For all of 2016’s ups and downs, I think it’s safe to assume that most gaming audiences were treated to a slew of high quality experiences from both developers working at a AAA level as well as the talented indie crowd. For me in particular, 2016 was the year that developers truly started to understand and listen to their dedicated fans, allowing the creative minds behind our favourite games to achieve a certain pedigree, capable of making or breaking their latest releases.
The clearest, biggest, and most bombastic example of this, is unquestionably the success enjoyed by Blizzard’s latest and arguably most experimental IP: Overwatch. Perhaps you’ve heard of it! In contrast to how this year’s apologist Titanfall sequel suffered towards the end of the year as a result of being sandwiched between two other titans in their field, Overwatch managed to avoid this problematic situation despite releasing so close to Battleborn. For the longest time I couldn’t fathom as to why, but – I realise now – it seems the answer is in developer pedigree.
Whilst many were quickly reminded of the rolling motion a tumbleweed might make across a deserted sandy dune after only briefly seeing Gearbox’s equally-colourful underdog shooter, players instantly chose to instead pitch up their tents within the Overwatch camp. To many, the track record of Blizzard was a much more intriguing and safe prospect, especially when compared to the floundering nature of Gearbox’s output of anything that isn’t tied to the Borderlands licence.
In reality, Battleborn proved to be a very well-made online hero shooter with a great sense of character, charm, and creativity. The reason it didn’t sell – eventually plummeting to an embarrassing £4 price point here in the UK – was due to an acute combination of buyer fear and Blizzard’s near-perfect video game release record. It proved to be detrimental. Players were immediately swayed by the type of experience Overwatch had to offer, despite being much lighter in terms of content. If that doesn’t solidify Blizzard’s status as an overlord we are all enslaved to, I don’t know what will.
Yet another beacon banging the drum for developer recognition would have to be the rallying support behind Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. 2016 was the year that saw the end to this rope-swinging adventure of a game franchise, resulting in completion of Naughty Dog’s journey from bad boy underdog to top-tier developers.
Much like the same way Nathan Drake himself had to pack up and put to rest his old-school treasure-plundering adventures of old, Naughty Dog themselves had to say goodbye to a crucial part of what made them who they are. That’s not to say these exciting leaps in faith, technology, and unparalleled storytelling aren’t set to continue however – The Last of Us Part II already has most of us frothing at the mouth – but it is a sign of an expedition coming full circle. Despite what your opinions might be on Uncharted 4’s more than rocky development cycle, the finale served to set them up as one of the best our industry has to offer.
Last year also treated us to one of the most ingenious and experimental online marketing campaigns since the reveal of Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, thanks to Rockstar. Quite literally living up to their name, the highly awaited sequel to 2010’s wild west masterpiece Red Dead Redemption was initially exposed with nothing more than a simple colour change of the developer’s logo on social media. No fanfare, no press release, instead just a bold and brazen day by day discoveries which eventually led to a short teaser trailer.
Regardless of what you may think about the final piece of the puzzle, Red Dead Redemption 2‘s unveiling still managed to capture the hearts and minds of gamers despite doing so quite unconventionally.In the same way some people still expect Valve to reveal Half Life 3 simply by just having it sit unexpectedly on the steam store, this decision by Rockstar to do things by their own volition acted as yet another way that the power of the developer was all that was needed to tantalise those who wanted to be.
As the pedigree of developers such as Blizzard, Rockstar and Naughty Dog looks set to be continued by others, it could make for a bright future for video games. People no longer simply look at a game’s title to gauge whether or not they will most likely enjoy the game. For the first time in a long while, it feels like there is weight behind those who make them, setting a positive precedent for future quality, talent, and reputations.