GameCentral looks back at a turbulent year in gaming and asks how Fortnite, the next gen, and angry gamers will influence the coming year.
2017 was the best year ever for video games in the modern era. 2018 was not. It wasnt a bad year, but it is one that is likely to be quickly skipped over in the history books of the future. Very important things did happen during it, most obviously the rise of Fortnite, but exactly what lasting impact that has on gaming is something that wont be revealed for some time to come.
There were also some important developments in terms of loot boxes, cross-play, and streaming, but again theyre not anything with which 2018 itself will be closely associated with. And nor, fairly obviously, will all the rampant speculation about the next generation and what Microsoft and Sony are planning to follow the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 up with.
2018 had several excellent games but nowhere near as consistent a line-up as the previous year or, to judge by the release schedules, the upcoming one. God Of War is certainly a classic and Red Dead Redemption II is a technical milestone, but most of the other great games were indie titles – their likely influence on the future, as always, uncertain.
Nintendo spent almost the entire year in hibernation, and while Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a masterpiece they had precious little else to offer for the other 11 months of the year. Microsoft were the same, as they have been all generation, while Sony – equally consistent – churned out a number of high-quality single-player exclusives that allowed them to easily maintain their dominance of the generation.
But while 2018 already feels like nothing more than a transition year that doesnt mean there werent some interesting trends to consider. Most publishers seem unsure whether to consider Fortnite a good thing or not, with conflicting opinions on whether a high tide raises all boats or if Epic Games are crowding everyone else out.
Its certainly interesting that the predicted flood of Battle Royale games has so far not materialised. Normally it would take time for a trend to percolate through to everyone else but by Epics own admission Battle Royale games are not hard to make, and yet the only high-profile rival so far is Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 (which turned out surprisingly well) and the belated Firestorm mode for Battlefield V.
There are a few other examples, mostly indie-created, but it genuinely doesnt seem as if any of the other big publishers are rushing to create their own Fortnite wannabe.
Thats perplexing, given how quick publishers usually are to copy someone elses idea, but the real mystery of 2018 has been the current health of many of the industrys major franchises. UK chart results have consistently shown a major decline in physical sales for most long-running franchises – everything from Assassins Creed to Battlefield, Fallout, and even FIFA have seen drops from 25% to over 50%.
The latter at least is far more than the attendant rise in digital sales, but without any firm data – or comment from publishers – its impossible to tell whether theres a real problem or not. Is it the Fortnite effect? Are multiple franchises reaching their natural limit all at the same time? Or is it just a quirk of the increasingly unhelpful sales charts and there is no problem at all?
Chart-Track has promised to incorporate digital sales into their charts in 2019, so hopefully well begin to find out then – although of course there wont immediately be any other sales data to compare it to.
A more concrete trend of 2018 is how much publishers should now fear the customers they so frequently try to take advantage of. The loot box controversy that broke in 2017, and in 2018 saw loot boxes stripped from multiple high-profile games, was the first sign that gamers are no longer willing to put up with every anti-consumer gimmick publishers can come up with.
Bethesda were no doubt hoping that Fallout 76 would muddle through on its name along, until it got to the point at which they could fix it, but instead it was rejected from the off and when Bethesda were caught quibbling over refunds and trying to fob people off with nylon bags instead of canvas ones they were rounded on instantly by angry fans unwilling to accept their excuses.
The PlayStation Classic also found it impossible to paper over a sub-standard product with slick marketing, but as ever things can go too far and with great power comes a complete lack of responsibility. The seething anger which greeted the Diablo Immortal smartphone annoucement at Blizzcon clearly baffled Blizzard and most outside observers, their bewilderment only angering fans further.
Publishers should be wary that their blood is now in the water and anything that upsets gamers, from legitimate complaints to trivial nitpicks, are in danger of getting petitioned out of existence within seconds of being announced. Although its hard to see that as an entirely bad thing and if its a choice between that and publishers running roughshod over everyone, as they are used to doing, most would likely pick the new status quo.
So now that 2018 is ending the question now must be what will the new year bring? To which the obvious answer is more of the same: more Fortnite, more next gen rumours, and more angry gamers. Youre also certain to get more of the same moronic release dates that, in 2018 as in every year, ended many games chances of success before theyd even begun.
This spring has one of the busiest line-ups of new games ever seen and yet so many titles are coming out at exactly the same time its impossible for them all to prosper. You can see the damage yourself when we publish our preview of the year on Tuesday but its not going to be a pretty sight and shows that there are some lessons that publishers just refuse to learn.
But all that is for the future and who knows what else may influences the fortunes of 2019s video games and creators. With the prospect of next generation consoles being unveiled in the coming months, and perhaps a new video game service or hardware device from Google, the games industry could be in store for a major shake-up. Not that thats unusual or undesirable. Video games have always been about constant change and that at least is something that 2018 has delivered on.