Let's start with the three big acquisitions and what they mean for gaming:
In March, Facebook acquired Oculus VR, makers of the Rift virtual reality headset, for 2 billion dollars. That's a lot of money, considering that the virtual reality market is still uncertain. But with this huge buy-out, Sony's Project Morpheus, and Valve's strong support of VR, industry leaders seem very confident in virtual reality. I personally can't wait to try out the Rift once the consumer version hits store shelves as early as 2015.
|Oculus Rift (image from popularmechanics.com)|
In August, Amazon.com acquired the video streaming service Twitch for about one billion dollars. Twitch is a very popular streaming site used for live broadcasting of gameplay over the internet. I have no clue what may change now that Twitch is in Amazon's hands.
In September, Microsoft acquired Mojang, the developers of Minecraft, for 2.5 billion dollars. That much money for a small indie studio can seem like a terrible deal, but don't forget that Minecraft is arguably the biggest game of this generation. The game is used in schools too. I'm curious as to what Microsoft has planned for the property.
CONSOLES AND AAA WOES
So there’s a lot of money involved in the video games industry, and the current-gen home consoles are faring well. Even the WiiU has also seen a boost in popularity given the increasing amount of cool games in its library.
Unfortunately, we also saw negative effects of big-budget game development this year: several high-profile games were launched in broken or buggy states. Many couldn't play Battlefield 4 for months. Assassin's Creed Unity had such poor performance that their third patch fixed 300 bugs, and their fourth was a massive download. It was so bad they even gave a free game to those who purchased the season pass. Halo: The Master Chief Collection launched with buggy online matchmaking. Driveclub had many features inaccessible for weeks.
|One of Unity's frequent bugs (image from gamespot.com)|
Not exactly an encouraging state of affairs, is it? Hopefully this doesn't become the norm.
“IT'S REALLY ABOUT ETHICS IN GAME JOURNALISM”
The Gamergate controversy, as Wikipedia's nearly 9,000-word article calls it, was huge. The story was even on the front page of The New York Times. I found Gamergate extremely interesting for many reasons.
First, Gamergate exposed the misogyny that has been ever-present in the games industry. I will admit that sexist depictions of women in video games wasn't something I had questioned while growing up. But with all the attention brought to the subject by critics like Anita Sarkeesian, I was blown away by the blatant sexism in many games I loved. Following Gamergate has made a feminist out of me.
The attacks against female designers and critics this year were surprising and unfortunate. There's a silver lining, though: awareness was raised with respect to the lack of diversity in the games industry. More people are talking about it than ever before. I believe games will become better and more inclusive in the future because of it.
Gamergate also highlighted a change in games that I'd felt for years. When Gamergate was in full swing, many articles decrying the end of gamers started to appear. As a kid, it seemed like I had a lot in common with anyone who played video games. But today, I find myself having almost nothing in common with a lot of gamers. I think that's because "gamer" as an identity is as meaningless as "reader" or "movie watcher".
OK, you're a gamer, but what kind of gamer? Do you play eSports? RPGs? Casual games? Indie games? Video games are more diverse than ever, so a label for all fans of the medium doesn't mean a whole lot anymore.
Despite the turmoil, great games were still made. Some of my favourites were Never Alone, This War of Mine, the new Super Smash Bros., Monument Valley and Shovel Knight. And I have yet to play these, but Dark Souls 2, Valiant Hearts, The Banner Saga and Shadow of Mordor all seem really great.
If I had to pick a "Game of the Year", I'd choose This War of Mine. This subversive take on war games made me live through some of the most intense moments I've ever experienced in a game. For more on This War of Mine, check out my article about the game or the trailer below.
Still, I feel like there were less game-of-the-year calibre titles this year than in 2012 and 2013. Maybe because of all the disappointing AAA launches? Is the crazy amount of games that are being released making it harder for me to choose a single best GOTY? Maybe I've just grown more critical of games since last year.
THE GAME AWARDS
In December, the first Game Awards show was hosted as a sort of replacement for the infamous Spike Video Game Awards. The awards show was popular, but not everyone was impressed. As explained in this blog post, the Awards (and video game culture in general) are very consumer-oriented. There's a huge focus on the fans, hype, and money. It's all about the gamers. But with the Oscars, to which The Game Awards compares itself, the event doesn't revolve around movie-goers: it's about the achievements of professionals working in the movie business.
|Hype! Trailers! Doritos! (image from 2012; taken from eurogamer.net)|
BAER WITH ME
In other news, Ralph Baer passed away on December 6. Back in the sixties and early seventies, he pioneered the first video game home console. Baer is widely considered to be one of the founders of video games
|(Image from ign.com)|
Think about that: until December 2014, one of the FOUNDERS OF THE MEDIUM was still alive. How crazy is that?! It goes to show how young video games are, but also highlights how far we've come, both in terms of technology and creativity, in such a short time.
With the new year just around the corner, what do we have to look forward to in 2015?Among other things, we'll experience virtual reality, explore an endless universe, learn to master the 4th dimension, experience a tragic cancer story, feel phantom pain, dial the wrong number, and return to Hyrule. I'm excited to discover what great interactive experiences 2015 will have in store!