In 2009, I first came to learn of the so-called “Mayan Phenomena” – oh wait, we’ve already gone through that all. Did we mention that the proclaimed Doomsday was a big time fail of epic bro-portions, homie? Because it was. Just like Emmerich’s film of the same name (and no, this isn’t the last time we’ll be making fun of it). However, the events that defined 2012 are still very fresh and what’s more, they’ll continue affecting us well into the new year of glorious 2013. In part 2, we’ll be looking at some of the major bummers that affected industry employees, some high profile resignations that came out of nowhere, what happens when rumours go out of control and of course, the rise of F2P.
As awesome a year as it was for gaming, with new entries like The Walking Dead and Dishonored getting their fair share of acclaim, it was also a year of tumultuous instability. Many studios closed down or laid off a number of employees. Profit forecasts were heavily readjusted in light of recent successes and failures. Developers like THQ, Funcom, Rockstar Vancouver, Electronic Arts, PopCap and more all experienced some form of downsizing, bankruptcy or closure.
Though priced as a multi-billion dollar enterprise to compete with Hollywood, it’s never stated enough just how unstable and difficult it is to work in the gaming industry. The path to originality via the mainstream AAA titles has slowly been snuffed out, as companies stick to their yearly sequels in hopes of earning mass profits. While it worked for others like Ubisoft – Assassin’s Creed 3 was their biggest software launch in the company’s history – some like Activision saw warning signs that Call of Duty was beginning to wane, as reports of decreasing year to year sales forecasts for Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 came in.
Either way, the gaming industry hasn’t seen a stormy time like this in a while, and either the blockbuster bubble will burst in the coming years or grow even larger as developers struggle to outdo their previous efforts with the next generation.
Probably Cancelled (But Not Really) AAA Games (Hopefully) in Development (Maybe)
This one was just hilarious and started innocently enough. Everyone knows that Square Enix has been devoting a large amount of time and resources to Final Fantasy XIII (besides certain people developing unhealthy obsessions with its protagonist Lightning) and Final Fantasy XIV. This was evidenced in the announcement of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and Square’s desire to completely revamp FFXIV from the ground up with A Realm Reborn.
Combined with the lack of information, it fueled a rumour that Tetsuya Nomura’s Final Fantasy Versus XIII had been cancelled. The rumours also stated that many aspects of the game were reused in other titles like FFXIV. It spread like wildfire and there were outcries from gamers everywhere over Square’s incessant delaying of anticipated titles and fostering of unwanted properties. However, the rumour was quickly quelled as Square Enix announced that Final Fantasy Versus XIII was indeed alive and well. Nomura has promised some new information in 2013 but again, it’s “wait and watch”.
But then, it was already too late and people were beginning to ask themselves: What other big titles had been promised and showed no information for a long time? Sony Computer Entertainment’s The Last Guardian, developed by Team ICO, was immediately suspected. Thankfully, Sony quickly took the opportunity to announce that the game was indeed alive and well despite difficulties and resignations of key team members. This brings us to our next point…
They weren’t fired. They just left. Okay, some of them had reasons like Bioware founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk who left the company following the controversy over Mass Effect 3’s ending (which deserves its own bullet point for the shit storms it started). It was later revealed that Star Wars: The Old Republic had been floundering on release, and that the game’s subsequent transfer to a free to play medium cost the publisher $200 million USD in initial investment – no small amount of scratch.
Then there’s Peter Molyneux who left his studio of 15 years Lionhead (its first game Black and White began production in late 1997) to start his own development team 22 Cans and crowd-fund his reinvention of the God game genre.
But some choices were straight out of left field like Cliff Bleszinski who left Epic Games. Bleszinski hasn’t been unhappy there, and along with the development and licensing of Unreal Engine technology, is the reason the company is on the AAA map with the famed Gears of War series. Then again, Cliffy has been bouncing around the industry since he was a teenager, so the time to take a well deserved break finally arrived.
Heck, he even offered at one point to help Capcom “fix” Resident Evil. After the so-so success of Resident Evil 6 (and the merciless bashing that critics, including one of us, gave the game), you’d think they’d have signed him to a multi-million dollar, 5 year contract by now.
Free to Play Rises
Free to play has been around for a while but it was known by a different name: freeware games. Those were the days when portals existed purely for “amateur” developers to show off their titles that gamers could download and play, completely for free. The market for those titles wasn’t hot – even Eutechnyx’s Auto Car Revolution was still relatively young in 2011 – until Snowblind figured a decent way to monetize it with Tribes: Ascend.
The concept: Give every gamer the full game, no charge, with all features included. However, for those who wanted to gain progression at a much quicker rate – and pick up some awesomely unique doodads along the way – offer a reasonably priced package.
The formula worked and has since drawn the attention of major publishers like Electronic Arts. It announced that Command & Conquer Generals 2 would now be a free to play online title simply referred to as Command & Conquer. On top of that, it was also announced that Cryptic Studios – now part of Bioware – would also be working on a new free to play MMO. Then there was Star Wars: The Old Republic, and suddenly, it seems like every new game out there is aiming to incorporate free to play. Even Disney Interactive is looking to get into the act, of all people.
One of the dark horses of this formula is Crytek’s Warface, which has been operating exclusively in Russia since (Date) with (number) million users and will be released to North American and European consumers in 2013.
In part 3, we’ll wrap things up for our events from 2012 leading into 2013. Stay tuned.