It's been 27 years since the Nintendo Entertainment System hit store shelves, and somehow things keep happening. As if accompanied by a black and white reel of spinning newspapers, gaming news saw stocks plummeting, studios closing, execs moaning about old consoles, and developers putting out damn good games anyway.
2012's nearly over, and it was one heck of a year to care about the art, business, and experience of games. For every gloomy headline about retail sales riding the struggle bus, a new fundraising campaign from veteran designers with promising ideas warmed our hearts. What made the last 365 days (give or take) such a weird, wonderful, frightening, depressing, infuriating, and inspiring trip? Read on as we take a stroll down our cultural memory lane.
7. PlayStation Vita's failure to launch
2012 was a rough year for PlayStation Vita. The shiny little handheld came with the twin thumbsticks everyone asked for, the vibrant high-res screen it needed, and surprisingly un-intrusive touch/motion controls--it seemed like it should have been a no-brainer for core gamers! It was the PlayStation Portable, minus the compromises (analog nub, we're looking at you)! Finally, after years of half-measures, Sony released a portable capable of putting the console experience in our hands.
But consumers aren't having it--unswayed by even the lurid absurdity of back boobs. Since PS Vita launched internationally in February, its sales have gone from bad to worse, with the piano black powerhouse reliably outsold by its predecessor, PlayStation Portable. Nintendo's 3DS--which had its own problems before a generous price cut--managed to outsell PS Vita 46-to-1 one November week in Japan. PSP enjoyed some of its greatest success among the handheld-happy Japanese populace, but in 2012 the very same market is kicking PS Vita's touch panels in.
6. Grand Theft Auto V’s existence
It's a good thing Rockstar's Newswire operates online, or else we would have had at least a dozen trampling deaths each time the developer drip fed a few Grand Theft Auto V screenshots this summer. Rockstar's ridiculously guarded development cycle finally opened up this year, culminating with a big reveal as Game Informer's December cover story and its second trailer in mid-November, almost exactly a year after its first trailer debuted.
Seriously, what franchise has the brass to release a vaguely flashy trailer and then wait a year to actually mete out anything else of substance to massive celebration? Especially when it doesn't star a plumber with a mustache, a green space marine, or a bespectacled MIT alumnus. 2012 was the year we learned what the hell Grand Theft Auto V is actually about, and that was a pretty big deal.
5. ArmA devs have the right to a (not so speedy) trial
Usually when "Greece" and "video game" occur in the same sentence, it's a safe bet the conversation will involve a shouting Spartan warrior peeling the flesh from mythological beasts. But a muscle-laden god killer busting down some walls may be the only way ArmA 3 developers Ivan Buchta and Martin Pezlar escape from Greek jail this year. The pair of Czech citizens, arrested in September for alleged espionage while vacationing in Greece, have been imprisoned for three months and denied bail.
The charges are serious (and ridiculous according to their supporters), but normally the justice system would have at least made some progress since their arrest. These are game developers, after all, not international men of mystery. Unfortunately, Greece has also been making non-gaming news with crippling economic issues and labor strikes jamming various aspects of government--including said justice system. A personal request for "special attention" to the case from the president of the Czech Republic to the president of Greece may, uh, grease the wheels, but we'd be surprised to see Buchta and Pezlar free in 2012.
4. Zynga goes public, executives go far away
Zynga's been like a dog without its bone after going public in December 2011. Electronic Arts smacked it with a copyright infringement lawsuit. Mass layoffs were confirmed at its satellite studios. At least a dozen of Zynga's executives haven't let the door hit them on the way out--including its chief operating and financial officers. Its $10 initial public offering is hovering just north of $2 one year later.
They were painful swings for the company which rode the social wave to the top. Many start-ups hit turbulence once they go public, but Zynga is a figurehead for what many saw as a new era in play: the insanely profitable free-to-play social game, embedded right in your Facebook feed. Aside from giving folks a little bit (okay a lot) of schadenfreude as the house of FarmVille fell in on itself, 2012 made developers and consumers think a little bit harder about those surefire viral hits.
3. 38 Studios' Reckoning
38 Studios and its games, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and unreleased MMO Project Copernicus, were passion projects for founder Curt Schilling. The former MLB pitcher who claimed three World Series victories in his 19-year-career dipped deep into his personal fortunes to finance the studio, then proceeded with a business plan any hyperactive pre-teen could get behind: hiring his gaming buddies, dozens of veteran developers, fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, and comic book powerhouse Todd McFarlane to envision his fantasy world.
But he also dipped into Rhode Island's coffers through a $75 million state loan guarantee. When Reckoning sold short of expectations and Project Copernicus remained years of intensive development from release, prospective investors balked and the studio sank like a pair of designer cement shoes. Those developers who relocated were left unemployed and uninsured. Curt Schilling's fortunes were gone in the time it took him to put a fastball over the plate, and Rhode Island is suing him for defaulting on the loan. In 2012, gaming's biggest passion project became Schilling's personal hell.
2. There's a Kickstarter born every minute
Before 2012, the economic interaction between gamer and game maker largely began and ended at the point of sale. But when Double Fine began its Adventure--promising backers a reality show-style look at Tim Schafer's return to point-and-click adventures, a voice in its production, and the actual game to boot--gamers couldn't throw their money fast enough. Since then, we've barely gone a month without anotherhigh-profilecampaign emerging to break crowdfunding records.
An unknown company Kickstarted a console, for crying out loud! 63,416 people put $8.6 million toward Ouya, a theoretical device which existed as nothing more than mock-ups and mission statements for the length of its fundraising campaign. In 2012, a brave new world of cutting out the publishing middleman (and paying for new stuff before it actually exists) landed in a little silver cube.
1. Wii U touches off the next console generation
The seventh console generation lasted seven eventful years (for Nintendo at least). People can argue about Wii U's innards--that it may be technically equivalent to modern high-definition systems--but it is without a doubt the start of a new era. Thus far, it's one that allows us to easily share special moments in games and juvenile drawings with one another--sometimes not even depicting genitalia. One where "friend codes" no longer make playing together online seem kind of unfriendly.
Much like the Wii before it, Wii U could significantly shape the gaming landscape for years to come. No matter if its sales match its ubiquitous predecessor (doubtful), Nintendo's lateral thinking expanded the canvas once more for mainstream gamers and creators. We've seen impressive leaks for PlayStation 4 and the next Xbox, but 2012 was the year Nintendo (once again) made things interesting.
News never sleeps
So 2013 couldn't possibly be this crazy, right? Oh, sure, it's not like two new consoles are likely to land and the first wave of all those pie-in-the-sky Kickstarter campaigns are scheduled to come to fruition. Actually, um, nevermind. Maybe we'll be bored in 2014.
Did anything shake your gaming world in 2012 that we didn't cover here? Any hot tips on looming disasters or pending triumphs for the year to come? Let us know in the comments!
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