This series draws to a close, but not before taking a short look at the past few years and what they’ve brought is. We’re closing the book on 50 years of video games. Well, 51, if you want to get specific.
The past four years have represented a transitional period for the video games industry, from what it used to be, to what it will be. And what exactly will be, I can’t say for sure. What I can say is that there have been a lot of new ideas since 2015. For one, established game companies were starting to see the mobile sector as something more than a place for which to promise companion apps for, and then never deliver them, or to peddle atrocities like 2014s Dungeon Keeper. So they started to release things like that Star Wars Game that EA keeps marketing at E3 for some reason, and Fallout Shelter, to great success, paving the way for more and more games and genres to make the leap. But where the leap was happening most of all was in China. Consoles were just now being allowed on sale, not that it actually helped increase their numbers much, but mobile phones were getting really powerful, really cheap, and the games for them were increasing in complexity and popularity. It certainly didn’t hurt that China now had the world’s second biggest economy, and it didn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon. Not only that, but Chinese media companies set their eyes on expanding and they were getting shares of western big western developers and publishers. One of the newest being Ubisoft. Meanwhile, the publishers were trying to find new ways for games to be profitable, because game cost kept growing, and go big or go home wasn’t working. So, micro-transactions became the norm in most games, usually in the form of loot boxes. The things you’d often see in most free to play MMOs. Bethesda even trying to monetize community mods, which ended in disaster in 2015, since it tried to do it in Skyrim. A game that was 4 years old and already had a set community. It gave up, but it would try again with Fallout 4 in a few years with very little success.
But before we get to that there’s 2015 itself. There was a brief surge in the Asymetrical multiplayer genre, with Evolve, bit it would soon fade and show up again over the next two years with Dead by daylight and Friday the 13th . Until then, in 2015 Electronic Arts was busy making a worse Battlefront game, and it was also closing Maxis Studios, after the botched release of SimCity. The genre, however, was still of interest to many, so Colossal Order and Paradox walked right into the spotlight with City Skylines and took home crown, and they’ve held onto it since. Meanwhile, Konami released an unfinished Metal Gear Solid 5 The Phantom Pain, fired Hideo Kojima, canceled Silent Hills, and generally drew the ire of everyone that ever played a video-game. Ubisoft managed to do that a bit as well, but it would soon be set upon The Fear of Vivendi, and actually tried improving things. Rainbow Six Siege is a notable example of this It was a broken buggy mess at launch, but unlike The Crew, it was actually improved as time went on. It would be an actual success story in the long tale of the emerging Games as a Service trend, that aims to rob users of any actual control over their games, often with few upsides. Well, there was one upside, with services like Playstation Now, the final form of the longstanding promise of being able to play a game streamed from a server on the web, with no need to have the hardware to actually run it locally. And I should probably mention Windows 10 as well, an operating system sold with the same lies as Windows Vista, Microsoft even giving out free upgrades. It was basically the manifestation of all the fears that Windows 8 had generated, but there wasn’t as much of a push back against it.
As for the game of 2015, well, that had to be The Witcher 3. Not only because it was a massive improvement in every way over its predecessor, and a huge magnificent game for the most part, but because of the way it was made and sold. No loot boxes, no micro-transactions, only free DLC, a fair price, and eventually two expansions that put most other sequels to shame. A game made by gamers, for gamers, by dedicated and passionate people, with a smaller budget than the hundreds upon hundreds of million dollars that most big projects have ballooned to, and with a level of success that few of those games had. It turned CD Projekt from that little studio in Poland to a billion dollar company working on the most anticipated games in the industry.
