Gaming Trends of 2011 and the Rise of 2012

Now that the year is almost over, it’s the traditional time to take a look back at what happened in the past 11 months. What were the trends shaped this year? Were there any to begin with?

The one trend this year was one that has been plaguing the industry for awhile (forever?) now. 2011 was a year of sequels running the show. Almost every AAA release, bar a very few, were new installments in longer, ongoing series, and with all likelihood far from the last ones in their respective franchises. Gears of War, Modern Warfare but also Dragon Age, Dead Space and others.

It seems this year that creativity—the creation of truly new IP is no longer really en vogue in the industry—especially since the studio developing one of the few new entries this year, Australia’s Team Bondi, was disbanded shortly after the release of the long awaited game.

Speaking of which, closing of studios that didn’t necessarily produce flat out poorly selling games could be noted as a new trend starting this year. Team Bondi, Bizarre Creations, and others, as an IGN article points out.

It’s a sad trend that it seems nowadays being a producer of well-but-not-as-well-as-Modern-Warfare selling games is enough to spell doom for those teams tied to the huge developers. Bizarre might have had a longer time since their last bona fide smash hit, but with their last games being released against Rockstar’s juggernaut title Red Dead Redemption (released in the same window as Bizarre’s racer Blur) and in the holiday deluge of 2010 (Bizarre’s James Bond game “Blood Stone”), the question who’s really to blame for the studio’s demise is a fair one.

Yet another trend shared with other years in gaming is the holiday deluge. It began fairly early this year, in late August, with the release of Eidos Montreal’s Deus Ex Human Revolution, and went on until the release of Ubisoft’s latest installment in the Assassin’s Creed series in late November. It’s staggering how many titles the industries throws on the market in so few weeks. With that kind of release policy, it remains a miracle that there’s not more developers going bankrupt due to financially underperforming titles. In 2009 many publishers “fled” the release window of Modern Warfare 2. This year, this was not the case, although Q1 2012 appears to have a stronger lineup of new titles compared to Q1 2011, though it remains to be seen, if those games aren't hit by delays, pitting them—once again—against each other in holiday deluge season 2012.

A tangential trend of gaming this year was one pertaining to games journalism. Gaming scores remain highly controversial, and it seems the trend in games journalism is to further inflate the scoreboard by now slowly establishing the 8/10 as the lower end of the “pretty good” spectrum.

Of course, discussions about gaming scores will never end, and it’s not a problem that only came up this year, however with the public outcry on the Internet on Eurogamer’s “bold” 8/10 review of Uncharted 3, this whole issue has dug itself into even deeper levels of stupidity.

Game mechanics wise, there hasn’t been a clear trend this year. Multiplayer additions to established singleplayer franchises have continued with Dead Space 2 and some others, and of course the industry bigwigs keep on droning about how games without multiplayer components won’t sell.

The sales numbers of Bethesda’s Skyrim might sure challenge that assumption, but I bet that the bigwigs would counter that with the statement that Skyrim would have sold EVEN MORE with the added value of multiplayer. Not that a game that on singleplayer alone takes several decades to finish offers enough value, but well. I’m clearly not an industry bigwig, so I wouldn’t know.

One worrying trend that got out of hand this year is the integration of social media. Trailers get unlocked only once a game’s Facebook page got enough “likes”, “fans” or what have you. Special in game items only get unlocked once a game has been trending on twitter. This is madness and it has to stop.

Another infuriating trend that borders on going too far is that of pre-order and bonus DLC. It was one of the reasons I personally refused buying Dragon Age 2, since one of the game’s main questlines was only available as pre-order DLC, but not just any pre-order but a pre-order before a certain time, months before the game’s release.

Then there’s the retailer-specific pre-order DLC, that sees games like the recent Mortal Kombat lacking crucial classic fighters when not buying the game at specific retailers. This trend is really worrisome, infuriating and could get out of hand. With certain titles it seems harder and harder to get the one, true version. Not even collector’s and limited editions are safe from missing crucial features that are reserved for specific retailers, and have to bought separately weeks or months after launch.

RAGE, id’s latest shooting game is missing the double-barreled shotgun, a trademark weapon of id games since Doom. Only pre-orders and those buying the more expensive collector’s edition will be granted this weapon. The second installment of the Batman Arkham series had a mind twistingly huge number of different DLCs and bonuses across countries, pre-orders and retailers, and if this trend continues, it will be ever harder for a true fan even to find the one true edition of the game he wants to buy, unless he (or she) will want to wait until some time in the future, where eventually some game of the year edition will unite all those former buying incentives into one package, probably months after the developer closes shop.

Leaving on lighter note, next year’s trends seem a bit more positive. Already there are several games in the pipeline, that are reboots of old, popular franchises that might incite nerd rage due to those games no longer following the genre of the original material, while being in hands that have in the past proven to be capable of forging truly stunning gaming experiences. It is interesting that 2012 already boasts a broader array of new franchises, including those reboots, since really, all they have in common with their forbearers are the names. With Bioshock Infinite, Syndicate, X-Com, Prey 2 and Dishonored next year promises to be quite interesting on the gaming front.