Today let’s lighten the mood. This was going to be a list, but eventually it became clear that really, you could put ten or fifteen great things in a list and they would all have one common theme – gaming grew up. We had a dip in the middle of the year but it all came good in the end… which is what counts.
This year has seen its own generational leap, and I am not talking about the Wii-U here.
No, instead we’re talking about games and indeed, gamers themselves. The idea that gaming is a childs hobby and that it was being dumbed down for the lowest common denominator was, this year, finally quashed with the arrival of several brand new IPs, such as Dishonored and Journey sitting comfortably alongside titles from last year which we feared had been grossly overlooked, such as Dark Souls. Challenge, quality and a real sense of panache were the order of the day, even indie gaming got its own flavours with the suitably disturbing 2D sprite-horror Lone Survivor, and the SNES-ification of Penny Arcade: On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 allowing a game which actually makes the Penny Arcade brand seem a lot more grown-up and interesting than it usually is. (Sorry chaps, someone has to say it… still love you though!) Games which last year we thought would be sure-fire hits in 2012 have actually ended up being pretty terrible, and people have suitably been revolting against this wave of cheapness, such as the continued fall and fall of The Old Republic and the desperation from The Secret World, and the pervasive decline of quality through the Summer of Arcade. It seems in 2012, quality mattered more than ever before and that’s a great sign, and one that should strike fear into the hearts of several games studios the world over.
This year is the 40th Anniversary of Pong, after all (yes, 1972!), so the medium isn’t as young and fresh as it used to be, and for all the growing up – let’s face facts. There have been some growing pains this year as well as some struggle with the old ways, compared to a wiser and smarter consumer base which is demanding something more than it would usually be asking for. When the year began, video game piracy was in the news as it transpired that overall piracy figures had fallen. The industry itself seemed unable to grasp this, still reliant on “Piracy is a terrible thing” argument (which I later argued is a moral battle it cannot win if it gives pirates any moral high ground at all). But that piracy numbers were down was a good clue that change has been happening and it isn’t always the industry that drives it – if anything, this year has seen that some want to hold it back. Kickstarter, when big-name developers attached themselves to it, we were okay with Obsidian and Tom Schafer and their ilk. It didn’t seem all that cynical, all that mean-spirited. Then you got others, like The Oliver Twins, Peter Molyneux and David Crane. All of which sought not to use it to help fund games but exploit them and the generosity of the public. I was fearful that people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, but you know something? Turns out I was wrong. People can tell the difference and these projects have all been high-profile flops. It’s a good sign going into 2013 that if Amazon isn’t going to police the projects on its own accord, that there is at the very least a sense out there that we can do it ourselves. And that’s great!
Growing pains have also come from deeper within the industry, such as THAT Lara Croft scenario, which managed to offend pretty much everyone and thankfully most of the cases were well-put and soundly grounded in keeping sexual assault a taboo that can’t just be wheeled out on a whim, tastelessly added to provide a “sense of protection” (which was also poorly worded!).
Of course, this year also saw the SOPA and PIPA acts being touted to help regulate the internet, both of which were soundly defeated by a wave of disapproving websites, from this very blog to the likes of Wikipedia, everyone took a stand to say no to these degenerative measures and they were quietly shelved away never to be seen again. So powerful is this that even the Daily Mail can no longer convince its readers that a opt-in policy on the Internet is a good idea; the public seem to like the anarchic sense of loyalty that this whole escapade provided, and it really did provide a sense of a united purpose. We are all different but we were all united in one voice that day; we would not be silenced.
The industry itself has also been cleaning house; from being more open about its finances (which was about time!) through to pressure on their main parts manufacturer Foxconn to sort its act out and start improving its own working standards – this is, of course, not cheap to do but for most people it seems that is a small price to pay knowing more and more that their goods are being made to a higher standard than they used to be.
It’s not all been perfect. Growing up involves challenges and risks and for the most part, the industry and gamers are still a little uneasy. But compared to recent years, compared to the usual state of affairs where we all look back and cringe in pain and annoyance at how embarrassing the industry is we’ve actually never really had it so good; quality new IPs are selling and the cheap, tacky and shallow stuff is getting the heave-ho. The Wii-U released to much approval from its buyers (much to the annoyance of the UK media, I might add!), Lollipop Chainsaw was a rare miss for Suda 51 (although deservedly so I might add!) and even the end of year Spike TV Game Awards was watch-able without too much in the way of cringe-moments. Oh, it HAD cringe moments, don’t misunderstand, but perhaps no more than your average movie awards ceremony might have. Not only that but games like The Walking Dead walked off with the cream of the prizes, games which actually did deserve the respect and admiration of the gaming world.
I could talk about the exquisite Journey. I could mention the fantastic camaraderie that the Miiverse has been providing. The surprise push to make Dark Souls one of the more successful IPs of this generation, to the point they’re actually making a sequel. I could mention a lot of things here, from the backlash over the Hitman Absolution app to the surprising fall of Zynga and EA. But there’s just too much that has happened this year to cram it all into a blog post being written whilst my head pounds away like something is trying to escape it. For all the cheap, the cynical, the trashy stuff that has happened this year (and I’ve blogged about an awful lot of crap this year!), there has always been either a happy ending or a silver lining. Gamers, the games we play and the games industry is changing and sure, it’s a rougher ride than you’d expect but at the same time, it’s necessary if we’re going to accept gaming as an acceptable pastime. If it’s going to be under the scrutiny of the worlds media glare, and the consumers it needs to buy its products, it’s becoming more and more obvious that the old ways aren’t working – you can’t just get shock headlines any more for free publicity, nor can you do an EA and depend on ties to a SEAL unit to sell a game that isn’t actually that great. The world has just wised up. It’s a little boring now.
This year gaming has certainly taken more and more strides to being a more open, tolerant and acceptable place to see and be seen. It’s not there yet – but change has to start somewhere, and I’d hope that in ten years from now, we can look back at this year and say, “Yeah, that’s when things started to change for the better!”.
It’s been a good year. It’s also been a crap year, but let’s just be optimistic and ignore that side of things, and accept that things are getting better!