Gaming’s 10 Big Themes of 2012
As the year comes to an end, IGN looks back and tries to make sense of the thousands of news stories, opinions, reviews and comments that have appeared on this site, and around the world. We’ve come up with ten big themes that characterize the past 12 months, including links to over a hundred of the biggest stories. What’s your view? Make use of comments below…
NEW WAYS TO PLAY
Leaving aside the less-than-blockbuster news of mini and slimmed current-gen systems, there were two significant games machine launches in 2012, both of which employed innovative and interesting game control techniques. PlayStation Vita is a marvellous piece of design, employing multiple input possibilities. Wii U is yet another example of Nintendo’s genius for seizing the moment. While other companies dabble with screen-controls, Nintendo went ahead and launched something with a built-in touchscreen controller. Yet both have major challenges ahead if they are to thrive. Elsewhere, hardware innovations came in the form of Ouya’s announcement, an Android-based games console as well as the unveiling of an interesting Virtual Reality project, Oculus Rift. Valve was in and out of the news with talk of its first foray into games hardware. Cloud gaming had a mixed year with OnLive’s troubles and Gaikai‘s purchase by Sony. So far as the future goes, the games industry throws up a mixture of companies that wait-and-see, and those that jump right on in.
DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION AND FREE GAMES
Here’s a quick list of just a few of the things that cost money in 2011, but were free in 2012. Star Wars: The Old Republic; Everquest; Black Ops II: Elite; City of Heroes, This year saw launches and announcements of multiple free games including PlanetSide 2, Phantasy Star Online 2, Dirty Bomb. Sony’s PlayStation Plus service offered so much value in terms of free games, it’s difficult to make an argument against subscribing. Free-to-play is the inevitable effect of digital distribution in which amazing games like Journey, The Walking Dead, Slender, DayZ, Mark of the Ninja and Hotline Miami were able to create enormous success without the aid of boxes and trucks and retailers, when League of Legends exploded and retail releases were available in full and online, day of launch. In 2012, digital really came of age.
CRAZY RUMORS AS A GENERATION FADES
This was the year when the most drawn-out console generation felt like, perhaps, it had gone on just a tad too long. True, there were plenty of great games, but an E3 without any new hardware announcements from Sony or Microsoft left a sense of deflation. With sales of boxed games plummeting, games makers and consumers are now demanding clarity on What Comes Next. Inevitably, this absence of news was filled with rumor and conjecture, much of it firmly in the realm of the fantastical. We heard about the arrival of development kits, of multiple names, pricing plans, release dates. We even got to look at leaked documents. But in the end, Sony and Microsoft were content to tinker with hardware pricing and tell us about the achievements of the current generation, which, soon, we will be able to address as the previous generation.
Turmoil is a constant in gaming but, oh boy, 2012 really put everyone through the spin-dryer. None more so than THQ which rocked from one crisis to another and remains ‘most likely to fail’ in the biz’s unofficial yearbook, currently in the Chapter 11 zone of doom. The trouble touched everyone, even Sony, once an unassailable force of growth. There were multiple studio closures and layoffs, far too numerous to name here, but epitomized by the ugly implosion of 38 Studios. Gruesome monthly NPD sales stats kept Wall Street in a perpetual glower and so contributed to endless rumors of buy-outs and acquisitions that enveloped EA and Activision and even Valve. We in the media were not immune as stalwarts like G4TV and (say it ain’t so) Nintendo Power fell away. Well, with a year like that, 2013 is bound to be nice and gentle, right?
WE, THE PEOPLE
These days we, the consumers, are noisy. And if we make enough noise, we get noticed. We might even change things. Depending on your point of view, this can either represent the liberation of the masses from patriarchal domination by power-elites, or it can represent an unholy spectacle of drooling barbarians sacking the sacred temples of culture. Either way, the public has never enjoyed so much power. To shape game worlds by just screwing with them. Or to make a point about corporate power. Or to change a huge game’s narrative. Or to confound venal politicians. Or to get a game published. Or to reverse idiotic DRM policies. Sometimes the public appears, not as a rampaging rabble, but simply as human beings, doing good in the world..
THE RISE OF THE AUTEUR
Perhaps it’s the popularity of Twitter or the decline in power of large publishers. Maybe it’s a recognition among gamers that developers, not marketers, make games. But it’s certain that more and more game developers are achieving wider recognition. This was perhaps illustrated best by the amount of coverage given to big departures this year, Peter Molyneux from Lionhead, Greg & Ray from BioWare, Cliff Bleszinski from Epic, Hiromichi Tanaka from Square, Joe Madureira from Vigil. Game makers are now able to leverage their fame to raise funds and make the games they want to make, and this is increasing not only their profile but also their power. This must, surely, be a good thing. Indie-game developers or small-teams are making huge strides in asserting the power of their creative-freedom, giving us amazing games like Fez, Journey, Dear Esther, Hotline Miami, The Binding of Isaac to name just a few. Of course, even in its earliest days, gaming has had its big personalities and in 2012 we lost one of the most colorful, with the death of former Atari and Commodore chief Jack Tramiel.
And lo, there appeared in the firmament a bright star and the wise ones did up sticks and skedaddle forth in noble search of moolah, declaring with much awe the coming of the one they called Kickstarter. They journeyed past the lamenting lands of the wicked, resisting divers siren temptations of angel funding and came to the bright valley of hope, free from The Evil Ones, dispensing goodies to the grateful gamerite. And thus begat much quaffing and celebrations and goodly interviews in Fast Company.
BIG, BIG GAMES
While this year will be remembered for change, it should be remembered that the really big things have stayed pretty much the same. In gaming, there is nothing bigger than the franchises that sell. Undoubtedly, gaming made damned sure that its biggest names either arrived in style, or set the stage for a monster arrival in 2013. Where necessary, they hurled themselves at one another to create something new. But generally, they did what was expected. Halo 4 was Masterful. Mists of Pandaria was Warcrafty. Black Ops 2 blazed. Mass Effect was massive. Diablo III was…hell, you get the general idea. And yet to come in 2013, Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider and, just in case you were in any danger of forgetting for one single flick of an eyelash, a new Grand Theft Auto.
RAGE AGAINST CHANGE
There are still way too many people who believe that gaming is a straight-male entitlement and everyone else should stop demanding to be treated with dignity and respect. Because political correctness is a cancer, or some-such bollocks. On the shit-list for 2012, Square-Enix’s inept handling of sexual assault and Square Enix’s inept handling of nuns. Also, Bioshock Infinite’s cleavage-issue. In the real world, women in gaming made a point about the industry’s deep-rooted sexism while an academic researcher took the full brunt of the idiot-spew for daring to ask questions. But while it’s true that the trolls and the morons get the media attention they crave, it’s also true that many of us are tired of meanness and wish for a fairer environment for all. Time is the great healer, because you sure as hell can’t rely on common sense.
PASSIONATE, AMAZING FOLKS
One of the privileges of covering games is talking to, and writing about the extraordinary people who make up this perplexing, nutty pastime. Like the guy who ran a ten-year-long game of Civilization II. Or the person who paid over $30,000 for an Atari cartridge. Or the youngster who told the First Lady all about Wii U. Or the dad who made a game, especially for his daughter. Or the people who built Midgar in Minecraft. Or the Football Manager devotee who got a job managing a real soccer team. Or the cheerful fella who beat cancer while still being the hardest working journo in gaming. Or the guy who played Black Ops 2 for six days straight. Or just about anyone who loves to play games. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Spend some time with loved ones. Play games with them.
For daily opinions, debates and interviews on games you can follow Colin Campbell on Twitter or at IGN.