With the year almost behind us, it’s hard not to look back at 2023 with conflicted feelings. It was a fantastic year for gamers at home with great tentpole releases from PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo, and some excellent indies, too. For years to come, we will all likely argue that 2023 was one of the best – if not the best – year for games. But it was also a terrible year for the people who make games, with more than 10,000 developers laid off, studios closed, and more.
Between big video game releases, a heartbreaking amount of layoffs, record-breaking acquisitions and box office reports, and more, 2023 contained plenty of news stories that had us talking for weeks, speculating on the future of the industry, and reshaping how we view game development. Here are the 10 biggest gaming news stories of 2023.
PlayStation Cancels Naughty Dog’s Last Of Us Multiplayer Project, A First-Party Rarity
In June 2022, Naughty Dog revealed that its new Last of Us multiplayer project would be a standalone title. In May of this year, the studio announced it needed more time for the game while also teasing its work on a new single-player experience. But then, a few months later, Naughty Dog laid off at least 25 developers, with reports stating the Last of Us multiplayer project was “on ice.” Between the layoffs and reports about the game’s developments, players realized this game might be further out than expected.
Naughty Dog surprised many earlier this month, though, when it announced it was ceasing development on its online multiplayer Last of Us game. In hindsight, this isn’t the most shocking development, but to see an announced PlayStation first-party game go through a public cancelation like this is extremely rare – first-party games get canceled, but usually, before the game reaches the point of being a publicly announced project – and that’s why it was one of the biggest stories of the year.
PlayStation Boss Steps Down, Xbox Boss Steps Up
Both PlayStation and Xbox had tremendous years. The former launched PSVR2, its PlayStation 5 Slim, and its remote handheld device, PlayStation Portal, and it had great releases like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and God of War Ragnarök’s Valhalla DLC. Xbox, via Microsoft, acquired Activision Blizzard, launched Starfield, released Forza Motorsport, surprise-dropped Hi-Fi Rush, and more.
Both of these companies also went through some significant executive shake-ups. PlayStation head Jim Ryan announced in September that he was leaving the company after over 30 years at Sony. He was appointed Sony Interactive Entertainment president and CFO in 2018 and will officially depart from the position and company next spring.
A month later, Microsoft went through its own reorganization, with Microsoft corporate vice president Sarah Bond being promoted to Xbox president and Microsoft head of studios and corporate vice president Matt Booty becoming president of game content and studios. Chief marketing officer Chris Capossela announced he was stepping down from Microsoft after 32 years, with Microsoft executive vice president and commercial chief marketing officer Takeshi Numoto now holding the role. Elsewhere in the reorganization, Yusuf Mehdi was promoted to Microsoft executive vice president and consumer chief marketing officer. Microsoft’s consumer sales organization has been moved to the Microsoft Gaming CEO’s team, led by Ami Silverman.
It’s rare to see such massive executive shake-ups within PlayStation and Xbox. But both companies experienced big changes in 2023, and it was hard to ignore and speculate how these might impact the future.
Video Game Adaptations Break Out Into The Mainstream
Look, there are a good bit of great video game adaptations throughout the years – Game Infomer’s very own Blake Hester claims there are five good Resident Evil movies – but it’s hard not to look at 2023 and call it the best year for video game adaptations.
On the movie side, we got the heavy hitter of the year’s adaptations in The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which we enjoyed – read Game Informer’s review here. It didn’t take long for that April premiere to become a record-breaking box office success after having the best opening for an animated film. It became the top opening film of 2023, too, and Illumination’s most successful opening ever. Plus, it had the best opening for any video game film adaptation ever and had the biggest five-day premiere ever, a record previously held by Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. And if that’s not enough, The Super Mario Bros. Movie had the biggest IMAX opening weekend of all time at $21.6 million globally. It ended its box office reign after making a colossal $1.36 billion in its theatrical run, and while a sequel hasn’t been confirmed, Nintendo is leveraging its success to create a live-action Legend of Zelda movie.
