Why 2012 Was A Great Year For Gaming

Last year was dubbed one of the worst years for gaming. Many of the most-anticipated games were delayed until 2013 (Bioshock Infinite) or until further notice (The Last Guardian). US statistics from NPD Group report 29% less games were released last year, and 22% less was spent on hardware. And perhaps there was a lack of those big, jaw-dropping moments that define a year. But that didn't make it any less meaningful for me; just different. Here's why.

Indie Kicked The Crap Out Of Triple-A

Big-budget games didn't have the best year, it's true. But anyone complaining of the industry's unoriginality, or mentioning the best-selling games all had a "2" or "3" in them, failed to notice how much the indie sector was picking up the slack. Sure, Black Ops 2 was samey. They claimed to be dramatically innovative in their multiplayer while giving you the equivalent of a couple of extra grenades each round.

But such samey gunplay used to have the advantage of unparalleled polish. Now, we can look to the indie sector and see games like Tribes Ascend, an indie shooter with a level of craft that belies its indie roots. It can't compete on graphics, but there's movement to master as well as aim, along with clever maps, constant updates, a great community, and it's free.

Shooters were probably the most visible area that indie stuck it to Triple-A, with other such success stories as Natural Selection 2, Primal Carnage, and Blacklight Retribution. But let's not forget two titles that collected many GOTY awards, Journey and The Walking Dead, are also indie.

Black Ops 2 sales may have broken that headline-making first-day sales record again, but after that, momentum dropped for it and other blockbuster franchises, suggesting the beginning of a lack of interest.

Meanwhile, other indies prove that being small doesn't limit you to critical success - you can be a commercial success now, too. Minecraft sold 500k units on Christmas Day alone, and all up, The Walking Dead sold 8.5 million episodes.

It Was An Amazing Year For PC

You remember when all those people, a few years back, were writing "death of the PC" articles? This is the part where we throw up a few obnoxious fingers and say "neener neener".

Sure, there was a fundamental shift in the industry when games started being made for the consoles and then ported to PC. Console games are harder to pirate, and the usefulness of games like Crysis, which ran on about 1 per cent of personal computers in the world, was questioned. Expecting the PC version of a multi-platform game to be lacklustre was normal.

But the landscape is different now. Hardware has progressed so rapidly, a years-old PC can comfortably play any game. Meanwhile, developers are complaining that the current console generation is long in the tooth, which is stifling innovation. Motion control wasn't the revolution we were sold, and core gamers, which have been shown to be a more decisive market factor than previously thought, would kindly like to get back to their core games.

And when it comes to certain genres, no console beats the PC. FPS? Mouse and keyboard wins. RTS? Nice try, Halo Wars. Slow news day or not, anyone who doubted the platform made an error.

MMOs Are Growing Up

Pre-2012, if you asked me which genre was the most stagnant, I would have said MMORPG. Even during the "gold rush" of everyone trying to imitate the World of Warcraft formula and horde subscribers, very few new ideas were introduced. There were exemplary games like Lord of the Rings Online, which didn't do much new, but did what it did very well. But for the most part, people were reluctant to move past the rigid party formula of tank, healer, damage dealer. Min/maxing was king. Combat was a complex formula, a mostly static rotation of abilities, and carefully meted out rewards were how to keep people interested. In terms of mechanics and dynamics, very little had changed since the pen & paper RPG days.

But that school of thinking is now in the past. For years, Korea has taken advantage of its lighting-fast internet to bring the same action mechanics we see in games like God of War to the MMO genre. Without the latency limitation, they're free to make a real game. And now that those games are being brought to the West, we can enjoy titles like TERA Online and Mabigoni Heroes too.

More and more, the subscription model is being tried, and then ditched for free-to-play. It's been said that free-to-play is destined to be the winner in any survival-of-the-fittest competition between business models, and I say good riddance to subscriptions. Planetside 2, while starting out with a harsh upgrade system, is a remarkable achievement. Thousands of people engaged in twitch-reflex gameplay, on one map, in a game that's free to play.

The success of Guild Wars shows you don't need to design games around systems that prioritise keeping players in the game, as opposed to concentrating on genuine fun. After a once-off fee, you're free to enjoy the game how you want. No need to commit to a four hour dungeon to make the slightest bit of progress.

Which means, on the development side, they didn't need to worry about hooking players and were free to make a real game.

