2014 was a strange of a year for videogames, and serves as a predictor for what we might expect from the industry in future. For the sake of simplicity, I will discount mobile games as they follow slightly different rules to gaming on more traditional platforms. The year can probably most best be characterized by a glaring fact which was reflected in several different forms throughout the year. If does, however, cast a shadow on other signals which show that the industry is growing, evolving, and hopefully, improving. One of the most well-documented evolutions is the rather tepid reception of the year's major releases on behalf of both critics and gamers. It is not very often that videogames make it to major news outlets, and when they do, it is usually very superficial, and omits anything negative, becoming effectively some form of commercial.
“The Milk from this Cash Cow has Gone Sour”
2014's best-sellers consisted largely of the usual suspects. Call of Duty, Halo's spirit child in the form of Destiny, and GTA. There is no surprise here. That is, until we compare the sales figures. In 2013, the two best selling games topped 10 million in sales, with only one of the top 10 being selling less than 3 million units. In 2014, only the top 3 sold more than 3 million units. While not failures by any stretch of the imagination, games such as Titanfall,Sunset Overdrive, Destiny, Assassin's Creed: Unity, Far Cry 4, and Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare did not reach the sales levels and critical acclaim expected. This was seen by the fact that Destiny did not promise the revolution that had been expected. Titanfall did not become the next CoD. Finally, Ubisoft's games seemed to tread the same ground, timidly, but in a much buggier fashion. Although the sales did not produce the level of disappointment that Tomb Raider, Hitman: Absolution, and Sleeping Dogs did for their developers, the reception was nowhere near what they expected. Let's hope that this means that more energy will be consecrated to content which is made for more than just trying to find the magic formula for the next biggest franchise. 2014 did yield some positive news, however.
Finally a Good Year for the Wii U
Since the last two years of the Wii's life, Nintendo's console presence has been largely overlooked. So far, the Wii U's life has been very sad. Low sales and little third-party support did seem to hail the firm's demise not too long ago. Nintendo is finally releasing games for its console, and people appear to be paying attention at last. Three of the year's best games were Wii U exclusives, and at least one, and sometimes all three have made it to annual Top 10s. Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart, and Super Smash Bros for Wii U. This is certainly sign that Nintendo is picking up speed in terms of supporting its home console. Next year's new Zelda and Starfox games will hopefully help bring the console back from the dead and not leave it lost and forgotten like that other attempt to synthesize a cash cow known as ZombiU.
Other Good News
Some of the year's bigger critical hits have been surprising, some of which coming out to almost no fanfare, but still demonstrating considerable success all things taken into account. What have the most successful games been this year? Shadow of Mordor, HearthStone, Transistor, Shovel Knight, South Park:the Stick of Truth, Dark Souls 2, This War of Mine, are all among the year's biggest success stories. This list is something pretty amazing. This is due to two things. The first is the level of diversity, and the second is that studios they came from relatively small studios.
Where are We Going?
I view this all with some optimism. As major studios find that milking and rebooting franchises ad nauseum, and more interesting games start gaining popularity, it will leave us with a more colorful gaming landscape. It could go the same way that the television industry has gone in. Until very recently, when a popular show had its finale, or a particularly good episode, nearly everybody saw it. This was in part because there was relatively little to watch. Today, the literally are not enough hours in the day to watch all of the best television. This appear to be becoming the case with gaming. The landscape will no longer be defined by a handful of colossi, but instead these titans will fall to make way, or at least shrink, in favor of smaller, more varied outliers.