10 Biggest Stories and Trends in GAMES 20111 of 12By Seth Robison, Newsarama Contributor
2011 was on its surface a quiet year for gaming: The core consoles have reached maturity with no new ones on the horizon, the Kinect and Move again failed to revolutionize the way everyone play games as promised and new Madden and Halo games were released as sure as the seasons change.
Below the surface however, this past year showcased the best of what makes gaming the most volatile medium in all of entertainment, with vast fortunes gained and lost, potential fulfilled or squandered and true characters both real and fictional revealed.
The groundwork for the future is laid every day, and as the repercussions of 2011 are felt, it could go down as the year that everything changed. Newsarama took a look back and came up with the top ten stories of the past year and asked why they were so compelling and what they could mean in the years to come.
Infinity Blade 2 Becomes The First 'most Anticipated' Mobile Game2 of 12Despite the massive growth games designed for mobile devices like smart-phones, core gamers dismiss most of them as being shallow time wasters. To date all of the most successful games have been those that seem to come out of nowhere to take the casual gaming would by storm, like Bejeweled and Angry Birds. The degree of these successes has nevertheless caught the attention of major developers, who see an untapped market for 'more serious' games.
One of these, Epic's Infinity Blade, proved so popular that its follow up was announced at an official Apple address. For the first time the release of an iOS game was followed with the intensity matching that of a major release. This signaled a change in the way that mobile games are produced and distributed, and perhaps is the beginning of the end for cartridge-based portable gaming.
The Bundle/Name Your Price Style Of Selling Indie Games Expands3 of 12Begun in mid-2010 with the first Humble Indie Bundle, the practice of small, independent developers ganging together with their latest products to sell as a package deals took off in 2011 with the release of seven such bundles this year. Each is a package of as many as ten games, all for sale at whatever price the consumer is willing to pay. Such collective action suits two purposes: cross promoting fans of one developer with the products of others, and to combat piracy using a force as old as time itself: guilt.
Compounding the power that could compel even the most soulless software pirate to actually spare a few dollars in exchange for the hard work of others for a change, the Bundles' games are also grouped with popular, reputable charities like The American Red Cross who can receive some or all of the money paid for the games.
Larger software developers and publishers have begun to take notice of the power of bundling, Valve's set-price Potato Sack of games was bundled with the chance to play their highly anticipated title Portal 2 early.
Carmine Must Die?4 of 12A macabre running joke in the Gears of War franchise was grisly, 'red shirt-like' deaths of the members of the Carmine family. Anthony Carmine was killed by a sniper shortly after the start of the original game and his brother Benjamin died in the belly of the Riftworn, dissolved by its digestive fluids. A third Carmine brother, Clayton Clay Carmine was set to appear in this year's Gears of War 3, but in a move akin to the fate of the second Robin, Jason Todd, whether Clay lived or died in the game was left up to the whim of the fans.
A charity sales event was held where both real and virtual t-shirts (for XBL Avatars) were sold reading either Save Carmine or Carmine Must Die, and when the totals of each were added up, the one with the most sales would determine if Clay made it thought the game's story alive. In the end $150k was raised for Child's Play, and gamers on both sides of the debate played though the game waiting to see how their actions effected the story in an all-together different kind of way.
There Is A Time-Line To The Zelda Universe5 of 12Any gamer who has played more than a couple Legend of Zelda games over the span of his or her life could see a pattern replayed again and again. Was it just the same monomyth inspired formula that Nintendo was applying to each subsequent title, or was there something larger at work? For twenty-five years that kind of talk was pure speculation confined to classrooms and message boards, spurred on by oblique visual references and comments made by untrustworthy characters.
Now with the franchise's 25th anniversary Nintendo has announced that yes, all the core Zelda games share a single time-line, that events from the original Legend of Zelda all the way up to this year's Skyward Sword happened in a particular sequence. This continuity establishing announcement, akin to the first time it became clear that classic comic book heroes like Batman and Superman shared the same world, has franchise fans furiously looking for translations of the Japanese book that explains what their decades of Triforce finding, Ganon defeating and Zelda rescuing really meant.