2016 gave us a new console generation, with the PlayStation 4 Pro. But it wasn’t really new, was it? It was was that transitional phase. A console with the same architecture, but with a bigger GPU, finally fulfilling the expectations that people had for the original version of the console. Suddenly, 60 frames a second wasn’t demonized anymore. Suddenly, 4K wasn’t just some gimmick the PC people were going on about. 2016 also gave us the first commercial VR units, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Their price scared most people and made them swear off VR for many, many years, but Playstation VR also entered the fray, and proved to be quite successful. And the experiences created for them have begun to generate a shift in video games. We may see a VR focused future, it’s uncertain at this point, things are still in flux, they’re still in transition. And those were the few new things made in 2016, because everyone else was busy digging up the past. Be they with releasing classic versions of ancient consoles, that proved to be immensely successful, so that everyone started doing it. Be they with making sequels to old games, some amazing, like the return of Doom, some lackluster, like Deus Ex Mankind Divided, or spiritual successor, such as Stardew Valley. A massive success built by a single person, out of pure passion for game series that never reached the PC, so there wasn’t really much nostalgia behind it, just the quality of the game itself. Some games were retreads of ideas that had been done before, but now with more marketing and better polish to them, like Overwatch, which was essentially a more varied form of Team Fortress 2. Or The Division, that was just another spin on the looter shooter idea, one that turned out to be a bit lackluster. And then there’s the mother of all throwbacks, Pokemon Go. For two months in the middle of 2016, you could not get away from it. It became an overnight success, the new sensation, a planetary phenomenon the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the Gangam Style, and it would vanish just as quickly. What wouldn’t vanish is the idea of the Battle Royale game. H1Z1 king of the kill came out and scratched the itch that games like DayZ and the original H1Z1 were just teasing. A zombie survival game where you take out the zombies, the building and you take out the survival. What you’re left with is a large version of Last Man Standing, a battle royale game, a Minecraft Hunger Games stand-alone game, and it would get really big, really fast.
But what I can say was the game of 2016 was No Man’s Sky. It was released in a really bad state, not just from a technical point of view, that was to be expected from a small studio, but it wasn’t even the game that was marketed or promoted up until the release. With the full power of Sony’s marketing behind it, Hello Game’s creation was splattered everywhere, even on prime-time television, with promises so many that it would make Peter Molyneux blush. And it broke most of them. Features were missing, like the constantly alluded to multiplayer, and the game itself was just a prettier version of the many Minecraft clones that that had flooded the market in the past few years. But unlike most disasters of this type that were showing up every 5 minutes, No Man’s Sky seemed to be made by people that actually had shame and a conscience, because they would spend the next three years turning this miserable pile of garbage into something actually enjoyable. 2016 itself was a year when people were already cemented into their echo chambers, making internet discourse impossible, just as Metal Gear Solid 2 predicted. Everything was now a culture war, everything was being dragged into petty squabbles, everything was tainted, and nothing productive was achieved.
2017 brought the rest of the mid-generation console refresh, with the Xbox One X, the new Nintendo console, The Switch, and the Battle Royale true rise of the battle royale craze. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegroudns kicked things off, and Fortnite took over by adding base building back into the fray, as well as by being a game that ran better, smoother, and wasn’t developed by a company obsessed with trying to seem like it was the first one to ever come up with the idea of a battle royale game. We’re currently still in the trend of the Battle Royale game, with Fortnite being the biggest thing of the moment. But unlike Pokemon Go, which vanished into the night, there’s currently no sign that Fortnite will go away anytime soon. There were also other games released in 2017, like a new Legend of Zelda game, a small budget Hellblade, that looked like it was a AAA game, or a huge budget Destiny 2 that would be soon given out for free, because it couldn’t get enough players. Electronic Arts managed to piss off everyone with its monetization of Star Wars Battlefront 2, somehow succedding at improving the game over the awful predecessor, and making it worse in every other way. It tried something similar with Mass Effect Andromeda, a game that was shipped with so little interest in quality from the publisher that it killed the series again. Resident Evil 7, however, gave the series life again, by moving it into first person, making it less stupid, and copying the PT demo for the canceled Silent Hills. When it got a VR Version, it became a completely new game that made people actually take an interest in VR. Meanwhile, Assassin’s Creed had taken a year off and came back with a brand new idea, that of copying a more successful game, The Witcher 3. Call of Duty, after many years of testing out new things, went back to World War 2, to safe territory. It may seem like I’m speeding through these past few years, and that’s because I am. It’s not that nothing important happened since 2015, it’s just that I don’t know yet where we’re going, so I can’t say for sure how much of where we’ve been will have mattered.
