Video Game Trends That Haven't Gone Away
With 2016 officially gone and 2017 upon us, it's natural to look at where we are and what got us here. The past is prologue as they say, and that applies to video games. Taking a look back at some of the summations in our year-end issues of Game Informer reminds me that the past is all around us.
Combing through the last six or so years of Game Informer Magazine's year-end awards, I was not only reminded of how many great games we've been spoiled with in that time, but some of the events that were important at the time, and which are still big issues today.
Japanese Development – "Floundering Japanese Development" was number 6 on our Disappointments list for this year, highlighted by Keiji Inafune's broadside against the stagnant Japanese development industry and the ascendency of the West. Inafune was right on the mark at the time, and sadly, it's a situation that still largely persists.
John Marston/Ezio Auditore – Ezio debuted the year before in Assassin's Creed II, but he was awesome enough to rank number 2 in our Heroes list for his work in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Number 1? Red Dead Redemption's John Marston, of course. There have been plenty of video game heroes since this pair, but even today Ezio and Marston would be very hard to top. For many Assassin's Creed fans and casual players alike, the series hasn't successfully replaced Ezio, and Marston was a big part of how beloved Rockstar's reboot of the Red Dead franchise was. Number four on that year's Heroes list? Mass Effect 2's Commander Shepard.
Minecraft – The game's alpha phase was so successful it landed in our Top 10 Moments list. You know how the rest turned out.
The Patch Crutch – There used to be a time when you could buy a game, put it in your system, and you'd be ready to go. 2010 seemed to be the realization that it was never going to be this simple again. With companies relying more and more on consumers having their consoles constantly connected to the network, titles were released that needed a day one or post-launch patch. Some times these added features, but often times they were necessary just to play the game as intended. Sadly, since this time, we've become numb to the whole rigmarole.
Online Passes – As publishers became more and more worried about losing potential revenue via secondary sales [Full Disclosure – Game Informer is owned by retailer GameStop], some publishers turned to online passes to grab some of the second-hand cash. Gamers purchasing used games had to buy these passes from publishers before they could access the game's online features. Thankfully these have been mostly phased out, but after online passes, and then the Xbox One's initial attempt to impose game DRM and limit sharing, gamers still fear companies' DRM and control over games post-purchase.
Remasters/Reissues Emerge – With the predominance of HD, this year-end category makes its debut as games like Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, God of War: Origins, and Resident Evil 4 HD are redone and re-presented to the public. Since this time, the practice has become an expected and welcome way to make what was old new again.
LucasArts Goes Over To The Disney Dark Side – LucasArts hasn't always put out the greatest games, but there was always hope that a company with licenses like Star Wars and Indiana Jones could see itself to better days. When Disney took over and said that it wasn't going to get mired in game development, but instead license out its properties, nobody knew what to expect. Over four years later, the exact video game fate of one of entertainment's biggest brands – Star Wars – remains up in the air, depending on your outlook. EA is in control of Star Wars video games, but as the mixed opinions of Star Wars Battlefront illustrate, the jury is still out on whether EA's stewardship is a boon for the brand. With more games on the horizon from EA, the true effect of LucasArts' exit from the industry is still TBD.
The Walking Dead – With relatively simple graphics and gameplay, but with an engrossing story and characters, this series took the world by storm. It put Telltale firmly on the map, entrenching its episodic structure, and enabled the company to expand its approach to myriad other licenses like Game of Thrones, Batman, Minecraft, and Borderlands. The Walking Dead's third season has just begun and is already off to a strong start.
Alternate Funding – In 2012 Kickstarter and other alternate funding methods were the talk of the industry, seemingly showing a way for indies to acquire money for projects by appealing directly to fans. While games have been funded by these methods, it hasn't altered the publisher/developer landscape to the point that many had hoped. Still, the continued existence of titles like Shenmue III and Star Citizen prove that fans' voice can be powerful.
NBA Live 13 Canceled – ...marking the second time in three years that EA didn't put out an NBA Live title. This sparked a huge makeover for the franchise that it still hasn't recovered from. While EA put out NBA Live 16 in 2015, there was no console basketball title from the company in 2016. This from a company where yearly, major licensed sports titles like FIFA and Madden are big parts of EA's overall identity.
EA Drops Out of College Football – The victim of legal wranglings between multiple armies of lawyers, suffice it to say that EA has bowed out of the college football business until the NCAA sorts out the status of its student athletes and all the lawsuits therein. Not only are football fans extremely thirsty for the return of college football, the whole situation only highlights the importance of licenses to companies like EA, their expense, and how it even prevents those games/companies that don't have them from grabbing gamers' attention.
Grand Theft Auto V Releases – Not only was this a much-awaited release of a mammoth franchise at the time, Rockstar's support of the game since then is nothing short of amazing. While the delay of online co-op missions was a running joke after the game came out, the title itself has seen countless free updates that include all sorts of events, modes, weapons, customization options, and untold reasons to return/stay in the sandbox world. Rockstar's support of the game has been exemplary.
Xbox One Changes Course – Microsoft's initial decision to require an online connection and limit game sharing for the Xbox One did not help the public's perception of the system when it launched in 2013 even though Microsoft reversed course after much outcry. I believe this perception hampered the system out of the gate, and it's only until this year – when the Xbox One led domestic retail sales for four months – that the Xbox One has started to make up ground on the PS4.
Pro Gaming – Pro gaming made our Top 10 list of 2013's Successes, after years of everyone hearing how big the prize pools and crowds were getting. Since then companies like Electronic Arts have committed to eSports in their games, and with as mainstream as it's become, we still don't know if we've seen its true limit.
The Oculus Rift and VR Gaming – After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012, the Rift development kit was released in 2013 and gained momentum – signaling a new era in the attempt to bring VR to the masses. While that ultimate goal still hasn't been reached, VR is closer than it's ever been to merging quality with a relatively affordable price point.
Games as a Service – We included this category for the first time, celebrating titles like Dota 2 and League of Legends that have continued to evolve long after their initial release, rewarding players and constantly offering incentives to return. Since then, titles like Hearthstone have only further proven the validity of this model, and console franchise like Destiny have openly adopted it with microtransactions without turning off its loyal fanbase.