When you look back on games 2016 what will define the year for you? What will have an impact on the gaming communities in 2017 and beyond. In this end of year list I try to re-visit these moments and more:
- Serialised Games and Hitman: At the beginning of 2016 the thought of an episodic version of Hitman didn’t sound too great. And by the end of year, here we all are, stunned by how good season 1 was, and how masterfully the serialised structure worked for this game. 2016 had a good few games that just came out of nowhere and surprised us with their quality and Hitman was one. Hopefully more games will look to it and think about how episodic releases can be used. Not that other games haven’t previously, but this is the first non-narrative game I can think of that has really pulled this format off.
- Palmer Luckey- Luckey, Luckey, Luckey. How far you fell. From being the boy genius poster child of VR to being disappeared by his own company, Palmer’s reputation really took a dive in 2016. After a rocky launch of the Oculus Rift, Luckey was sued by Zenimax for stealing their VR work. So with doubts cast over Palmer’s status as the sole inventor of the headset, it then emerged he had funded pro-Trump trolls. Trolls with links to white supremacists. This doesn’t make the list just because of ‘internet drama’. The gaming community needs to face up to the sections within it (rising out of GamerGate) that are part of the so called ‘alt right’ (fascists and racists). For now Palmer Luckey has been hidden away by his company, but I don’t think this chapter is closed yet.
- No Man’s Sky – I don’t even know where to begin with NMS. An indie game, propelled into the spotlight that created the mother of all hype trains. Sadly, for many fans, the game did not deliver on its pre-release promises, leading to hatred being directed towards Hello Games and its team of creators. The developers are working on fixing the game, with the Foundation patch appearing recently, so hopefully that bodes well for the future quality of NMS. However the hype and disappointment will be something that sticks in gamer’s memories of 2016, rather than the game itself, and many of us will uncomfortably recollect the angry, and extreme, reaction of ex-fans.
- Pre-Release Hype – A conversation that emerged out of the No Man’s Sky debacle. While Hello Games were cleared of false advertising by the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency, there have been many accusations that Sean Murray lied about the features the game would have. However, I do think it’s worth considering pre-release advertising and hype in a wider setting. These days games are now announced far in advance, sometimes years even before they will hit consoles. This leaves a lot of time to build hype, but also a lot of time in which the game could change drastically, or even be cancelled. It’s also a lot of time for speculation and impatience from fans and media. I hope in future game publishers may consider waiting a little longer before announcing a new game to the public.
- Overwatch – So Overwatch was A Thing. More than that it was, and is, a Huge Thing, a phenomenon and will probably continue to be in 2017. From the incredible shorts that Blizzard created for each character, the Sombra ARG, in game seasonal events, professional tournaments,Tracer being a wlw, fan art and shipping… Blizzard and Overwatch were hardly out of game news and conversations. Even those who don’t like Overwatch couldn’t avoid it. It will be interesting to see if the enthusiasm continues through next year, but even if it fades out, 2016 was the year of Overwatch.
- Politics in AAAs – Games, now a big budget business and not a niche sub-culture, aren’t much different to other mass media in its handling of the political. Hollywood films, prime time TV and AAA games all shy away from making strong, overt political messages. And when they do turn to the political, it’s to deliver a watered down manifesto that sounds good but ultimately says nothing. Dues Ex was an example of this, with its meaningless battlecry of “Aug Lives Matter”, and everything was as expected. Then Watchdogs 2 and Mafia III came along and blew all expectations out the water. Here are two AAA games, one of which serves to save a franchise, that are explicitly and unapologetically political. Both games featured a black protagonist and discussed and depicted issues of race. Hopefully this will show big name developers and publishers that audiences are not stupid or apathetic, and that a game can be honest and political and be successful. Here’s hoping for 2017.
- Doom – Now that the dust has cleared on 2016 I can say with confidence that Doom was probably the best game released that year. I loved Doom and I totally expected not to. But it wasn’t just me who was surprised by how good this game was – based on demos this reboot was expected to be a nightmare, and not in the good hell and demons kind of way. But it turned out to be a critical success that dominated game media and conversations in 2016.
- Post-release patches – Every game and its prequel gets patches now. And this can be a good thing – fixes to bugs and exploits, improvements, extra free content for online games, all good stuff. The ability to keep a game alive and evolving well past its release day is incredible – just look at GTA V and how active its online community still is as a good example of this. However, a major patch can completely change the game, like in No Man’s Sky’s Foundation patch and Final Fantasy XV’s Chapter 13 narrative patch. Someone who played these games on day 1 will get a completely different experience from someone who plays them now. Again, this does allows rushed games to be improved, never mind they should have been finished in the first place. But this poses questions for game archiving and for what shipping a game actually means. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about the implications of this, but only time will tell how the game industry evolves alongside the use of patches.
- Superhot – My mind was blown when I first heard about Superhot. It’s a good game, although maybe not a great one in my opinion. Once I got over the initial concept and aesthetics I wasn’t moved to buy it (so take my opinion on the game however you want). But I do think it will be one of the games that defines 2016, and I’m not surprised if in a few years time we see the influence of it on game developers.
So that’s it for my Game Conversations of 2016. Let me know what were your ups and downs, and what you think will rise back up from the ashes of 2016 to haunt us this year.