The Title I could best describe as The Game of 2017 would probably be Prey. Why? Because here was a AAA game made with the utter contempt of its publisher, using a name it had no connection to, and quickly forgotten. And yet, Prey was a throwback to an era of games that aren’t about battle royale, about fidget spinners, about is trendy. It’s a story with a point, restrictive with purpose, freeing with motive, and a bit dodgy in regards to what its all about. It was Arkane’s last title in the trilogy of spiritual sequels of old Looking Glass Games. Because in just a few months, Looking Glass itself, or at least its founders, would be back with their own spiritual sequels to their own games.
2018 hasn’t yet ended, but it’s brought us games like Underworld Ascendant. A title that everyone has called a horrible mistake that should have never walked the earth. And it is the jewel upon the crown of disappointment that was crowdfunding. Although we got amazing titles like Kingdom Come Deliverence, it too came with a bit less of what it had promised, and Star Citizen is still years away from being finished. But most of all, many of the studios that people had put their faith in, and their money, through kickstarter, had given in. Instead of continuing to battle the publishers that ignored them for years, they became part of them. Compulsion Games, Obsidian Entertainment, inXile entertainment, even Harebrained Schemes were now the property of someone else, leveraging the products built with funds for the public to secure an acquisition from the likes of Microsoft, a company well known for being mostly awful at this point in time. But in the middle of other disasters, like whatever happened at Blizzcon 2018, or the unexpected shutdown of Telltale, or the total disaster that Fallout 4s transition into a multiplayer game was, with Fallout 76, there was some hope. Loot boxes were starting to be regulated, Nordic Games was slowly bringing together THQ’s former properties, renaming itself THQ Nordic and promising a better future. Valve, when not releasing a card game no one wanted, was spending a lot of time and money making games run on Linux, driving the numbers now into the thousands. Red Dead Redemption 2 became the second biggest entertainment launch of all time, behind only Grand Theft Auto 5. Every game was trying to be the next Fortnite by adding Battle Royale, even Call of Duty. And somewhere in there Nvidia released the first video cards to have dedicated hardware support for Ray Tracing, making a dream come true, in a really underhwealming way, for a horrible performance hit, and at a huge cost. But that’s generally what to expect from the first generation of any hardware.
As for what was the game of 2018? Was it the Spider-Man, the God of War? The Red Dead? The Crew 2? Well, No. simply put, I don’t know what the game of 2018 is. Because the year is not yet done. Strictly from a personal point of view I’d say Deliverance, or that XCOM game with the duck. But only time will decide.
What’s clear is that the industry is changing. It’s moving in new directions, into mobile, into China, into VR, into on-line only, into game streaming, into games as a service, into a new console generation, and into a future that still has yet to be decided. And the gaming media seems to be going into the “let’s defend a giant corporation’s actions because we really don’t like the audience” direction. We’re now in a world that’s more fractured than ever, the internet threatening to be broken into gated pieces, people’s rights to free discourse threatened, their privacy trampled, people’s lives in general being threatened, actually, as we continue to plunge the earth into a new age of extreme climate, wild weather, unstable politics, frenzied fanaticism and endless spam wasting what little valuable time we have left on this doomed planet.
It may sound like a gloomy outcome, and hopefully it’s wrong, but it seems likely.
So the what was the point of this all? To try and give people some context, and most of all, to remind people where we came from, and why.
FOR IT IS THE DOOM OF MEN THAT THEY FORGET.
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