But the year of great adaptations began with HBO’s The Last of Us, which debuted in January. The first season covered the events of the first game (and its Left Behind DLC), and HBO has already confirmed the show would be getting a second season, which is set to premiere in 2025. We loved the first season and can’t wait to see how it adapts The Last of Us Part II (which is getting remastered next month). It seems we aren’t alone either – The Last of Us premiere was HBO’s second-largest debut since 2010, and viewers stuck around for the entire season.
Elsewhere throughout this great year of adaptations, we got Peacock’s surprisingly great Twisted Metal TV series and Netflix’s Castlevania: Nocturne, a great follow-up to the streaming services’ original Castlevania animated series. Here’s hoping 2024 follows suit.
Rockstar Games Finally Reveals Grand Theft Auto VI
Developer Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto series has sold more than 370 million units. Grand Theft Auto V, initially released in 2013, accounts for over half of those sales. Between its PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 launch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One port in 2014 (with a PC debut that year, too), and last year’s new-gen update for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, Grand Theft Auto V reached $1 billion in retail sales faster than any entertainment release in history. Plus, in both dollar sales and units sold, Grand Theft Auto V is the best-selling game of the 2010-20 decade in the U.S. To sum it up, Grand Theft Auto is the video game juggernaut.
For that reason and more, millions of players have been patiently awaiting a sequel. In early December, Rockstar tweeted that it would be releasing the first trailer for its next Grand Theft Auto game the following week, and it didn’t take long for that to become the most-liked gaming tweet of all time. That trailer was set to go live on December 5 at 9 a.m. ET, but it leaked online the night before. Rockstar acted fast, taking down the leaked trailer and releasing the official trailer itself online on December 4.
Today, the Grand Theft Auto VI reveal trailer has more than 150 million views, and it nabbed the record for the most views in 24 hours – it surpassed 100 million views in less than a day – in the process, too.
Grand Theft Auto VI, like its predecessor, will likely take over the gaming sphere when it launches in 2025 on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, and we can’t wait.
It’s Baldur’s Gate 3’s World – We’re Just Living In It
Game Informer has had its eyes on Baldur’s Gate 3 for years, going back to 2020 to the game’s Early Access. Its character creator impressed us in Early Access, as did its extensive party of companions. When Baldur’s Gate 3 finally launched in August on PC, it scored one of our highest scores of the year – read Game Informer’s Baldur’s Gate 3 review here – and eventually made its way high up on our list of the top 10 games of 2023.
If you were online at all during August of this year, it’s likely you encountered some kind of praise for Baldur’s Gate 3 – people, both fans of RPGs and newcomers alike, fell in love with developer Larian Studios’ latest. It took over the month of August. And its PlayStation 5 launch on September 6, which made the game a PlayStation 5 console-exclusive for a few months, only heightened the game’s reception as more players stepped into the Forgotten Realms.
Then, Baldur’s Gate 3 picked up over a dozen nominations for The Game Awards 2023, eventually winning six, including Game of the Year. The same night it won that prestigious award, Larian Studios surprise-launched Baldur’s Gate 3 on Xbox Series X/S, closing out its massive year with a bang.
Charles Martinet Says Goodbye To Voicing Mario
If you played Super Mario Bros. Wonder this year, one of Game Informer’s top 10 games of 2023, you might have noticed that Mario and Luigi sound different. That’s because the Mario brothers are no longer performed by longtime actor Charles Martinet, who has voiced Mario for over 25 years. He became the voice of Mario (and various others in the Mushroom Kingdom) starting with Super Mario 64 in 1996, but said goodbye this year to become a new position at Nintendo: Mario Ambassador. We later learned that Mario’s new voice actor is Genshin Impact actor Kevin Afghani, who did a great job filling Martinet’s shoes in Super Mario Bros. Wonder.
For more about the game, which graced the cover of a Game Informer issue earlier this year, head to our Super Mario Bros. Wonder hub here.
