Its been a year dominated by Fortnite and talk of the next generation of consoles but what were the other big video game stories of 2018?
This was the year that video-gaming itself became the news as Fortnites overwhelming success made headlines the world over and was blamed for every social ill under the sun – just like the good old days. But there was a lot going on beyond the Battle Royale scene, as both Sony and Microsoft began to ramp up for the next generation and technology such as streaming took a step closer to mainstream reality.
These are all the biggest stories of the year, some of which were one-offs but most of which will rumble on and have consequences well into 2019…
The biggest game in the world
Fortnite was originally released in the summer of 2017, to no particular acclaim. At first it only had the Save The World mode, which was originally intended to be the main focus of the game. But a few months later a Battle Royale options was added and by early 2018 Fortnite had become the biggest game in the world. Thanks to being free-to-play, and on every format imaginable, Fortnite has become a phenomenon the likes of which the games industry has never seen. Especially because, unlike things like Pokémon GO, its actually a very traditional video game.
The games success this year has been staggering, as its broken record after record – overtaking fellow Battle Royale game PlayerUnknowns Battlegrounds, becoming the most watched game on Twitch, and hitting a staggering total of 200 million registered players. Microsoft still insist its not as big as Minecraft, but thats the only other game that comes close.
Naturally, with a game this popular, it was immediately blamed for every social problem imaginable, especially by parents confused by the games sudden success. But generally speaking the game has gained its success with a very minimum of agitation (apart from various celebs trying to sue it for stealing their dances) in large part thanks to developer Epic Games constant updates to the game and inspired marketing. As long as that continues the games popularity seems certain to continue well into 2019.
Pandoras loot boxes
So swift was the backlash against loot boxes, following the November release of Star Wars: Battlefront II, that it feels more like a 2017 story – although most of the action actually took place this year. Following the very public rejection of loot boxes and microtransactions in Battlefront II the rest of the industry immediately took note and for once made sure to learn from the failures of a competitor.
First Warner Bros. removed loot boxes from Shadow Of War and then Microsoft took them out of Forza Motorsport 7, meaning that the three games that were most criticised for using loot boxes all performed a U-turn that completely removed them. Not only that but its strongly rumoured that the reason games like Square Enixs Avengers games have been kept secret for so long is that they had to be completely overhauled once it was released how toxic the concept of loot boxes had become.
Of course, it wasnt just the angry response from gamers that changed industry attitudes, but the fact that many governments had begun to investigate their practices, with many – such as Belgium and the Netherlands – quickly deciding that they were essentially encouraging gambling. Even the UK has got increasingly suspicious of the concept and it may well be that legislation will still result, hopefully keeping loot boxes out of paid-for games forever.
The next Xboxes
Apart from Fortnite the other main obsession for gamers this year has been the prospect of the next generation of consoles. Sony has been hinting for a long time that their new hardware may arrive sooner rather than later but despite it seeming as if Microsoft would benefit the most from kickstarting the new generation their plans have always been more opaque… until E3 in June.
There they confirmed they were working on multiple new consoles, showed off Halo Infinite without saying what format it was supposed to be for, and hinted that rumours of a Fable reboot by the makers of Forza Horizon are in fact true. They also acquired a number of new studios, to help churn out exclusive first party titles, adding Obsidian and inXile later in the year.
Everything points towards them gearing up for a next general reveal in 2019, or at the very least early 2020, with rumours that a disc-less version of the current Xbox One will be the first of multiple new consoles to be announced.
The inevitable PlayStation 5
Sonys approach to hinting about the next generation has been very different to Microsofts. They admitted years ago that they were working on new hardware but have never said anything more than that, as multiple rumours have suggested that developers are already working on PlayStation 5 games.
Whether thats true or not is hard to say as rumours have pointed to a possible annoucement, or even release, in 2018, 2019, and 2020. And so far without a shred of real evidence. Sony are definitely building up to something though as their E3 was unusually quiet this year and theyre not even bothering to attend next year, when they claim they havent got enough new games to make it worthwhile.
The implication is that everything else is being held back for the PlayStation 5, although when exactly that will be released will not doubt become one of the biggest stories of 2019.
One thing this year should hopefully have put a stop to is publishers thinking they can get away with anti-consumer policies without any backlash. To be fair, they have been able to in the past but after loot boxes gamers also put their foot down when it comes to cross-play between different consoles.
Being able to play multiplayer between people with completely different consoles has never been a thing, but especially after Fortnite you began to see Microsoft and Nintendo co-operate more and more. Its still not a common feature but as far as Sony was concerned it was never going to happen at all. Until it did.
