So December is upon us and with it the season of holidays, consumer frenzy, rain (if you are in the UK), and most of all … making lists! Arbitrary and I have sat down together to figure out some of the main games, other media, online and news events this year that most caught our eye. Some of these are a ‘best of’ and some are more ‘wtf were they thinking.’
We hope you enjoy the lists, that they bring back some good memories, and we do not apologise for the UK bias.
2012 in Gaming
It’s been a heck of a year for the computer games industry. We have seen big studios flounder or fall and profit warnings all over the place, yet at the same time game sales have been breaking records. Diablo 3 and CoDBLOPS2 (yeah I just like writing codblops) have led the charge, although neither appear on anyone’s “best of” lists this year. “Expectations” has been a key word – games have met or failed expectations, profits have met or (more often) failed expectations, MMO payment models have met or (oh boy have they ever) failed expectations.
SWTOR announced a switch from a subscription model to F2P within 6 months of release, The Secret World switched to a B2P model in less time than that. Does it mean subscriptions are dead? Well no, EVE recently announced increasing sub numbers and Mists of Pandaria, the 2012 WoW expansion, by all accounts is doing well. F2P with cash shops is still a very popular model but there have been inklings that all is not well in the world of Turbine, whose vaunted F2P conversions were in the forefront of the industry (with respect to converting MMO monetization, not F2P in general).
The Wii U is the first of the next gen consoles to see release, and we still have no indication of what Microsoft or Sony are planning to do which means that 2013 is likely to see the PS3 and xbox continue into their older years, falling further and further behind PCs technically and way behind mobile devices in convenience.
Lived Up to Expectations
In a gaming industry increasingly defined by hype, living up to expectations is actually like listing our games of the year.
- Journey. Does exactly what I expected it to, provided an immersive flow-ful gaming experience with amazing (and award nominated) soundtrack. It’s not a long game, clocking in at about 3 hours for my first play through. But it was a good 3 hours.
- SWTOR. My expectation was for a Bioware style of storytelling with a lot of MMO influence from WoW, which is pretty much what I got. Arb and I both enjoyed our time with SWTOR. You could argue that our expectations were met because we filtered out a lot of the hype, compared with Journey where everything the devs said about it pre-release was about spot on.
- Guild Wars 2. It may not be the saviour of MMOs/ the world that was promised, but Arenanet have made good on their gorgeous new B2P MMO with its expansive world, dynamic events, server based WvW PvP and rich world events. We are still enjoying it quite a lot.
- Torchlight 2. If you were expecting a sequel to Torchlight with open world, multiplayer, more pets, and more classes then you’ll find this one meets your expectations too. We like the multiplayer (and the ferret pet – Arb)
- Mists of Pandaria. Met expectations (and may have exceeded them) because expectations weren’t all that high. But I’m enjoying WoW more than ever at the moment, so props to Blizzard for delivering a solid and fun new expansion for an aging game.
Didn’t Quite Live Up to Expectations, But Only Just
- Diablo 3. Blizzard had terrible issues with this game on release, because of server downtime, the impact of the auction house on the gameplay, bonkers story, various balance issues and so on. They still haven’t released a PvP arena for the game. But for all that, Arb and I both had fun playing through it. I also love the crafter NPCs and companions (except the sorceress who is annoying). Will buy any expansions, no doubt.
Year of the Zombie
We like zombies. And so do other game designers.
- The Walking Dead. The surprise winner of many people’s game of the year, Telltale Games TV/comics tie-in RPG/ adventure has won a lot of people’s hearts (and then eaten them.)
- The Walking Dead TV show also went from strength to strength in its third season, with the introduction of some fan favourite characters and a better pace than season 2. The comics reached and went past issue no. 100 which coincided with Comic Con and the series really has done amazingly well in all mediums.
- Rakghouls! For our money, the best MMO event this year was the SWTOR Rakghoul invasion. I wrote about this at the time and you can see how thrilled I was with the whole thing. There were quests, collections, dailies, new instances, cosmetics, lore, and the infamous plague parties on the fleet. (PLAGUE PARTIES – my fave bit of emergent play this year – Arb)
- Zombies, Run. Is it a game? Is it a keep fit app? Is it all about zombies? Yes yes yes.