E3 Is Officially Dead
The last in-person E3 happened in 2019. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic happened, E3 canceled its 2020 plans, and it returned in 2021 with a digital-only event. The 2022 E3 was later canceled, and this year’s attempt with PAX organizer ReedPop was canned, too. While the writing was on the wall for years, E3 organizer Entertainment Software Association announced earlier this month that E3 is officially dead. Be sure to read Game Informer’s E3 retrospective about its history and game industry impact.
Unity Breaks The Trust Of Game Developers
Unity, the popular video game development engine, announced on September 12 that it was updating its pricing and packaging plans. These changes included a fee that activates and charges developers of high-performing games each time a user or player installs the title, and it didn’t take long for developers to point out various issues with this policy, all of which felt like punishment for those making games.
With these changes, Unity provoked the ire of social media channels and blogs from developers worldwide, with many stating they’d be dropping Unity and moving to other development platforms. Unity closed two of its offices for a day following death threats on September 14. Fortunately, Unity eventually walked back some of these changes, but for many, the damage was done, with developers questioning how they could ever trust Unity again. A few weeks later, Unity CEO John Riccitiello resigned.
Microsoft’s Record-Breaking Acquisition of Activision Blizzard (And Its Court Leaks, Too)
Xbox’s first-party studio lineup in 2017 consisted of five studios and a publishing arm: Rare, Turn 10, 343 Industries, The Coalition, Mojang Studios, and Xbox Game Studios Publishing. Now, six years later, Microsoft owns more than 50 studios, thanks to its various acquisitions over the years. That number was bolstered heavily in October after Microsoft officially acquired Activision Blizzard for a colossal $68.7 billion – Xbox is home to all 19 of Activision Blizzard’s studios and King’s 11 mobile game studios now, too.
This purchase is the largest video game acquisition in history, so it’s not surprising that it became one of the year’s biggest stories. Read Game Informer’s feature here for a more detailed breakdown of how everything went down.
This acquisition is also why Xbox’s massive leaks occurred in September after Microsoft accidentally provided federal courts with confidential (and not redacted) documents that the public could view. In those documents (some of which should be taken with grains of salt due to having potentially out-of-date information), we learned Xbox head Phil Spencer considered acquiring Nintendo and Warner Bros. Games at one point, that Xbox is planning an Xbox Series X/S refresher for next year, that it might be working on remasters of Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and that Microsoft has plans for a next-gen hybrid console in 2028.
The Best Year For Games And The Worst Year For Those Who Make Them
This year was arguably the best of all time for video games; it was undoubtedly one of the worst for the people who make them. Throughout the year, studios were shut down, thousands laid off, and developers were given, disrespectfully, 30 seconds to shine on The Game Awards 2023 stage after winning awards. More than 10,000 developers were laid off in 2023, and depressingly, it felt like we wrote a story about studio layoffs once a week.
In January, Microsoft laid off 10,000 employees amidst its ongoing $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, which it completed in October.
Striking Distance Studios, the team behind last year’s The Callisto Protocol, laid off more than 30 employees in August. That same month, Mass Effect and Dragon Age developer BioWare laid off 50 employees, including long-time studio veterans. The following month, in September, Immortals of Aveum developer Ascendant Studios laid off roughly 45% of its staff, and Fortnite developer Epic Games laid off 830 employees.
In October, The Last of Us developer Naughty Dog laid off at least 25 employees, and Telltale Games also underwent layoffs, although an actual number of affected employees has not yet been revealed. Dreams developer Media Molecule laid off 20 employees in late October.
In November, Amazon Games laid off 180 staff members, Ubisoft laid off more than 100 employees, Bungie laid off roughly 100 developers, and 505 Games’ parent company, Digital Bros, laid off 30% of its staff.
Just this month, Embracer Group closed its reformed TimeSplitters studio, Free Radical Design, and earlier in the year, Embracer closed Saints Row developer Volition Games, a studio with more than 30 years of development history. A few weeks before the holidays, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering owner Hasbro laid off 1,100 employees.
The games industry will surely feel the effects of such a horrific year for years to come. The hearts of the Game Informer staff are with everyone who’s been affected by layoffs or closures this year.
Let us know in the comments below what you think the biggest gaming story of 2023 was.