2012 – The End of The World
2012 had its highlights, but was a disappointing year on many gaming fronts. The bastion of all truths that is Metacritic, will tell you that at least at the upper end of the equation, games were not as high in quality as proceeding years — that or critics have just got a mighty meta bit meaner in the last twelve months. If MCV sources are to be believed then physical copies of games sales fell by 26%, with digital sales increasing by only 7%, leading to an overall decline in the number of games sold when compared with previous years. So, games are not being as well made and less are being bought.
Sounds like the beginning of the end for video games! The end of gamers as we know it!? WE ARE ALL DOOMED! Well, not to fret, I think we are going to be okay – let’s just have a closer look at this before you start committing pS3uicide or running off to your emergency Xboxalypse shelter. 2012 was not the end of the world for video games, just a bump in the road to world domination.
During 2012, there were a number of high profile games that suffered in review scores (and sometimes then went on to struggle in sales) often not because they were “bad” games, but because they underwhelmed or were quite simply divisive. A poorly made game is easy to ignore or forget, what tends to stick in gamers minds and is now amplified by frequently being repeatedly blasted over the twitter-twatter of social media, are the games that flatter to deceive. Games that you look forward to…and then go on to let *YOU* down.
2012 – A Blow By Blow
I have never seen a year where so many games could justifiably be one person’s absolute favourite game of the year and see the same game justifiably feature on another person’s biggest disappointments of the year.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown was undoubtedly my favourite game of 2012 and I was very pleasantly surprised to see it riding high in many people’s Game Of The Year considerations. However, much I like the genre, I would have to admit that it is still (much to my dismay) a niche genre and I would also not argue with anyone who was put off as, at least prior to patches and updates, the game was filled with more bugs than a Starship Trooper’s battle scene.
Earlier in the year, some games underwhelmed due to the high profile names attached to them; be it in the form of being linked to a previously popular franchise in another genre; such as Syndicate — or new IP with an exciting name attached such as Todd McFarlane association with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning — perhaps the oddest case of the year given that the Governor of Rhode Island may have done more to hammer home the final nail in the coffin of developers Big Huge Games than the arguably above average Metacritic score of 80% ever did. Some games just let themselves down though.
Other games underwhelmed based on the history of their name and perhaps no bigger culprit for this in 2012 than Resident Evil. Now, before all of Chris Redfield’s fangirls start spitting blood in my direction, I will point out that Resident Evil 6 may have been criticised by many long term fans of the series, but there were some that still found enjoyment in the shuffling zombie shooter and selling 4.5 million units can not exactly be deemed a failure.
However, many Resident Evil fans were not shy in being vocal about the game’s shortcomings and it received a wide spectrum of reviews scores, ranging from 3-9 out of 10. Then we come onto the subject of Operation Raccoon City, in fact let’s not, the less said about that game the better. It barely scraped up to a 50% on Metacritic, and I am not sure how it got 40% of that. Hopefully Resi will live to fight off this infection for future releases.
A number of other sequels in previously successful franchises stuttered and mis-stepped in 2012. Max Payne 3 failed to reach Rockstar’s usually high, near record breaking, sales targets as it struggled to reconnect with it gritty bullet time loving audience who either forgot Max in his absence or could not forgive Mark Wahlberg.
Hitman Absolution may have a more apt title in Hit(and miss)man. The game itself is fairly divisive with fun open playgrounds butting up against frustratingly confining corridors. It seems that Absolution has sold well despite mixed reactions from fans of the franchise and some serious missteps in the slightly bizarre and seemingly sexist marketing.
Dishonored, arguably the biggest new IP of 2012, was lauded by most, and although I must admit I had intended to return, I personally hated what I saw of the demo so much that I never even bothered picking it up. While stopping short of confirming a sequel, Bethesda have a least confirmed that; “Dishonored is far exceeding our sales expectations.”
Assassin’s Creed 3 got a great review from my colleague, Dan, as well as a number of other outlets, but the start of that game bored me to tears to such a degree that I never even made to being Connor, and that is from someone that defended the first game in the series!
A demo of ZombiU was almost enough to sell me a WiiU, others were turned off by the difficulty of its Demon’s Souls similarities. The WiiU itself is perhaps one of the most divisive console launches I have seen, certainly since the Dreamcast or GameCube, but reports of it under performing at retail are perhaps a bit too soon, not to mention sensationalised. In the UK the WiiU sold 40,000 units at launch. That may not sound like that many, but the Wii was written about as a resounding success while only managing to sell 5,000 more units at launch — at nearly half of the price of WiiU premium bundle.