- Blood of the Zombies. OK, it’s a fighting fantasy game book and not a computer game, but it’s a long time since Ian Livingstone wrote a FF book and this years’ effort is … zombie themed! There is also a mobile version so it’s almost a computer game.
This has been a theme in some of our favourite games of the year, most notably The Walking Dead but I didn’t want to list that twice in two successive lists.
- SWTOR. Ah the notorious fourth pillar didn’t really help the Old Republic Star Wars game establish itself in the MMO scene as Bioware had hoped. But for all that, there was some good quality writing and storytelling in the levelling game. We did enjoy our Imperial Agent and Sith Warrior respectively.
- Knights of the Old Republic 2. Was in the Steam Sale for the first time ever, and I Iove it. Is it flawed? Sure, it’s an older game and awkward in places, but the storytelling is great.
- Mists of Pandaria. More of a storytelling emphasis than Blizzard had in Cataclysm and it seems to have paid off. I’m certainly enjoying the story and lore at the moment.
- Mass Effect 3. Well who could forget the mass outcry at the ending to ME3? It was loud enough and strident enough for Bioware to release a free patch with an alternate/updated ending.
We’re both mostly PC gamers, but occasionally mobile games catch one of our eyes.
- Angry Birds Star Wars
- Draw Something
- Curiosity. More of an experiment than a game, and one with a flaky start. (Got boring extremely quickly – Arb)
Verily, 2012 has been the year that crowdsourced funding for games went big and several kickstarter gaming projects raised over $1m. And perhaps that trend has already peaked and backers/ prospective players are deciding they prefer to buy games more conventionally. Still, these are some of the names that caught our eyes.
- Elite. Well, it’s Elite isn’t it, a new version of the feted classic space flightsim/trader/ dogfighter. Except that this version is also going to be more MMO/sandboxy. Oh and the studio recently laid some people off. In any case, this kickstarter has raised about 2/3 of it’s $1.25m goal and finishes on Jan 4th.
- Star Citizen. Another sandboxy space fightsim/ trading/ MMOish type of prospect, this time a successor to Freelancer. And this one has been rather more successful at the fundraising. Unfortunately it has attracted the attention of the EVE crowd who will probably make other players regret the MMO aspects.
- Doublefine Adventure. The project that kicked off the gaming kickstarter bandwagon, raising $4m on an initial target of $400k. So there are a lot of people out there who rather like the idea of another adventure game along the lines of the legendary Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, etc which Tim Schafer previously designed. And I’m one of them!
- Project Eternity. In what may seem like a trend, Obsidian sought backing from kickstarter for a big party based isometric RPG along the lines of Baldurs Gate, Planescape: Torment et al, and of course they have those designers (Chris Avellone, Tim Cain, Josh Sawyer) on board. And kickstarter said “yay, let us give you all our money so that you can make something that might be a bit like Planescape!” and they raised about three and a half times their initial goal of $1.1m.
- Godus. A successor to god games (sorry, I mean “delightful reinvention of the god game”) such as Black and White and Populous, Peter Molyneux has sought the blessing of kickstarter for his new project. Currently has raised £367k out of a target of £450k with three days to go. So if you want to see this one, give them some money. They have one backing tier just for students where one of the rewards is that Peter will go give a talk at that university, and also they’re offered access to a forum where they can ask about career advice (in the gaming industry I assume) and get feedback on their own games which I thought was quite interesting.
- Old School RPG. A kickstarter which was withdrawn (but would have failed to meet targets) from industry vets (Brenda Braithwaite and Tom Hall and incidentally stories seem to switch between her single and married surname a lot so I’ve no idea which she prefers) which just had a badly thought out and not very compelling pitch. An example of why you need to get your ducks in a row before you jump on the bandwagon and other metaphors. Plus there were a lot of things to dislike about old school RPGS which were never going to be as appealing as “a new freelancer”, “a new day of the tentacle” or “a new planescape” which were genuinely beloved by many gamers.
Sometimes the predictions are way out, the finance guys are on interesting drugs, or the management just can’t bring a game in on time and to budget and decided not to tell anyone in advance. It’s terrifically sad for any industry pros caught up in the inevitable wave of redundancies that follow this kind of failure.
