As we come to the end of the year, it’s undeniable that 2023 has been an absolutely monumental year for video game releases. Just looking at The Game Awards’ Game of the Year nominees can tell you that much - despite Baldur’s Gate 3’s well-earned win, any of the other five stellar games would have been a deserving winner. In fact, there are still many more unnominated games - like Octopath Traveler 2, Final Fantasy 16, and Street Fighter 6 - that I would have happily seen getting a nomination.
There’s an unfortunate downside to being hit with a never-ending onslaught of fantastic releases, though - there just aren’t enough hours in the day to play them. I’ve done my best to uncover all the secrets of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom while smashing puppets to smithereens in Lies of P and blasting Regenerators to bits in Resident Evil 4 (2023) - I really have. But, ultimately, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by a pile of unfinished and untouched games thanks to the relentless stream of phenomenal titles being added to my ‘must-play’ list almost every week.
Regrettably, I’ve still not had the chance to pick up Larian Studios’ highly acclaimed role-playing game, Baldur’s Gate 3, which feels like it’s bordering on a crime at this point. As I write these words, I can see my copy of Lies of P staring me down, with the titular puppet staring off gloomily into the distance and wondering when his game disc will finally be removed from the box. Meanwhile, I can only imagine that Cal Kestis is drumming his fingers impatiently, contemplating when his Star Wars Jedi: Survivor adventure will continue. At least I last saved the game next to lovable frog-man Turgle - I’m sure he’ll definitely appreciate that.
Revisiting the backlog
However, now that we’re into December and well past the frantic October-November release window, things have slowed down significantly. Except for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s Indigo Disk DLC, which launched on December 14, there’s pretty much nothing new with a December release date that I’m itching to play (sorry, Avatar). While I can imagine that some might consider this to be a dull period, it’s for this exact reason that I’m more excited about playing video games now than I have been all year.
Without new games popping up left, right, and center to distract me, this quieter stint on the release calendar finally provides some time to catch up with the year’s greatest offerings, which is a tantalizing prospect. In fact, it doesn’t feel like a quiet period at all, since there’s still so much to do - just without that overarching pressure of trying to keep up with the next hottest thing. Whether it’s dusting off something that’s fallen into my backlog or daring to add to that ever-growing unfinished games pile further by picking up something I’ve missed out on completely, there’s actually time to spare. What bliss.
Ironically, this freedom and sheer amount of choice has also made choosing a game to play over the holidays harder than ever before. 2023 has truly spoiled players, and purely in terms of the quality and quantity of games that have launched, few other years can compare.
2023's impact on developers
With that said, it needs to be acknowledged what a bittersweet year it’s been, due to the huge number of redundancies that have ravaged the games industry. Thousands of talented individuals have lost their jobs - Epic Games reported 830 layoffs in September, while Embracer Group stated that as of the end of September, it’d cut 904 jobs as a result of its restructuring program. Embracer has since announced many more cuts and even the closure of TimeSplitters studio Free Radical Design. Sadly, those just scratch the surface when it comes to highlighting the image of these redundancies.
This constant threat of job losses, with both veteran devs and newer members of the industry affected, has created an atmosphere of misery and dread which has understandably sat heavy over the games sphere this year. It’s awful for developer morale, and as a consumer, it feels impossible to fully sink into a game without thinking about the individuals behind it, and how they’re holding up. While gaming is my favorite hobby and I’d love to be able to look back at 2023 solely as a year packed with incredible, genre-defining releases, that just isn’t the full story. It’s a year that’s been marred by a climate in which developers’ livelihoods and passions are at risk.
Developers deserve better
After The Game Awards 2023, many viewers criticized the show for hurrying award winners through their speeches (via IGN), something which left a sour taste in my mouth when I was watching, especially given what a turbulent year it’s been for so many people in the industry. Although The Game Awards serves as a celebration of the industry’s greatest achievements - and more importantly, the people behind them - it felt that not enough emphasis was actually placed on this during this year’s event.
Host Geoff Keighley addressed this issue after it was all over, and said: “By the way - I do agree that the music was played too fast for award winners this year, and I asked our team to relax that rule as the show went on. While no one was actually cut off, it’s something to address going forward.” Of course, this promise doesn’t change the impact that was had on the event itself, and of all years, it felt like 2023’s Game Awards should have taken the chance to shine a light on the struggles that so many have faced.
Even without this ‘official’ acknowledgment, as the year comes to a close, it’s important to remember the hardship that so many have faced when bringing our favorite games to life, as well as those who worked on projects that never got to release. Passion can’t bloom amongst terror, and the industry needs to make big changes to ensure that those working on the games that people love so dearly are given the respect they deserve.
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Catherine is a News Writer for TechRadar Gaming. Armed with a journalism degree from The University of Sheffield, she was sucked into the games media industry after spending far too much time on her university newspaper writing about Pokémon and cool indie games, and realising that was a very cool job, actually. She previously spent 19 months working at GAMINGbible as a full-time journalist. She loves all things Nintendo, and will never stop talking about Xenoblade Chronicles.