The handheld space has arguably had some of the most underwhelming sales during 2012. The Vita struggled to come to life, with sales of both hardware and software, and currently has only just sold over 4 million Vita units worldwide. After a slow first year, the 3DS has now sold over 27 million pieces of hardware around the globe. Albeit more than 10 million of those are in Japan alone and it still has a worryingly low attach rate (the number of units of software sold, divided by the number of hardware sold) but the 3DS is now here to stay and has a brighter year ahead of it outside of Japan as a lot of the popular software that helped make it a success in 2012 was delayed in translation.
[All sales information in the above paragraphs courtesy of VGChartz.com]
2012 – A Cold Front
I do not believe that 2012 was a particularly good year in the history of gaming as far as the quality of retail releases were concerned. It is also possible that in larger studios, many of the “A” teams of developers are already working on next generation products and that the products we were playing in 2012 were results of the “secondary” design teams. This may be the situation in some high profile cases where the sequel of recent major franchises did not measure up to the high expectations set by their precedents — with Mass Effect 3 and Uncharted 3 springing to mind. That is perhaps reflected in the figures presented by Metacritic and MCV, but there are a number of factors not taken into account that mask the truth.
Android and iOS gaming continued to grow and the PC has had a resurgence. Obviously some of that is accounted for by both MCV and Metacritic, but neither account for the growth of the Free-to-Play markets — advert supported or otherwise. And these platforms have encouraged and expanded upon this area much more than their more carefully monitored console cousins.
Neither set of statistics take note of Downloadable Content or make an allowance for the growth of user generated content. DLC is obviously an increasingly attractive additional source of revenue and it was almost uncommon for a retail release not to be followed by a planned out course of DLC in 2012. Likewise there were many examples of user generated content, from the obvious, such as LittleBigPlanet on the Vita, to the more stealthy, such as the Contracts mode in Hitman Absolution — but mods are perhaps the most extreme example of user generated content and there was perhaps no greater in 2012 than DayZ.
Even given all that counter argument I would not argue that it was a hard year for developers. The changing goalposts of success have perhaps never been more elusive and the risks never higher. We lost whole studios — while that does happen ever year when it happens to near mainstays such as Sony Liverpool (previously Psygnosis) it becomes more worrying. Many larger studios also lost creative leaders with Peter Molyneux parting ways with Lionhead and BioWare losing their head doctors.
2013 – Heating Up
Still feeling bleak? As I said, 2012 was not a good year but 2013 is looking better already. With many big name titles such as Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider delayed from last year and now releasing into the (until recently) sleepy period of the year, it is looking like a bumper crop of great games all year long. Add to that I expect to see the WiiU hitting it’s stride and it is widely speculated that the next Xbox will launch before Christmas with details of the next PlayStation hot on its heels.
With Microsoft’s announcement of IllumiRoom at this year’s CES and knowing that Sony are planning to do something with their recent acquisition of Gaikai, we are perhaps getting some clues of what the console manufacturers have planned for the next generation. With PC gamers beating their chests over superior resolutions, WiiU getting a head start and an army of microconsoles about to launch an all out assault on the living room, the console war has never been more combative.
We still do not that much about the next generation, but Microsoft and Sony will really have the roll out the big guns this year and there is no better platform than E3. Microsoft are almost certain to announce some details of new hardware and Sony could look to steal some of their thunder with an early announcement of their own details. Either way, every other console manufacturer and game developer is going to be attempting to convince us we do not need more hardware with a flood of top quality software that squeezes every last drop of performance out of our existing hardware.
In conclusion; the deployed developers have never had more experience with the weapons of war, the fight for market share has never been more competitive and the major ‘weapon’ manufacturers are just about to unveil their top secret weapons. 2012 was just the calm before the storm. The Console War may have gone cold, but it is about to start heating up again…and I will be the first one back on the front line when it does.
Tags: 2012, 3DS, Assassin's Creed 3, BioShock Infinite, Darksiders II, Dishonored, Hitman Absolution, Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning, Mass Effect 3, Max Payne 3, Resident Evil 6, Resident Evil Operation Raccoon City, Syndicate, Tomb Raider, Vita, XCOM, ZombiU