- 38 Studios/ Curt Schilling. What’s to say, they made a game that was quite warmly received and would have been viewed as a success if they hadn’t predicted stupid high sales (and possibly other mismanagement along the way). And then the whole thing turned into a crashing bankruptcy disaster which involved the State of Rhode Island, some pretty dreadful treatment of staff, and we’ve been subjected to occasional videos of their prospective MMO which will never exist, because it’s very easy to talk up the amazingness of the game that no one will ever get to actually play.
- SWTOR. Most expensive MMO of all time, allegedly. The sales figures might have been viewed as a success if they hadn’t a) spent so much on it in the first place and b) pitched it as being a rival to WoW – I’m not sure what the long term traction would have been (ie. how long the average player sticks with it) but there’s no reason to think it would not have been at least as good as the industry average (which used to be about 6 months, and is probably less now). I really like a lot of things about the game and recommend it as a F2P offering, but … yeah… switching to F2P so soon makes this a financial fiasco. Also likely the reason why the Bioware doctors retired this year.
- Popcap layoffs. Financial fiasco or just insensitive timing? Popcap (now owned by EA) announced a successor to Plants vs Zombies this year, which would normally have featured in the ‘year of the zombies list’ if they hadn’t laid off a bunch of people the day after the announcement.
- Zynga. This would be a pure schadenfreude entry if not for the employees who got caught in the fallout. This is quite a good rant about the causes of Zynga’s plummeting stock price. The company also lost a lot of senior staff, who jumped ship. But now they’re getting into online gambling (aka real money gaming) because that’s not sleazy at all.
Best Games Bought in Steam Sales
- The Walking Dead.
- Crusader Kings 2. I am still so rubbish at this game, but it is so entertaining even if you just play it as a medieval soap opera and focus on marrying your family members off and seeing what shenanigans they get up to. And that’s even before you try it with the Game of Thrones patch. The game is a marvel.
- KOTOR 2. Bargain for any RPG fans. I’d only ever heard about how buggy and unfinished this game was. But with the completed content patch, it’s actually fairly amazing in many ways.
Popular Game that isn’t a Shooter, Shock!
- FIFA 13. In the news this year because it sold 1 million copies /in the UK/ in its first week, a feat which had previously only been achieved by Call of Duty games. I keep hearing good things about it. But it’s also good to know that the sought after AAA audience is there for non FPS. Bit of good news for EA amongst the wreckage.
Not Played Yet
A special category for games that are coming to my house over Xmas. So they caught my eye (or my partner’s) enough to be on the requested gift list. Arb has also convinced me to pick up The Walking Dead if it’s in the Steam Sale again.
- Dragon’s Dogma
- The Secret World (Arb)
Cash Shop Shenanigans
- LOTRO Hobby Horse. $50 for a mount which looks like a hobby horse in a game based on Middle Earth. You’re taking the piss, right? Well, said hobby horse was withdrawn from the test server shop after being less than well received.
- GW2 Halloween Holiday Boxes. The plague of ‘boxes with random items inside’ in cash shops is with us to stay, because some people really enjoy buying them in the hope of getting something rare/ cool. Arenanet made the chances of getting something cool rather too rare in their Halloween Event, so that would be a 0.2% chance per box of getting a fun holiday themed cosmetic armour/weapon skin. Enjoy your $1.50 per box lottery.
- SWTOR Hotbars. The SWTOR F2P offering has changed somewhat from the initial proposed version, which allowed F2P players to access only 2 hotbars unless they paid to unlock more. They also pioneered paying to be able to hide your hat, which is not the sort of thing usually sold in cash shops. Marks for innovation, I guess. It sounds a lot less painful now.
Games we are looking forwards to
For the first time in many years, there are no MMOs on this list. (Maybe Ultima Forever counts.)
- Dragon Age 3.
- Walking Dead Season 2.
- Ultima Forever.
Hardware of Note
All tablets, all the time.
- iPad Mini. Finally, a smaller factor iPad. Would this have happened if Steve Jobs had been alive and does it matter, and should iPad lovers wait for the next version with the inevitable retina screen?
- Nexus 7. I ❤ my Nexus.
