December: Christmas, Hanukah, Hogmanay/New Year’s Eve. A time of celebration, of not working, of eating lots of food and arguing over Game of the Year. I’ve been consuming GOTY editorials this festive period like mince pies, and even made my own. What has struck me is that perhaps it’s worthwhile also considering the important gaming moments over the past 12 months, and the impacts and consequences they have had on the community. For a snapper title I’ve opted for Game Conversations of the Year 2016, but you get the point. Here are some of the releases, personalities, and events that have defined this year in gaming (imo).
- Virtual Reality – VR isn’t exclusively new to 2016, it’s an idea that has been around for a while. However 2016 is the year when it exploded as a real piece of gaming tech that has found a place in many homes around the world. Oculus, Vive and Sony all launched VR headsets – with the Playstation version coming in at a price point that sees the hardware becoming more accessible to everyday gamers (although still too pricey for this writer). For game developers and players alike, it’s an exciting new development, full of hope and promise. While there have been some really good games (so I’ve heard), we are only at the beginning of virtual reality’s journey and growth. Over the next few years we’ll really see what the tech can do, and find out if it will last longer than many of its gimmicky predecessors did. But while it’s only early days, the sheer amount of words and videos devoted to VR in 2016 cannot be ignored.
- Console Future – Virtual reality was not the only gaming hardware dominating our conversations this year. With the announcement and release of Playstation Slim and Pro, and Microsoft’s Xbox One S and Scorpio, the traditional model of games consoles seem to be changing. Instead of creating a whole new piece of tech, it looks like Sony and Microsoft are opting to upgrade and release new versions of existing consoles – this makes games consoles more alike to smart phones or computers. And these announcements have left us, both as the critic and the consumer, with a wide array of questions: Will this business model cost us more? Is it setting a precedent for the future? Will backward compatibility with older models continue? What does this mean for developer workload and innovation? What is 4k and do I really need it? As with VR, we won’t feel the full impact of this brave new world immediately, but it has definitely set us wondering (and talking).
- Pre-ordering – Who even pre-orders games anymore? You can buy them from inside your house and they start downloading straight away! Apparently, a lot of people still pre-order, much to my disbelief, and it seems to still be big business for publishers. Since this question kept occurring to me, overlapping with several other conversations this year, I turned to my friend P, who is a pre-ordering fanatic. He told me he likes the pre-order bonuses and patiently explained to me that a digital pre-order means the game will appear in your library at midnight on release day. Personally, I’m still confused. What if the game doesn’t live up to the hype? What if it’s delayed for a long time? These issues didn’t concern P, but they do concern me, not only in light of games like No Man’s Sky, Street Fighter, Final Fantasy,The Last Guardian etc. etc., but also because of Bethesda’s no early review policy and their habit of releasing buggy games like Dishonored 2, Skyrim etc. etc. I honestly think pre-orders are pretty much a scam and they genuinely concern me. I hope they disappear in 2017, but that seems overly optimistic.
- Pokemon Go – Whatever you thought of the Pokemon app that launched this summer, whether you even played it or not, you cannot deny that it was huge. For about a month. I don’t know if people still play it, I guess they must, but boy, was that A Thing. I don’t really have any conclusions about it – perhaps something about nostalgia of those who are of an age to remember Gen 1 fondly (like me). Maybe it shows us how Pokemon is still a franchise to be reckoned with, 20 something years after it first launched. Does it demonstrate the way new technology can create interactive and cheap gaming experiences that bring us all together? Or maybe it just shows how stupid we all are to not be able to put our phones down when driving or crossing roads. I don’t know. Whatever the outcome, Pokemon Go was a significant moment in the gaming year 2016.
- Youtube and Twitch – As platforms to share footage of yourself playing a game, Youtube and Twitch are not new to 2016. But their prominence in the gaming community doesn’t seem to be dwindling, so I reckon it’s worth devoting some space to them. Both platforms pose questions to the future of gaming – not only in terms of how they are played, but also how they are shared and how communities form around them. And they are many positives to these: people who can’t afford games, or who are unsure if they want to buy them, can watch others play them and experience these games through them. Others are tune in to their favourite Let’s Player or streamer because they like them, and with features like Twitch chat, can make them feel like they’re hanging out with friends. And although both sites are notorious for abusive comments, Twitch has recently introduced new mod bots to help make streaming more pleasant for women, trans or gender queer/neutral and PoC – these groups being the ones who get the most abuse on the site. Youtube, on the other hand, has been what the kids call “a trash fire” this year. We’ve seen scandals in the gaming world involving a lack of disclosure (whether it’s sponsored videos or the CSGO lotto shit fest) which have us questioning “big names” in YT. And some devs (notably That Dragon Cancer creators) have asked channels not to publish full Let’s Plays as it damages their sales. 2017 really needs to face up to the rising streamer community and ask itself a lot of questions, and fix a lot of shit, in order to preserve the good stuff.
I’ll leave it here for now but will continue my musings on the Game Conversations of 2017 later in the week. So far I’m thinking over hype, delayed games, Lucky Palmer, and post release patches as some of my topics. Let me know what you think some of the defining moments of 2016 were? What will we still be feeling the impacts of in 2017? And please, suggest some positive things – I can only think of all the things that went wrong…