As our Game of the Year season draws to a close, it's time to look ahead to 2015. Over the next few days we'll announce our Most Anticipated Game of 2015 and I'll deliver my year in review as well as a look ahead to the coming months. But before that happens, here are five things that sucked in 2014 that we'd like to see left behind as we move into the New Year.
I'll get onto Microsoft and Sony in a minute, but let's just deal with the obvious to begin with. Lizard Squad promised they'd take down Xbox LIVE and the PSN at Christmas and they did just tat. Why? Well, mainly just because they could. Anonymity plus The Internet equals dickish behaviour. Castigate Sony and Microsoft all you want, boycott their products and call on others to do the same if you feel strongly about it, but deliberately taking down online services enjoyed by millions just for a brief little power trip is just... ugh... grow up.
As for Microsoft and Sony, how about investing in some security? How about realising that people pay money for these services and expect them to be robust? This isn't an isolated incident, and it certainly didn't come out of the blue, so as much as I feel for those people scrambling about on Christmas Day trying desperately to get things back in working order, I find it hard to believe that it was so very easy to take down these services. Consumers were calling on Microsoft and Sony for compensation and they're right to do so. The time for making excuses for digital premium services is over, which brings me onto...
Broken games -- the release-now-fix-later mentality
Let's call this the Ubisoft Method, although it's important to note that they were not the only culprits this year, and let us not forget that it was the busted hangover from Battlefield 4's abject failure that kicked this year off. The Ubisoft Method is what happens when suits run your calendar. Pre-order culture has delivered an environment where financial speculation is conducted months, possibly even years in advance. Budgets are put in place way ahead of time, and that makes delays costly. So games don't miss their release dates, publishers just release them broken and hope for the best, figuring that patches can be applied once people have already bought the games in question.
Unfortunately, thanks to the eagerness of a consumer base in utter thrall to said pre-order culture, it's a tactic that works. It needs to stop.
Consumers are not cattle to be herded, and something will give if publishers continue to treat their fanbase with such contempt. There's simply no excuse for it any more. Early access programmes allow for clear communication, it's never been easier to do alpha and beta testing on consoles. If that means companies must either plan for increased testing and QA, so be it. If that means having the flexibility to delay, then that is what must happen. Treating your customers like ignorant muppets must become a thing of the past.
Microtransactions in full-price games
There's no excuse for this. We've said it before -- if you're putting microtransactions into your full-price games, particularly those pertaining to in-game currencies, you are admitting that you've botched the balancing in your game. You are delivering a message that admits there are elements to your game that could be better, that the quality of the experience over time leaves something to be desired. You are saying that people might want to pay to skip over parts of your game. You are digging a grave for premium game design.
You are indefensible.
Note, however, the qualifier of "full-price" games. Microtransactions aren't inherently evil. Booster XP packs can be a good thing to introduce several months after launch, to help new players buying in at that point to get up to speed. Games that offer choice in how much or how little content you buy into with diverse progressive price points could well take advantage of microtransactions. The point is to tailor such things to the game in question. Simply slapping premium, paywalled items and features into your game won't work.
Too many remasters and not enough ambition
Thank God for indie games and the PC market. There's been precious little to really, really shout about on the new-gen consoles, and part of that has been down to the safe decision to repackage a bunch of old games (some of them not even a year out of the gates) for the new generation. It doesn't look like it'll stop, either, with Devil May Cry 4, DmC, Ultra Street Fighter 4, Resident Evil all set for next year. Then there are the rumours of Saints Row 4, Dark Souls 2, and Borderlands all getting a spit and polish too.
These are good games, some of them great games, but no-one really bought a new-gen console to play last-gen games did they?
From a financial perspective it makes sense, but I don't care about bottom lines, I care about games. I want to see new, exciting, innovative experiences that really take advantage of the new consoles' benchmarks in power and performance. Aside, perhaps, from Dragon Age: Inquisition, Shadow of Mordor, and maybe, maybe Alien: Isolation, I can't think of any other games that have really done that, off of the top of my head, and that's disappointing. Here's hoping that in 2015, we see the fruits of some serious time spent with the new consoles, and new titles that really take things to another level.
The Gamergate fiasco has revealed a number of things. One is that games media needs to change, and is changing. We're seeing this already happen across games sites, media networks, and through into YouTube and vlogger coverage too. Disclosure and communication are words that people are taking very seriously now, and that's a good thing.
But when I say Gamergate needs to be left behind, I'm talking about the toxic hashtag itself. I'm talking about the cyclical arguments, the cyber bullying, the harassment of developers and industry figures (most of them women), the lack of empathy. I'm talking about all of the negativity and childish mud-slinging passing for argument that managed to turn the clocks back in the eyes of the mainstream media and make this industry look as though every derogatory 90s stereotype was bang on.
It's up to everyone to do this. It means not pandering to the lowest common denominator. It means having a little respect throughout the industry. It means remembering that opinions are not gospel, that people won't agree, and thatand that communication is key. It means being free to identify however you want to, and realising that games are for everyone even if not everyone would necessarily identify themselves as "gamers", and that for those who do, such identification is important and valid and personal.
It also means remembering that games are inclusive and abundant and awesome. If we get the opportunity to continue on into 2015, we'll look to up our game in reminding people of that through more positive critical pieces. It strikes me that we don't necessarily celebrate as much as we should in this industry, and that pointing out things done extremely well is just as important, if not more so, than ripping a game when it's done something wrong.
What dark things would you like to see left behind as we move into 2015? Let us know in the comments.