This is a catch all for some of our favourite films, TV, theatre etc of the year. No books on this list, although at least one (Hilary Mantel’s Bringing Up the Bodies) is expected in my house this Xmas.
- Favourite Films: Argo, Looper, Skyfall, Avengers. Arb and I both agreed that Argo was the unexpected winner here. I have heard great things about Lincoln and have long been a fan of Daniel Day Lewis but it hasn’t been released in the UK yet so that’s why it’s not on the list. Looper probably engendered the best rants because fun as it was, there are Plot Holes.
- Prometheus. A mixed bag, this film. There were some great parts and amazing visuals, but at the end of the day, it’s an incoherent mess. It did inspire me to see Laurence of Arabia, which is phenomenal, so there is that.
- Olympic Opening Ceremony. I was expecting to be either bored or excruciatingly embarrassed but Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was bonkers (in the right way), entertaining, and made us all proud to be British. I don’t think anyone was actually expecting that.
- The Hollow Crown. A set of three BBC Shakespeare productions which Arb and I both thought were great. And not just because of the monkey in Richard II (and Ben Whishaw – Arb!) or Tom Hiddleston dressed only in a towel in Henry IV Part 2.
- Hebburn (a personal one for me here, because I live in Hebburn and now there’s a sitcom based here and people have heard of the place I live! Also, it’s quite sweetly entertaining – Arb)
- The Great British Bakeoff. This will sound weird to non-Brits but this TV show has been a huge hit over here. It’s mild mannered, polite, and features nice people making cakes. And suddenly everyone wants to get baking. Including us. Arb and I posted up some of our efforts on a tumblr. ( We were trying to bake the same things that the GBBO contestants were baking each week, until they started doing challenges that were either hard or were things we didn’t really want to eat.) Note: even our failures tasted nice.
- Jesus Christ Superstar. Stadium tour. (Not as good as some of the great productions of JCS, but Tim Minchin as Judas made it worth the trip – Arb)
- Richard III. I saw this version with Mark Rylance at The Globe but it’s now moved to The Apollo if any Shakespeare fans in London want to catch it. Very good production, with one of the great UK stage actors.
- English Electric Part 1, by Big Big Train. I asked my partner to nominate his Prog Album of the Year, and this was it. (You can listen to some samples here.)
- Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, live on stage. A production bringing together all the living members of the original radio shows and getting them to retell the story online, with guests appearing as The Book. It’s happening again next year.
Stories, events or other online stuff that caught our eyes this year.
- Reddit. We’ve seen reddit feature much more strongly this year for gaming communities, either because it has been used to host ‘ask me anything’ live Q&A events, or effectively functioned as a GW2 player forum before Arenanet put up their own official forums. The big reddit event of the year was the Q&A session that Obama did there.
- Reddit sleaze. The second biggest reddit event of the year was the story about sleazy creepshots mod Violentacrez being ‘outed’ in real life via a Gawker article.
- GW2 talk about bannings on reddit. A highpoint of the year was the discussion on reddit where GW2 GMs discussed with players why they had been banned. And surprise, the vast majority had been banned due to acting like idiots.
- #1reasonwhy. Discussions about women and/ or sexism in gaming have been really coming to the forefront this year. The #1reasonwhy twitter hashtag made it into the mainstream media.
- Anita Sarkeesian. Attracted an online hate campaign for the heinous crime of setting up a kickstarter to fund her making a video about sexism in gaming.
- Felicia Day. Was called a ‘glorified booth babe’ by Destructoid writer Ryan Perez, among other unprovoked jerkish comments. He got fired in the fallout. It’s pretty darned cheeky (not to mention rude) for an unknown writer to call anyone out for ‘does X provide anything useful to this industry’ unless X is an industry analyst in which case we all wonder that. Also introduced me to the concept of ‘the felicia day moment’ which is when someone from a minority who also has huge geek cred steps into a geek related argument and cuts it dead.
- Aisha Tyler. Yeah, it’s been a year in which geeky women who also happen to be pretty and/or on TV have been accused of being ‘fake geek girls’ FOR NO REASON. Aisha (who is now one of my heroes, although I hadn’t heard of her before) responded by posting about her geek credentials in a facebook poem/ rant of wonderousness.