Games For Good

As mentioned above, the tricks used to keep players hooked have infiltrated different genres, and even outside of the games industry, where it's known as gamification. Our worst possible trait has been exported, and its label paints us all with the same brush.

But a game came out last year that uses gamification in a different way. Rocksmith, with the use of normal lesson-like scales, several mini-games, and some Guitar Hero styled gameplay, uses these reward systems to teach you how to use the guitar. It has a dynamic difficulty that always pushes you further, and after every session you feel better playing the songs you love. On a real guitar.

While it doesn't look like Rocksmith is the start of a trend, it's certainly a good example. A normally work-heavy endeavour is made much easier and more fun with these tricks, and at the end of the experience, instead of a virtual spikey pauldron to show for it, you have a new, impressive skill. Rocksmith is a success.

There are also a few games we'll regularly be quoting when the "Games as art" debate comes up, as it always does. Journey won several game of the year awards, and through limited, controlled interactivity with a companion, tricks us into feeling. It must be a damn hard thing to bring out emotion in a player. I never really cared for Flow or Flower, but with Journey, they nailed it. There really isn't anything else like it.

Another I'd put forward when the meaningfulness of games is questioned is Papo & Yo. In terms of bringing out emotion, this title had the advantage of giving players the prior knowledge that the game is about a relationship with an abusive, alcoholic father. Through that lens, it's hard to not feel empathy when you, and those around you, are dragged into chaotic violence by a companion character you need elsewhere.

If you're using broad semantics like what's "good for gaming" when talking about 2012, these meaningful experiences are probably not more, but just as important as memorable, iconic gaming moments like All Ghillied Up from the first Modern Warfare.

We Can Decide What Gets Made

While not starting in 2012, the Kickstarter/self publishing movement went from strength to strength in 2012, and we still haven't had that one "grab & run" scenario that many were predicting.

Confidence is high in self publishing, and even though it's a fair point that the public is prone to acting in the same way as a publisher when regarding investments, there are still plenty of games being made that wouldn't have otherwise.

Even if the campaign is a failure, it can be treated as a form of free publicity test. And the tendency of people to back projects that promise an open development with lots of community involvement, and in some cases behind-the-scenes videos, is giving us more insight into the world of game making.

Well then. Glad I got that off my chest. Do you agree with the 2012 naysayers? As games become more diverse, our experiences are becoming more personal, so I suspect there are those who had a great year of gaming. What do you think defines a year, and makes it "good" or "bad"?

Year passing photo from Shutterstock


Comments

    Completely agreed. 2012 might not have seen a plethora of fantastic and groundbreaking games, but for gaming in general there were good developments all-round.

    Plus, we did still get some great games. It's not like there was nothing to do!

    2012 really was a great year...so many brilliant games came out that actually made people think/feel, as well as many that delivered brilliant gameplay and experiences.

    I still regard it as a bit of a down year. Yeah, there was some good indie stuff but (a) I don't think there was enough of it to balance out the failure of AAA to deliver and (b) to really consider it a great year I'd have wanted to see both indie AND AAA firing on all cylinders.

    I thought 2012 was disappointing. Indie games dont do it for me. I want a game with fun gameplay, and an interesting story. I think many of us where spoilt in 2011 with games like Uncharted 3, Deus Ex HR, Skyrim etc.
    With the coming release of Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto 5, 2013 already looks to be a more promising year.

    In terms of releases, 2012 was the worst year of gaming I can recall in my 25+ years of playing. I mean that without exaggeration - there were some real indie gems, but otherwise I think I played maybe three AAA releases - one of which was ME3, which probably soured be on the rest of the year. Admittedly, I still need to pick up Xcom and Farcry 3.

    In terms of trends - this was a big year. Kickstarter is a great step forward, and I hope the model progresses further. We had the announcement of a number of open platforms, which I hope will take the place of the PS3 and xbox (if the used game restrictions for those consoles pan out, this may be more likely than people realise).

    And then there was the continued rise of the indies. I have played some fantastic indie games in the last two years, and the games I'm most looking forward to next year are the first wave of indie kickstarter titles.

    For those of you who are interested in a Rocksmith-like game for pianos: http://www.synthesiagame.com/

    Q: Why 2012 Was A Great Year For Gaming

    A: http://katawa-shoujo.com/

    Lets see, the most value I got last year was the Battlefield Premium map packs.

    Far Cry 3 was fun, but on PC it ran horribly for what it offered graphically. Which considering where Crysis was 6 or so years ago, is inexcusable.