MMOs Go Free-To-Play While Console Games Adopt The Season Pass Format6 of 12One of the greatest appeals to the developers of MMOs is the fact that once the title is finally launched, the bulk of the expensive work is over and they can start to recoup costs with the initial software release and enjoy the regular income that comes from their new subscriber base. In 2011 it's become clear that the game's managers watch that subscriber base number like a hawk, making themselves ready to make their game free-to-play to attract the a la carte MMO gamer, one who is only willing to pay for what they use or to give themselves an advantage. Both major comic-book inspired MMOs, City of Heroes and DC Universe Online launched free-to-play options this year (even World of Warcraft is free to play now, at least up to level 20)
On the other hand, the developers of console titles in their continuous effort to dampen down the sale of used games, secure a larger part of post-release DLC sales and to fund the operation of their multiplayer servers, have introduced the concept of the Season Pass, asking players to pay an amount upfront for content promised later, at a lower price overall then if bought separately. Activision's Call of Duty Elite is in fact an example of a pure subscription service for a console game, offering extra content in exchange for a yearly fee.
Gamers [Heart] Japan7 of 12In March of this past year a 9.0 underwater earthquake sent waves of seismic destruction and a devastating tsunami towards the home islands of Japan. The resulting devastation displaced thousands and the repercussions from a damaged nuclear power plant are still being felt today. In the United States gamers watched the destruction on their televisions and assembled online to help the nation that did so much for the gaming industry.
Developers and journalists dug though their personal memorabilia collections and set them up for auction, raising tens of thousands of dollars. Their efforts culminated in Gamers [Heart] Japan, an hour-long special where gaming industry luminaries discussed the impact that Japan has had on gaming over the past twenty years. The special aired simultaneously on the G4 network and over the internet to raise money for the Red Cross. Along with efforts like Child's Play, Gamers [Heart] Japan has gone a long way to show that the gaming community is an empathetic force for good.
Duke Nukem Forever Is Released8 of 12In 2011 the cows came home and the devil made a snowman. The poster child for vaporware, Duke Nukem Forever, finally hit shelves after an fifteen year development cycle. Although it would have been impossible for the game to live up to the expectations collected over such a span of time, the end result was a lackluster experience at the level not felt since the release of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
Industry watchers worldwide stood back and surveyed the aftermath. It wasn't an all together unplayable game, but it was pretty bad and no memorable experience by any stretch. What happened? Was it a game that would have felt more at home back in the late nineties? Have games and gamers matured beyond the antics of the purposely over-the-top Duke Nukem character? Did having so many different people work on it for so long dilute the end product into nothingness? And finally was it only the wide recognition of the Duke Nukem IP that finally allowed it to be published, rather than a desire to release a quality product that doesn't share that advantage? One thing is certain, in the end Duke Nukem Forever is a case of 'be careful what you wish for.'
SOPA/PROTECT IP Verses The Let's Play Community9 of 12There is an old says that goes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and while it is a bit of a cop-out to say that both sides of the current debate about internet regulation suffer from confidence born partially of ignorance. While there is a legitimate debate on the effects that internet piracy has on creative output, it's the tendency of all involved to hit the panic button with both hands whenever the topic of how to curb it comes up.
One particular part of the new legislation has caught the ire of a community of gamers who record their playthoughs and upload them to video sharing sights like YouTube along with commentary on their gameplay. Colloquially known as Let's Play videos, their creators feel unduly targeted for their use of copyrighted material for what they claim as non-financial gain. They and other groups who feel that these potential laws are unjust are giving themselves a crash course in civics and organization to halt the effort, one that has begun to change minds. One truth at least has emerged, that no one can afford to be disengaged from a political process that has always and will continue to impact all of our daily lives.
Sony Network Outage10 of 12For 23 days this spring the Sony PlayStation Network was down, the result of a hacking effort that exposed the account information of 77 million users, exposing them to both financial and identity theft. Almost as bad as the criminal intrusion itself was how Sony reacted to the situation. First criticized for being slow to react to the problem, Sony then broke several promises to get their system back up and running within a short time-frame. Compounding the issue was the revelation on how (relatively) simple it was to infiltrate their network, which brought the complaint attention from government bodies taking them to task for not being more careful with their data.
The Year Of The Threequel11 of 12As documented in September, the year 2011 saw the release of over a dozen games that were the third entries in their respective franchises. From cult favorites like F.E.A.R. 3 to blockbusters like Uncharted 3, a lot of trilogies were competed in the past year. Marvel vs. Capcom even had two third games come out in the same twelve month period.
While there is always the possibility that people can perceive patterns where there are none, the sheer volume of number threes this past year was worth noting. Developing new intellectual properties is expensive, difficult work and therefore it is a lot easier to sell a sequel, especially if a developer has planned a trilogy to begin with. The demand that gamers place on developers to let them return to their favorite worlds make the choice to go to number three instead of trying something new the smart move as well.
This one doesn't end here, either. In 2012 we will see Mass Effect 3, Max Payne 3, BioShock Infinite (the third of that series), Diablo 3 and more threequels continuing to take up gamers time and money.
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