Not only was their capitulation a rare sign of weakness from the company but it should mean that cross-play will begin to be seen more and more as a standard feature in the future.
The march of time
The golden era of video games magazines is long since passed but its still sad to see two of the longest-running close. GamesMaster and GamesTM both closed their doors this year, leaving only Edge, Retro Gamer, and a small number of others on newsagent shelves going into 2019.
It wasnt just old media that ran its course though, as chain store Grainger Games shut its doors with the loss of 400 jobs. Although its sudden demise seemed to have as much to do with jittery financers as anything else.
Death of a developer
Another unfortunate closure, that most people couldve predicted a long time ago, Telltale Games refusal to update their video game technology, and over-reliance on expensive licences, finally brought the company to its knees in 2018. As a result, all the staff were made redundant and games such as the recently announced Stranger Things tie-in were cancelled.
The final season of The Walking Dead will be completed though, in 2019, but only because comic book creator Robert Kirkman stepped in to make sure it happened. The end result is not only the end of a once great video game company but one of the main proponents of episodic content – with Square Enixs Life Is Strange now being one of the few high-profile examples left.
The rise of Bowsette
Theres an easy winner for the most unlikely video game story of the year: Bowsette and the bizarre fan movement that rose up around her overnight. Although inspired by a new character in Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, Bowsette is not an official Nintendo character at all. Instead, she was invented by fans and immediately became a viral hit. And when we say viral hit we dont mean just the odd bit of fan art but becoming one of the most searched-for terms on YouPorn.
Not that Bowsette was the only example of video game porn, with searches for Wild West-themed dirty movies seeing a sharp increase after the release of Red Dead Redemption II and even Minecraft proving a popular fetish alongside cosplay regular Overwatch. Theres lots of Fortnite porn as well, although Epic has been desperate to keep things family friendly after they were forced to apologise for accidentally adding wobbly boobs in one update.
Streaming to the future
As well as the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Two, the other big next gen story of the year revolved around what is likely to be a dominant video game technology in the future: streaming. Googles Project Stream experiment was already up and running in 2018, using the PC version of Assassins Creed Odyssey, and by all accounts worked very well – allowing you to play a state-of-the-art video game purely by streaming it online.
Not long after Microsoft announced its Project xCloud, promoted as the future of Xbox because it allows you to play games on any device – including smartphones. Sony undoubtedly has similar plans themselves, especially given their experiments with PlayStation Now, but Microsofts worldwide data centres seem as if they will give it a major advantage.
Well no doubt hear a lot more from both companies in 2019, but there is of course the question of what Google will do now its experiment is a success. The rumours are theyre planning some kind of video games service, or perhaps even hardware, that could open up the traditional console manufacturers to even more competition.
How the west was developed
Rockstars Red Dead Redemption II made the news in all sorts of way in 2018, not least for having the biggest opening weekend in the history of entertainment (so not just games, but movies, music, and everything else) but its release didnt happen without controversy, as Rockstar came under fire for its working conditions and how it treats its developers.
The video games industry has always been bad at that sort of thing, with staff encouraged to work unpaid overtime in the lead up to a games release – the so-called crunch. Some developers did speak out about the conditions making Red Dead Redemption II but the whole story ended without much closure and the truth is thats one aspect of the video games industry that will probably never change.
Fans from hell
The loudest and angriest news story of the year involved the announcement of a new Diablo game on smartphones. Even though fans at Blizzcon had been warned that Diablo IV wouldnt be unveiled they still acted as if the world had ended when Diablo Immortal was revealed as a collaboration with a Chinese mobile company. Blizzard were visibly shocked by the blacklash, which started immediately with one fan famously asking whether the reveal was an early Aprils Fool.
Its not clear what will happen as a result of all the anger, except that Blizzard will probably speed up plans to announce the actual Diablo IV.
The fall of Fallout
By the halfway point of 2018 it was looking like a banner year for publisher Bethesda. Theyd put on what was widely agreed to be the best media briefing of E3 and in Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI had become the first third party company to – in so many words – announce they were making next gen games.
They were also promoting online-only game Fallout 76, which many were wary about even at the time but few could imagine becoming the disaster it is. When it was released in November the reviews were scathing and physical sales were down 82% on Fallout 4. The game seemed poorly conceived, full of bugs, and reliant on outdated tech – all of which saw it become discounted almost immediately thanks to Black Friday.
But the bad press didnt end there, as Bethesda got itself embroiled in bag-gate, by advertising the expensive collectors edition of the game as coming with a swanky canvas bag but delivering only a cheap-looking nylon one. When fans found out influencers had been given a proper canvas bag it was yet another PR disaster to add to the list.