Onwards and Upwards: Here’s to 2015.

It's Christmas! Extra points if you yelled this Slade-style.

I’m not dead; and the games industry isn’t either. Though it’s been a hell of a ride…

It’s impossible to escape that sensation of disappointment and frustration that has permeated 2014.

Make no mistake; I said last year that 2013 was the worst year for video games, and it was. The frankly horrendous pile of garbage foisted on an unsuspecting public from some of the industries most respectable names and prodigious indie talent sullied what could have been a phenomenal send-off to “Generation 7”. But perhaps hoping that 2014 would come with the hope and promise that seemed so notably absent from last year was reaching too high – for those who were banking on it have been left wanting.

Of course, it would be foolish to say this year hasn’t had its highlights. And, almost to the surprise of everyone, it turned out the vast majority of those highlights have come from Nintendo. Despite last year stating that Nintendo felt a little confused, a little disorientated and a little lonely, Nintendo bit back with several key releases all vying for Game of the Year in many a critics list. But it would also be wrong to suggest that it was only Nintendo who came good this year; almost to the surprise of everyone, Shadow of Mordor turned out to be a genuinely brilliant, inventive and forward-thinking game. Moreso in the wake that followed over UbiSoft’s massive misstep with the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The pretender, the licensed game which seemed so intent at first on relying on that template turned around and gave the ol’ Creed a bloody nose, whilst the poor state of Unity left it vulnerable to a beat-down from gamers.

Broken games have been a particular issue for 2014; despite having the longest generational space to date, and easily the most time to create games for this new generation (a good two to three years, if reports are to be believed), so many games have been underwhelming in terms of gameplay mechanics. Not to mention that for all those promises of a 1080p/60fps future, most games still have to end up choosing one over the other. For all the new hardware, it turns out that it’s just not quite enough to push a new era of visual fidelity, which is certainly cause for concern as the 4k resolution train rolls on with no sign of stopping. Video games arguably solidified high-definition gameplay, or at least HD-Ready games. It pushed the market into a new standard. The current console hardware market appears in terrible danger of being left behind as technology marches onwards.

And some of the bugs; it pains me that after the whole Aliens: Colonial Marines saga last year, no-one learned anything from it in terms of serious quality control. Many of the much-hyped games of the year have come replete with a list of technical issues that would have gotten people fired a decade ago, but now seems perfectly normal. Who needs a QA department, when we have gamers who will walk out and buy a game based on a few bullshots and a press clearly afraid of biting back?

That last point gave rise somewhat to GamerGate; a horrible affair that began with the relationship between a female developer and a male ‘journalist’, and descended rapidly into an argument from which there was no escape. A digital gender war, the press soundly denounced their gaming readership as entirely supportive of the movement when in fact, very few of them had any part in it. And the vast majority didn’t really care that much either. A minority tussle from which there have been no actual winners, save a few writers who are planning to bring out books about the subject in 2015. Gamers lost out in the mass media coverage, but the spinelessness that came from the gaming press only served to amplify the frustrations that some broken games were being unfairly rewarded high scores, despite going weeks and months without actual fixes or progress. The gaming press further attributed this to GamerGate and almost instigated a revolution! Many sites have found themselves tainted forever. Some are trying hard to build bridges again. But that it happened at all, from people who simply found themselves blinded by political ideology in the face of far more serious and pressing issues, will be hard for many to forget. And the investigations by many organisations in the US, Canada and beyond will continue, especially in the case of GameJournoPros; not the most surprising revelation that some collaborated in secret to talk about their job, but no less unethical and, in practice, illegal in many respects – blacklisting people who disagree with the majorative agreement will be a stink some will find never washes off.

But developers have also been put in the firing line.

That GearBox would rather go to court than capitulate to aggrieved gamers on the ground of the trailers and bullshots being “artistic” representations of a product (I can’t even say that without laughing until I hurt) has created a new and unstable footing in the gaming sphere. Setting up for a precedent that hasn’t yet been seen in this sphere, the line is now that consumers have some power to hold developers accountable. In a year of disappointment and broken slapstick, it seems to have created a renewed concern inside the industry. For some time, they have been able to escape the legal ramifications based on arguably outdated consumer laws. However, the European Courts are ruling now that games must be sold on the content of the discs, not the discs themselves. If this is adopted across the board, Europe will have landed a spectacular blow on an industry already struggling with the rising costs of video game creation. That this could also happen in the United States is not a big stretch either; and this will give much more power to mega-stores with big buying power. It’s a shift that is undeniably uncomfortable in the wake of the last years release schedule.

Moreso with Australian retailers taking down the recent re-release of Grand Theft Auto V; whatever the reasons, it’s a reminder that retailers still retain the right as to whether something is stocked or not, and no matter the feeling or the reasoning behind the move, that this can happen. It’s not censorship; it’s a movement that has forced a retailers hand, and you can still buy it at other stores. But to happen to such a high-profile release has no doubt been another kick in the balls, even if Australia is still coming around to the adults-only rating system.

So yeah. It’s been another rough year.

However, the fact remains that 2015 should bring with it some renewed hope. Square-Enix had an unexpected bout of common sense this year (even if the announcement of a Final Fantasy 7 port for PS4 redefined the definition of professional trolling). UbiSoft is promising more care with its releases (To be confirmed). Big-name and bankable companies like CD Projekt Red are releasing games (The Witcher 3), and if open-world grungy demon hunting isn’t your thing, there’s the frankly gorgeous The Legend of Zelda being promised for the end of 2015.

And with the press and games industry having had themselves slapped down a little, perhaps there’s a feeling now that the air has been cleared somewhat. That expectations must be met. That we can move on from the shoddy reviews, the questionable ethical issues, the rewarding of undeserving titles with high scores for fear of some kind of commercial backlash (which gamers themselves have shown will happen from their end as well, proving that the press really is caught between a rock and a hard place most of the time), and have a better year than we’ve had this year.

More than anything though, I think we’re all hoping that this doesn’t end up as a hat-trick; two disappointing years in general have done us all as gamers and game creators no favours. We’ve had good games, great games even, but it’s been hard to shake that gloomy atmosphere of late. We’re depressed. We’re upset. We’re frustrated. And yes, it turns out when you mix all three of those, people generally seem to end up doing stupid things that they’ll obviously regret once they’ve calmed down. Widespread misogyny? No. Just misplaced, misdirected energy.

In a sense, the industry is having to grow up a little more. In the face of societal shifts, growing costs, a legal system fast catching up with technology and a restless and oftentimes fickle consumer base, we’re all having to grow up a little. Video games are no longer a niche. It’s an industry that is now bigger than Hollywood. With that will come responsibility. With that will come criticism. With that will come demands to change, to depict a more diverse world than the white cis male shooter which has dominated the industry for almost a decade now. Although I can’t genuinely see a game about disability being fun. Perhaps a subject for another rant?

Ultimately though, this year has provided the combustible energy that may be needed to propel us onwards and upwards. It’s not just us, as long-time gamers any more. And that said, no medium is safe from middle-of-the-road crap or offensively stupid products. But with any luck, the repercussions will be far greater in the coming years. Things will level out. And 2015 should be the year in which such a direction begins. Change is scary. But it will happen. And it needs to happen if the industry is to continue growing.

Of course, I could be horribly wrong and 2015 will be the time the industry crashes. But let’s remain positive. It’s been rough. But things can only get better.

It’s not like they can get much worse…

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