2022 is almost over but what do you make of a year in which Microsoft and Sony went radio silent and yet the games were better than ever?
We’re now in year three of the current generation of consoles and yet it still feels like it’s barely begun. The relentless wheel of misery that is the wider world news has meant that while the pandemic still casts a paralysing shadow over the games industry the cost of living crisis has suddenly meant that even the best value for money games, and hardware, now seem like an unjustifable luxury.
The volume of games released in 2022 was still noticeably less than before the pandemic and followed the same pattern of 2021, in that most of the biggest name games were released in the first half of the year, since they were all delayed from 2020’s Christmas. The schedule for 2023 is similar and while the situation is improving each year the recovery is slow, and it’s unclear if things will ever get back to ‘normal’.
While publishers will be as keen as anyone to increase the volume of new games being released it’s becoming increasingly hard to blame the lack of previews and general communication on the pandemic. Preview events and creating demos are time-consuming, so it is understandable why that would be cut from developer’s already busy schedules. There’s less excuse for the lack of interviews occurring nowadays, though, with many games going through their entire release cycle without any serious scrutiny.
That’s beginning to seem more and more purposeful, especially given publishers’ general resistance to communicating with their customers in any significant way. One of the key trends of 2022 was not just the decreased volume of big name releases but the lack of news in general. Rumours, of various levels of accuracy, picked up some of the slack but there was barely a single announcement of note from Sony or Microsoft, or indeed most of the big publishers.
When Nintendo seems like the most open and talkative publisher you know sometime very strange is going on and it seems as if the industry is going through one of its phases where it decides to keep everything secret until the last minute. Something it knows has never worked before but for some reason wants to try again.
What benefit this is supposed to offer is unclear. It certainly didn’t help EA when it announced Need For Speed Unbound just a few weeks before its release, and it seems a strange way to treat such a big release as Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, but it’s the silence from Sony and Microsoft that has caused the most confusion, and anger, amongst fans.
Sony started the year on top of the world, with stock of PlayStation 5 slowly becoming more available and major successes with Horizon Forbidden West and Gran Turismo 7. Once they were out though it was like a veil was dropped across the company, with barely a word out of them the rest of the year except to (at the last possible moment) promote God Of War Ragnarök and the increasingly ill-timed PlayStation VR2.
They have, presumably, dozens of other projects underway at the moment, but they won’t talk about any of them and even when they do announce something it’s via an anodyne blog post, presented with all the relish of a resentful schoolchild handing in their breakfast-smudged homework.
Where this surly, uncommunicative attitude has come from is a mystery but it’s extremely off-putting and can’t help but foment conspiracies. Especially when you’re presented with bizarre episodes such as the PS Plus reboot, which Sony went out of their way not to promote properly and helped cause an overall decline in subscriptions and the bizarre situation with PS Plus Premium and its almost complete lack of PlayStation 1 and 2 games.
As for Microsoft, they’ve spent the majority of the year in a series of increasingly desperate attempts to convince monopoly investigators that the largest company on the planet is actually a plucky underdog and that buying the biggest third party publisher in the world will have no negative effects on the games industry, because Call Of Duty is ‘nothing unique’.
To their obvious shock, not everyone has taken their assurances at face value and there’s been so many concessions that Microsoft execs must now be wondering whether it’s all worth the effort.
It’s easy to imagine that their lack of announcements this year is partially due to not wanting to say or do anything to upset their chances of acquiring Activision Blizzard, since they’ve revealed and released almost nothing this year and were suspiciously quiet at The Games Awards – waiting till afterwards to make their usual promise that the really exciting news is coming next year. It’s always next year.
No doubt the sheer weight of all their money will ensure that they get their way eventually but either way the genie is out of the bottle and, already spurred into action by Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda, other publishers have joined a land grab of acquisitions that has seen multiple publishers snapped up. Meanwhile, those that remain independent – such as Ubisoft and EA – have made it perfectly clear that they’re open to offers.
We now face the dread prospect that the entire video games industry will be owned by only a handful of multinational companies, for who games are just a minor part of their business. It’s probably only the miserable failure of Google’s Stadia, finally put out of its misery this year, that has stopped the likes of Amazon or Apple taking a bigger slice of the games industry – but that’s doubtless only delayed the inevitable.
In terms of how the video games industry runs its affairs 2022 has been a desperately depressing affair and there’s every expectation that 2023 will be even worse. And yet, actually, in most other respects 2022 has been very good. There might not have been quite as many new games as you’d like but those that were released rarely disappointed.
We’ve lionised the likes of Elden Ring, Bayonetta 3, and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 in our Top 20 of 2022 but there have been a mountain of games, big and small, that have surprised and impressed over the course of the last 12 months.
It was especially heartening to see that Elden Ring was not just a critical hit, winning every Game of the Year award in its path, but a commerical smash as well.
Elden Ring got into the list of the top 10 sellers of all time in the US and that is some achievement for a game that makes none of the expected concessions of modern gaming, in terms of its difficultly and hand-holding. There’s also no microtransactions, battle passes, or any of the other grubby hallmarks of other big name titles.
FromSoftware’s Elden Ring is a real game that enjoyed real success and will hopefully have a significant and lasting effect on the whole games industry. It was good and people bought it, which in an ideal world would be as complex as video game publishing and development ever gets.
Despite all the corporate machinations it was video games that saved 2022 and while it’d be nice to think that’s all you need the reality is, unfortunately, not quite so simple. But while the way publishers run their business continues to confound it’s reassuring to know that developers haven’t been distracted and their passion and imagination still shines through.
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