    Max Payne 3 was really good, but a similar issue.

    At this stage graphics and environments, physics are getting distractedly bad. Playing something like FC3, there's general things you expect these days, what is missing becomes noticeable. Maybe it's because i played too much crysis back in the day. I just find there should be a base level of when you step into an artificial world of how realized it is. Whether it's the graphics, the lighting, water, physics, destruction.

    Same with things like COD. It's just a static never changing world. The odd things improve, it's always superficial. Oh better AA. But still a basic world.

    This is an area which people aren't even trying, and it's not just cyrsis. A lot of people are going back. In a way it's the issue off too much control, or maybe everythings too superficial.

    Not to harp on FC3, but it does invoke games like crysis from the imagery, the art design, even the franchise. It doesn't follow through on such expectations.

      What were you running both games on? my GTX560 ran both of them fine at maxed out settings. Only had to turn back the AA back on Max Payne 3.

        Running it all maxed out gtx670.

        No problem with frame rate or anything.

        I stick by my assessment the graphics are just way below expectations. FC3 looks pretty but it's superficial. It's a static world. Hell even FC2 had more interaction in the environment. The water was an animated texture ect. Everything in distance became a low res blur.

        Max Payne, the environments were below COD quality. Which obviously isn't saying much.

        Both games needed a hell of a lot of resources for what they offered. Considering they didn't look much better than games coming out on PC quite a few years ago, often just fairly comparable. It's not good enough. Oh some new AA. It's still shitty textures. Remember the laughable PC screenshots they released to tease MP3 for PC? With bricks that were really low res, worse than cod 4's.

        It's not good enough to mix and match some high polys and high textures, when most of the game is a low standard.

    I understand you're using the term indie to mean 'independent from a publisher', which is definitely correct, but I think it's important to note that some of the examples you listed as 'indie games' had pretty reasonable sized teams of people working on them and budgets in the millions of dollars.

    There were some awesome indie game released this year that more closely fit with the traditional indie image of a 'small game from a small team', like FTL, Hotline Miami, Little Inferno, Legend of Grimrock - even Mark of the Ninja was made by a team of 10 or so, as opposed to the Walking Dead's Telltale Games with 100+ people.

    If 2012 was so bad, then why is my game shelf stocked full of amazing titles like Far Cry 3, HitMan Absolution, Black Ops 2, NFS Most Wanted, The Walking Dead. Halo 4, XCOM, Dishonoured, Forza Horizon, Hawken, and a metric shit-ton of titles I've forgotten to list? That PLUS an entirely new console was launched by Nintendo, Sony released a new handheld console, and Steam is making moves into the loungeroom. All of this, on top of what you've already mentioned.

    Who the hell is trying to say that last year was one of the worst years for gaming? Seriously, the argument doesn't even make sense.

    really?

    dishonoured
    far cry 3
    BORDERLANDS 2
    and ME3....yes I'm calling it good..sue me

    Junglist is an awesome writer, Hope to see him more often!

      Yeah, the only way I'll access this site anymore, is through his names bookmark. Him and Serrels are the only reason to support this site anymore.

    Personally I cannot recall any years of gaming I would go so far as to call 'bad'.
    Some are just not quite as good as others. Every year there are sleeper hits, big blockbuster hits, and countless failures.
    Last year I thought was just as solid as any other recent year, with some really great games.
    Though regarding the whole pc vs console thing, I must admit that the only game i bought for my ps3 last year was SSX, while for the PC there were >15. Back in the previous generation it was much more likely to be those numbers reversed, or at least the ps2/gamecube getting as many worth purchases as the PC.

    I would disagree totally. There was nothing out of the square. We got a new COD...... wow same every year. For me pretty flat.

    All the releases I played of 2012 were excellent;

    Spec Ops: The Line, Max Payne 3, Far Cry 3, Need For Speed Most Wanted, Sleeping Dogs, Tony Hawk Pro-Skater HD, The Walking Dead, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Alan Wake (the PC version only came out in 2012) Mists of Pandaria, I found it so much more fun than Cataclysm.

    All of those games I found to be great and logged a lot of time in each. So I fail to see how the Indie market was better than triple a market since the only 2 indie games I enjoyed were The Walking Dead & Minecraft, and even then we were only playing Tekkit. I don't even recall what Indie games other than those got releases in 2012...

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