It’s safe to say 2018 has been quite a year for videogames and interactive media.
Of course, it’s easy to claim that about any 12 month period when you’ve come to the end of it, but this year seemed to overflow with soaring highs and painful lows. Since January we’ve seen once stagnant franchises find new life, we’ve borne witness to some shocking launches and seen many a studio rise (and fall) along the way.
Plagiarism reared its ugly head at one of the biggest sites in the gaming media. Battle royale continued to dominate sales and streaming charts. Esports and competitive sports grew even larger in scope and coverage. And a little developer called Rockstar revealed a culture of unhealthy hours and unrelenting ‘crunch’ before unleashing a record-breaking cowboy simulator.
Like we said, 2018 has been quite the year.
It’s incredible to look back and see how little enthusiasm players and critics shared for Fortnite when it finally left early access and launched across platforms in the summer of 2017. Then PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds came along and revealed to the world a ‘new’ subgenre all about players fighting one another until only one victor remained.
Then Epic Games added in a Battle Royale mode to Fortnite, made it free-to-play and boom - one instant mega-hit. With the advent of multi-year season passes, the game has only grown in popularity in 2018. In November, it was revealed that it now has over 200 million registered users, something no doubt helped by the one million-plus players now enjoying it on-the-go on Nintendo Switch.
It’s become a phenomenon of Minecraft proportions, made superstars of some of its biggest Twitch streamers (although you could argue they’ve made it as much as it made them), with Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins rubbing shoulders with celebrities on prime-time TV despite a prickly demeanour and a controversial decision to avoid playing with any female streamers.
Snap, crackle and crunch
Crunch continues to play an important role in how many studios finish a game’s development cycle, but it launched itself firmly into the mainstream headlines for once when Rockstar head Dan Houser mentioned how many of his employees were working 100 hour weeks to get Red Dead Redemption 2 to gold status. He meant it to be an endorsement of their hard work, but in reality it cracked open the lid on a culture at the GTA studio where an expectation to work evenings and weekends became the norm.
For a studio like Rockstar that normally shies away from revealing the inner workings of its many studios, the developer was forced to rescind a clause that stopped employees from discussing their work experiences with the media. Plenty of programmers, designers and testers said they never felt pressure to work extra hours, but a lot did and it took some of the shine off the eventual release of RDR2. It still made the Housers millions in a couple of weeks of release, though.
Plagiarism rocks the games press
It’s not often something as serious as plagiarism is placed at the door of one of the games media’s biggest websites, but that’s just what happened when a video from a small-time YouTube channel called Boomstick Gaming turned up near-verbatim in a review on IGN.com. The video went viral, every major news site in games picked up and soon everyone was discussing Metroidvania platformer Dead Cells for all the wrong reasons.
It was revealed Nintendo Editor Filip Miucin had copied large parts of the review for IGN’s written and video-based review, and it didn’t take long for readers to find similar copied segments in countless other reviews of his on the site. IGN began frantically pulling down most of Miucin’s work and dismissed him almost immediately but it rocked the games media with a scandal it’s never really had to contend with before. Miucin even took to his own YouTube channel to make an apology video where he never actually apologized.
Retro revival remastered
Remasters are nothing new to videogames - in fact, they pretty much kept the PS4 going during its first year - but 2018 has gone one better by either reviving some once great franchises for a new generation and offering new ways to play the games of yesteryear.
The launch of the Nintendo Switch Online paid service in September saw the launch of a growing library of NES games - with full Joy-Con support - while Sony rounded off the year with the completely original Sony PlayStation Classic. Sony would have gotten away with its revival if it wasn’t for some clear disparity between the different emulations used on the console (and the PlayStation hits that were clearing missing from its collection).
Elsewhere, Spyro the Dragon had all three of his original PlayStation instalments revitalized from the ground up with Spyro Trilogy Reignited. Following in the successful footsteps of Crash Bandicoot: N’Sane Trilogy, it would be Toys for Bob - the developer who originally used Spyro to launch the now dormant Skylanders franchise - that would help re-imagine Insomniac Games’ much-loved platforming trinity. We also got news of a MediEvil remaster along the same lines, and confirmation that Blizzard is working on Warcraft 3: Reforged and World of Warcraft Classic. Retro never really goes out of fashion, does it?
Studio acquisitions and closures
Every year we see new studios form, while others sadly close their doors for the last time. However, there was a lot of activity on this front in 2018.
On the plus side, Microsoft clearly showed its making big preparations for the next generation of Xbox by acquiring not one, but six new developers (Obsidian Entertainment, The Initiative, inXile Entertainment, Compulsion Games, Undead Labs, Playground Games and Ninja Theory) into its growing suite of first-party studios.
However, there were some notable closures, too. Telltale Games - which was once the hottest ticket in town thanks to its narrative-driven take on The Walking Dead, A Wolf Among Us and Batman - saw its employees forced to find work elsewhere in September thanks to an overloaded schedule of projects, the loss of a major investor and stories of mismanagement behind the scenes. Another publisher stepped in to help fund and finish the final episodes of TWD’s swansong season, but it’s a bittersweet end to a developer that’s left an indelible mark on the industry.
Games, games and more games
And, of course, there’s been a gluttony of new games - some of which will likely be looked back on as the titles that defined the generation (as is often the case in the twilight years of a console’s lifecycle).
Sony killed it with their exclusives, with a revitalized God of War giving the two-dimensional god-killer Kratos some much-needed depth. Detroit: Become Human just about managed to overcome David Cage’s script-writing hang-ups thanks to some brilliant performances from its cast and Insomniac’s Spider-Man offered the best take on the Web-Crawler since Spider-Man 2 on PS2. High praise indeed.
Xbox One didn’t have quite so many killer apps, but Sea of Thieves has grown into a charming multiplayer take on the golden age of piracy and Forza Horizon 4 has proved even a spin-off can overtake the series that originally spawned it. Nintendo Switch also came out swinging in 2018 with some absolute belters in the form of Octopath Traveller, Mario Tennis Aces, Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Let’s Go Eevee, Kirby Star Allies and a little thing called Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
It’s been a huge year for videogames - both better and for worse - and we can’ wait to see how 2019 is going to top it (for the better, we hope)...