Overall, I found 2012 to have been a strong year for video games, with many important artistic and cultural milestones seeing healthy sales and widespread admiration. Though I am admittedly less a connoisseur of video games than movies, I have plowed through my fair share of quality wares in 2012. On the whole, I think there’s more to reason to be optimistic than pessimistic, but don’t let that suggest that everything was rainbows and sunshine for gaming.
BEST TREND: Independent Games
The internet and social media have heralded the cause of worthy indie games far better than it has for arthouse cinema, allowing players with even just a passing interest in the esoteric to experience something off the beaten path. The continued return of PC gaming and rise of casual smartphone/tablet gaming also helped small developers reach sizable audiences with smaller, more audacious projects. These games also serve as a lovely reminder that visual quality need is not solely dependent on the number of polygons, particles and lighting sources flung at the player. Shrewd art design and clever trickery have elevated games such as Hotline Miami, Journey, Lone Survivor and Slender far beyond their modest technical makeup.
WORST (CONTINUING) TREND: Annual release cycles…
A Call of Duty sequel
A Medal of Honor sequel
Madden NFL 2013 and other sports games
New Super Mario Bros 2/U
An Assassin’s Creed sequel
Am I missing anything?
BEST TREND: …are stagnating
So Black Ops 2 sold less than Modern Warfare 3 and Medal of Honor stalled right out of the gate. This probably won’t affect publisher strategy any time soon, but it does, promisingly, suggest a potential end to this perpetual cycle.
BEST TREND: Creative reinterpretations of existing franchises
Far Cry 3, X:COM Enemy Unknown and Spec Ops: The Line all successfully riffed on previous entries in their respective genres while introducing fresh new gameplay ideas. These three games prove that sequels and reboots don’t need to follow their predecessors verbatim to win over old fans and earn new admirers. Of course, games like Syndicate also remind us that sequels should be at least somewhat related to their previous iterations. I, for one, would be kind of irked if they turned Splinter Cell into a balls out action extravaganza. Oh wait.
BEST TREND: Ambitious mods actually get released
It’s a sad fact that most ambitious mod projects never see the light of day. Fans simply can’t afford to devote as much time to working on these mods as full time paid developers can. However, this year saw the release of both Black Mesa Source and DayZ. The former is a project that most had dismissed long ago as yet another unfulfilled promise, while the latter exploded quite suddenly onto the ARMA II scene. Both are works of impressive scope and accomplishment, and will hopefully inspire more grand mods to come to completion.
CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC TREND: Kickstarter funding
Kickstarter has shepherded many game projects throughout its existence, and, for the most part, it appears to be working. But, there’s an unsettling trend for the website to shove failed projects under the rug. And, of course, how transparent a project ends up being is to the discretion of its developers. It’s also a bit weird to see major studios (e.g. Double Fine and Obsidian) utilize the service as a means for funding. I suppose it speaks to how hard it is to find funding for a major game these days, but I still wish that Kickstarter could better retain the populism at the heart of its concept.
TREND THING: WarZ
Need I say more?