- Girlfriend mode. The Borderlands 2 devs got into hot water when it came out that they had been calling their easy mode companion ‘girlfriend mode’ because everyone knows that women (esp. girlfriends) are rubbish at games and need an easy mode to get them to play. Right? It might not have been a big deal in itself but throwing this into the powderkeg of sexism in gaming that has been going on this year was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. It doesn’t seem to have harmed the game’s reception though.
- Mittani cops a 30 day ban from EVE. In a game that is infamous for how horrible its players can be to each other, The Mittani (leader of one of the biggest corps in the game) got banned for 30 days after he encouraged corps mates to harass another depressed player and said “Incidentally, if you want to make the guy kill himself, his [in-game] name is [REDACTED]”. What a colossal tit.
- IWillDominate banned from League of Legends. This guy copped a permanent ban from Riot Games for “persistent toxic behaviour.” This will have had more effect on him than the above, because aside from the ban being permanent, he was also a pro player. Well, that’s his career down the pan. And yay say we all.
- PInterest. Became the fastest site in history to break the 10 million user mark in January 2012. Opened to everyone without needing an invitation in August. Has become part of the social media landscape.
- Instagram Policy Change. This is a very recent story, included because it’s going to be big and also is a pretty blatent ‘all your photos belong to us’ grab. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, is changing policy in a way that lets them use your photos for adverts without your permission or any payments.
- Nate Silver and the US Election. Silver was one of the most successful predictors of the election, correctly predicting the results of all 50 states. Obama won, in case you’ve been hiding in a cave and didn’t know.
- Trump vs Sugar on twitter. I like the title mogulgeddon for this twitter spat, it amused both of us at least.
Anarchy in the UK
- Omnishambles. Coined to describe the arcane and wildly incompetent workings of our current government, omnishambles is our word of the year.
- UK Uncut. One of the big mass social media/ activist movements this year has been UK Uncut’s activism about getting large businesses to pay their taxes. One of the reasons that they have been so successful is that they have largely avoided political bias – you don’t need to vote Labour to think that Vodafone should pay tax.
- Jimmy Savile, child molester. Big story over here, because it touches on aspects of 60s/70s culture, the BBC, child abuse, popular TV children’s presenters and basically involves the story breaking that Savile had molested children on a truly massive scale. He’s dead, so will never be brought to justice. Hopefully his victims can find some peace and institutions that stood by and didn’t protect children in their care can do better in future.
- Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Yay for an extra bank holiday/ day off work.
- Olympic Coverage. The BBC did an absolutely stellar job of covering the home Olympics, where viewers in the UK could select from multiple different streams and watch just about any sport that was going on, with commentary that was mostly really great apart from a few slips. The #NBCFail hashtag showed on twitter around complaints about how poor the coverage that American viewers were getting into comparison was. And it is pretty tragic that NBC failed to show any of the Paralympics, which was an incredible, phenomenal success.
- Jessica Ennis. Gold medal winner in Heptathlon, but mostly in this list because the Daily Mail (aka Daily Fail) had dissed the opening ceremony for its diversity, opining that it would be hard to find a educated middle class family with a black dad and white mum as shown in the dramatics. To which more forward thinking publications, and anyone with a sense of humour, responded with pictures of Jessica Ennis and her parents. Then of course, the Mail had to deal with Mo Farah (a Black Muslim who immigrated from Somalia as a child) becoming a national hero. Sucks to be a hater.
- Chipgate and the Olympic Brand Police – it came to light that the contract for caterers for the Olympic stadiums weren’t allowed to use chips unless they were a. McDonalds who had the rights to the word, or b. selling fish & chips (a cultural British icon that escaped the McDonalds clause). There was a bit of a stir and outrage about it all, McDonalds relented, even though they may not have asked for the clause in the first place. It was just one the LOCOG (London Olympic organisers) brand police silly stories of the summer, where shops/libraries/etc weren’t allowed to use all sorts of words relating to the games in promotions.
- Waitrose social media fail. Poor Waitrose (they’re an upmarket supermarket), all they did was try to engage people on twitter with a contest to say “I shop at Waitrose because ….” and didn’t quite expect that people would take the piss. I love this story because one of the twitter users who all the papers was quoting is a friend of mine. Now that’s fame.