broken Sword games are the products of genius game design which has inspired today's greatest makers.

Back in the early days of Revolution Software and titles such as Beneath A Steel Sky, story and puzzle design came down to tiny teams plotting a player's adventure via pieces of paper scrawled with notes being slid around the dining table. Or, more often than not, being hatched in the brilliant mind of Charles Cecil.

These days it's far more likely for an AI to have written a game's plot from start to finish than it to be the product of a single person.

But while the rebirth of Broken Sword brings joy to my heart there's something deep in by memory that stirs less favourable emotions. And when I search for this niggle, try to get to the root of what's making me uneasy, one thing stares back from the darkness… The Goat Puzzle…

Oh, god. The bloody Goat Puzzle… It's easily the most fiendish, cunningly concocted, and just a little ludicrous puzzle of all time. And having been at the front-facing edge of games magazine craft at the time of its creation (i.e. the poor soul who had to answer the phone when a reader called) I can't count the number of times I had to talk a profusely thankful Broken Sword adventurer through it.

So if you don't know what I'm talking about, please, don't Google it. Just play Broken Sword (ideally upon its imminent re-release on mobile) and pray that they haven't watered down one of gaming's greatest moments. Believe me. Even 27 years on, it'll be worth the wait.

EA downplays the importance of mobile

I honestly don’t get it. I mean, you ARE allowed NOT to be interested in certain things. I mean, thrash metal leaves me a little cold. Flesh tunnels? Not for me, thanks. And as for my ability to name a single English cricketer?… Um… Dave Boycott?… But when you’re one of the biggest and most enduring gaming entities on the planet are you really allowed to say “Mobile? Nah…”

I always thought that EA were ruthlessly resolute in business? They invented grinding out sequels, honing and tweaking their initial dev investment year in year out with irresistible improvements that kept players coming back. They’re the smartest guys in the room. They spotted the inevitable gaming money train back when it was still being hand-cranked by cranks in a spare bedroom. I can recall a Christmas top 10 console chart where FIVE of the 10 were EA games… But mobile? Nah…? Really?

Your PC and console business is doing just great. Well done. Business as per. But just two mobile games in the last three years? Just 18% of your profits from the most popular platform on the planet? Come on fellas, I preferred you when you were greedy.

Dear John... AppLovin CEO Adam Foroughi wades into the Unity Runtime fee debate with letter to Riccitiello


No love lost: AppLovin helpfully releases tool to switch from Unity to Godot or Unreal

It's fairly common knowledge that AppLovin doesn't have much love for Unity… Their planned purchase of everyone's former favourite development platform would have been a major payday for all concerned, so when Unity went behind the bike shed with ironSource, it was AppLovin that were left crying into their crisps.

What's less understandable - and actually hilarious - is how willing AppLovin are to show how much a company with Lovin in their name hates their former buddies. So much so that a) Their boss writes a letter to Unity's boss to essentially tell him what a jerk he is - in front of the WHOLE CLASS and b) He gets his mate to knock up a tool that makes it easier to move games off the platform - just for kicks.

Top tip. Never go behind AppLovin's back. They'll get you after school…

Metaverse company Roblox wants employees back in the office

This kind of sums up the many dichotomy's of 2023 for me. A company that's all about connecting people and sharing experiences virtually, whose "mission is to build a human co-experience platform that enables billions of users to come together to play, learn, communicate, explore and expand their friendships" via their own "immersive multiplayer experiences using Roblox Studio" and their "intuitive desktop design tool" actually reckons that real life is way better than the metaverse.

Yes, after grinning and bearing it, drinking the post-Covid kool aid and being as 'right on' as 'right on' can be, Roblox have admitted that having tens of thousands of global employees lounging around eating Pringles in bed isn't actually any good for collaboration, sharing, communicating, exploring and expanding virtual friendships after all.

Yup, Roblox employees - many of which were taken on to handle the demand during the pandemic peaks - will - come 2024 - be putting on actual trousers, passing through their real-life front doors and entering the real world instead. Wonder if they're going to stop paying them the big bucks and start paying them in Robux too?

Netflix plans to win "The Big Prize" of gaming

I’ve got to hand it to Netflix. Just when you want them to fumble the ball and admit that they’d rather that George R. R. Martin knocked them up a fresh Game of Thrones than dominate the world of video games, they go and straight-face ace it again.

Yes, they’re the former DVD rental company that invented subscription-based movie streaming, but, man, are they serious about games.

Netflix's latest quarterly results - announced on video - obviously - kept coming back to the subject and it’s clear that we, on the outside world, are only seeing a glimmer of their future intentions and what's really possible. These are the guys that put an app on everything but your toaster and made a monthly digital subscription service as ubiquitous as the phone bill.

I’m convinced that Netflix’s mobile play is just the beginning and with streaming trials in progress now and the power of the processing in TVs shooting up directly in line with their cost coming down I genuinely question whether - in ten years' time - you’ll need anything else to play great games other than the phone in your pocket and the panel hanging on your wall.

Under the microscope: Here's what's wrong with Silent Hill: Ascension

It's easy to point a finger, shake your head and say "here's what you should have done" but the ongoing shambolic ramble of the Silent Hill story genuinely deserves the pile-on of scorn that Konami have - once again - invited needlessly upon one of its most loved franchises.

Silent Hill is one of those games - like Metroid or Kingdom Hearts - where showing an appreciation or suggesting that 'you were there at the start' is a badge of honour that puts you just that little bit further up the gaming pecking order.

"So you don't think Silent Hill was 'all that'? Can't see what all the foggy fuss is about? My dear, ill-informed peasant… How little you know of the video games…"

And so to 'gift' these passionate, long-suffering Silent Hill accolytes an interactive movie hidden (often literally) behind a veil of in-game purchases and opportunities to spoil everything for everyone feels like the cruellest, most horrific Silent Hill alternative ending of all.

Genvid know their onions. Their Walking Dead: Last Mile was an inovative triumph that - despite all the odds - actually worked. Teaming them with Silent Hill made perfect sense, but the additional layers and monetisation heaped upon their smart ideas by the franchise's owners has quite literally created a monster that no-one can love.

We hope and pray that some major tweaks are currently afoot. Otherwise this series - scheduled to last six months - won't see another dawn.

Crunch time for ByteDance's gaming ambitions

What are they playing at? Actually, scratch that. It’s easy to spot what they’re playing at and it’s the exact same old short-term, rug-pulling, back-tracking that has confounded gamers and right-thinking fans of entertainment brands for decades.

“Why don’t they just do [insert obvious money-spinning fanboy request here]!?”

There used to be a time when plans were carefully thought out. Things were made real, or released into the world only when the time was right. Being ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’ actually mattered. It was possible to ‘sell out’. Or ‘look stupid’. Or ‘appear to not know what you were doing’. Now - in the age of the ‘pivot’ - changing your mind like a doofus and bolting off in the opposite direction at the merest whiff of a change in climate, is regarded as some kind of badge of honour.

“Ah, they’ve completely backtracked and wasted billions… Hmm… They must know something we don’t…”
But this is change for change’s sake. This is the need to ‘appear to be doing something new and different’ above any actual benefit that that change might reap. It’s kissing goodbye to the easy money in the pursuit of looking like your holding aces somewhere else.

And it’s frankly annoying.

Planning your next big move? Do check out the excellent article above and get a grip, eh?