News Stories that Defined 2012
by Steve Watts, shacknews.com, Dec 28, 2012 1:00PM PST
2012 was a year of transition. Console generations lasted (at least) one more year, new funding and pricing models gained popularity, and we saw the increased connection between audiences and developers start to have significant impact on the creation process. When we look back, we may discover that this year set the tone for years to come.
Embattled publisher THQ has been in the red for a while, thanks largely to the failings of its uDraw tablet, but this year it came to a head. Amid a new president, a poor earnings call, and studio closures, the company admitted it was running short on funds and seeking new solutions. It only recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but the writing has been on the wall since the beginning of the year for the mid-tier publisher. Its properties are up for sale, and Ubisoft is reportedly among the interested parties.
Double Fine and the Kickstarter Revolution
The crowd-funding site Kickstarter has been in business since 2009, but this year received a huge boost of activity thanks to passionate gamers. Double Fine set a snowball rolling downhill by promising to make an adventure game that it couldn't find a traditional publisher to make. After that project's blowout success, it seemed every niche property and cult franchise found a revival through crowd-funding, many of them with the original creators on-board. So many projects have been presented that it's easy to forget we haven't seen the fruits of their labor, and it seems only a matter of time before a Kickstarter-gone-wrong tempers the excitement.
Mass Effect 3's Ending
Mass Effect was easily one of the biggest franchise names in this generation, a sprawling epic that enticed players with true authorship over their own story. But Mass Effect 3, the end of the trilogy, upset players more than any other in recent memory. The complaints were legion: logical gaps, inconsequential player choices, and straying too far from its sci-fi roots. Whatever the individual reasons, the community expressed its outrage vocally enough for developer BioWare to take notice. The company offered an "Extended Cut" ending that added more context to the finale, but left most of the core plot points intact. In capitulating to the outcry, BioWare set a whole new precedent for how fans and creators interact.
Diablo 3 Servers Overload
A sequel so many years in the making was sure to be burdened with high expectations, and Blizzard is known for keeping its games in development for a high level of polish. Longtime fans have issued some complaints toward the game for its various changes from the prior games, but whatever else could be said, its launch started the game off on the wrong foot. The game's servers were overloaded, a problem that a critical community was quick to blame on the always-on requirement. The problems were short-lived, but it set a sour tone.
38 Studios' Sudden Implosion
The studio founded by former baseball great Curt Schilling launched its first game this year, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. But the game's image was quickly overshadowed by its developer's financial difficulties. The game sought state funding in addition to its $75 million loan guarantee from Rhode Island, leading to a very public feud between Schilling and RI governor Lincoln Chafee. The state refused and the studio closed. The studio has been cleared of federal charges, but might still face some form of legal action. On the bright side, this gave way to a new Epic studio composed of the former Big Huge Games.
Sony buys Gaikai
In a bit of procedural industry news, Sony bought the cloud streaming game service Gaikai for a reported $380 million. Speculation immediately began that the company was planning to bring back PlayStation 2 games for sale via streaming, or laying the groundwork for the next generation. So far, Sony has played its plans for the service close to the vest, but with such a large investment we can be assured it will show up sooner or later.
The Old Republic goes F2P
At this time last year, BioWare's Star Wars themed MMO The Old Republic was just launching. But following a lackluster performance and company downsizing, BioWare started to show signs of impending change. It offered free play through extended triallevel 15 at E3, just six months from its launch. It finally gave up the ghost late in the year, now fully free-to-play with certain services and advantages for sale. The high-profile game's flame-out not only showed the inability to challenge World of Warcraft, but also exemplified the difficulty of subscription-based MMOs in general in the current market.
Vita and Wii U launch
The next leap forward of a console generation might not have launched this year, but two of the three major console hardware developers did put out new platforms regardless. Sony produced its Vita, which despite critical praise has been struggling to gain a sales foothold. Nintendo, meanwhile, tried its hand at HD gaming with the launch of the Wii U, which focuses itself on second screen functionality. Features like the digital marketplace and Miiverse show a bold step forward for the company, but time will tell if it can stand up to whatever Microsoft and Sony have in store for the future.
Steam Greenlight Gives Indies a New Tool
Steam is a powerful digital platform, and late in the year Valve decided to democratize the process of choosing its indie inclusions. Steam Greenlight allows users to vote on which games go up on the service, which has had the side-effect of requiring developers to up their marketing efforts in order to win the popularity contest. But after working out some kinks, the system has been working as intended and regularly updating with some new games for download.
The NRA takes on Video Games
Following a tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the national conversation turned toward how to stem the tide of gun violence. The National Rifle Association publicly implicated violent media in general, and video games in particular, as a factor in violence committed by and against young people. This has again sparked the topic of video game legislation, so despite a recent Supreme Court victory, we could be seeing the seeds of the industry's next legal hurdles.