It’s been a cold and bitter winter up here in Eastern Canada, but my heart has been warm with excitement for the year of gaming ahead. I know there’s a lot of turmoil and cynicism running around in gaming communities right now, but as a veteran gamer who has seen plenty of good and bad times since the mid-’80s, I think we’re heading into a great time for our hobby. Here are my top ten reasons why gaming will rock in 2015.
Embracing the Weird
I’ve been a huge fan of weird games since I played titles like Tass Times in Tonetown and Nord and Bert Couldn’t Make Head or Tail of It as a kid. Weird games fully embrace the sense of playfulness that’s important if we want to remember that gaming is supposed to be fun , and every game-producing corner of the world has its own unique aesthetic when it comes to odd titles.
Plenty of people have already been enjoying the odd little platformer Shovel Knight and the wacked-out (and horrifying) Five Night’s at Freddy’s series, but there are even more weird titles coming soon. The Tomorrow Children brings sandbox building to a post-apocalyptic Soviet-style world on your PS4. Cuphead is an indie run-and-gun game that looks like those super weird cartoons they used to show in the early Twentieth Century. Persona 4: Dancing All Night puts some of our favorite JRPG cast members into a silly rhythm game. And not to be outdone by whatever bizarre plot twists will surely populate Metal Gear Solid V , Devil May Cry 4 looks like it’s sending Dante over the deep end when he decides his life is just a video game.
I challenge all of you to get a bit weird with your gaming in 2015. It’s a good time.
Ding Dong, the Zynga is Dead
Whatever you think of Facebook, mobile, and freemium gaming in general, I think a lot of us can agree that Farmville shop Zynga represented the worst of our industry. At the height of its wealth, I remember Zynga showing up at the Game Developer’s Conference and throwing its weight around. The company held seminars during which its executives talked about the importance of manipulating players in the interest of attracting “whales,” dealing with “churn” by giving customers a new shiny that pulls the same old tricks, and telling other developers that innovation is bad.
Several years later, Zynga is completely off the map and this year’s GDC is full of fun-loving people doing cool, weird, interesting, and forward-thinking things. Freemium is growing up as developers find ways to make money while actually making a fun game at the same time. Mobile platforms have become just a part of the gaming landscape instead of a ten-ton gorilla that’s supposedly going to crush all other forms of gaming. All’s well with the world.
Crowdfunding Is Paying Off
The flops and scams may make for great news stories, but careful crowdfunders are seeing their trust repaid with some great titles. Shadowrun Returns, Don’t Starve, Darkest Dungeon, FTL, Shovel Knight, Dreamfall Chronicles, The Banner Saga, Divinity: Original Sin , and the like have all shown that crowdfunding can produce weird and wonderful titles the likes of which aren’t funded by traditional publishers these days. Some great titles are in the works for 2015 release, like Pillars of Eternity, A Hit in Time, Broken Age: Part 2, Cosmic Star Heroine, and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero .
The indie and crowdfunding revolution is helping more than just the people directly involved, though. Innovation in all its forms is good for the industry. Just look at Child of Light and other small games that are being made with the UbiArt platform. Big publishers are noticing an appetite for smaller, unusual titles and are actually funding them. It’s good for us, and good for the developers who can take some time off the AAA game grind and get their creative juices flowing.
Shooters Have Colors Again
After last generation’s shooters sent us through far too many samey dirt-colored corridors, 2015 could be the year when the gray-brown shooter finally dies. Last year, games like Titanfall, Destiny, and Sunset Overdrive showed us varied ways in which color is good. This year stars Evolve, Splatoon, Battlefield: Hardline, Halo 5, and Overwatch , all of which display multiple colors as appropriate for their respective settings. Considering it takes place at least partially on Endor, I assume that Star Wars: Battlefront won’t be gray-brown, either. If only they’d show us some actual game footage…
It’s Finally Current-Gen
Yes, it’s time to stop calling the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 “next-gen” consoles. They’ve been out for over a year now. They are current-gen. 2015 is finally the year in which they’ll start being treated as the actual lead consoles in the land, too. We’ll be seeing more current-gen exclusives and fewer up-ports from or down-ports to the PS3 and 360. Developers will finally be able to start making the best use of the new consoles’ power.
In the meantime, don’t forget the Wii U. It may not have the horsepower of its fellows, but it is Nintendo’s current-gen platform and has some nice stuff to offer us this year… hopefully including Star Fox and Zelda .
More Platform Choices Than Ever
Remember when your gaming choices were limited to a Nintendo console, a Sega console, or a blocky ol’ home computer? Today we’ve got more consumer choice in gaming than ever before. PC gaming is seeing a renaissance. There are three major proprietary home consoles, plus open console choices like the Ouya and the various upcoming Steam Boxes. Companies are tripping all over each other to get into VR, which is finally looking to be worthwhile technologically. Want portable gaming? You can get a 3DS, a Vita, or game on your phone or tablet.
All this competition is good for us. Would Microsoft have been forced to reverse its anti-consumer plans for the Xbox One if Sony hadn’t come out swinging with gamer-friendly policies? Nope. Would we be seeing better digital sales on consoles if not for the competition from the bargain bonanza that is Steam? Likely not. Choice is good, and we’re only getting more of it in 2015.
Time for Adventure!
I’m not actually Telltale’s biggest fan, but I’ll give credit where credit is due – the company almost single-handedly brought back the adventure gaming genre. Now that adventures are “in” again, we’re seeing cool stuff from other companies like Broken Age, Massive Chalice, Dreamfall Chronicles, and Life is Strange . Even King’s Quest is coming back. King’s Quest!
What’s cool about this adventure gaming renaissance is that at least some developers (including Telltale) are playing with the formula. No longer is the genre primarily about clicking on things and solving obtuse puzzles. Storytelling and choice-and-consequence gameplay are at the forefront now, with every project using those elements in different ways.
RPGs Are Back Baby!
People like to think of RPGs as a niche gaming genre, but in reality they show up as one of the top three favorite genres in study after study of gamer preferences (for both male and female gamers, may I add). They just don’t always show up on the highest-grossing genre lists because only a few development studios have the funding and independence needed to create AAA RPG epics.
Where RPGs shine is in their diversity, and 2015 is full of promise for fans of every form of RPG. Western RPG fans are eagerly anticipating Pillars of Eternity and The Witcher 3 this year – not to mention anticipating news of BioWare’s next projects at this year’s E3. JRPG fans can expect a better year after a rather dismal 2014. Final Fantasy Type-0 is finally coming over here, Persona 5 should arrive around the holidays, and quality niche titles like Story of Seasons and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter are on the horizon. Oh, and if we haven’t heard news of the next Pokemon project by the end of the year, I’ll eat a Magikarp.
We’re Becoming More Diverse
There may be a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth around the issue, but the truth is that gaming is becoming more diverse in many ways, and that’s a good thing. While sometimes it feels like the big studios keep churning out shooter/action adventure after shooter/action adventure starring a thirty-something white dude with close-cropped brown hair, greater diversity in characters and gameplay is bubbling up from the vibrant indie scene.
Diversity is about more than simply the race and gender of our game heroes, although that’s a very important topic if we want to expand the breadth and depth of the stories we tell. It’s also about experimenting with new forms of gameplay, be that genre-mashups, new kinds of settings, or experiments with non-violent gaming. Not all of these experiments will be appreciated by traditional gamers, but hey, not everybody loves independent film or performance art, either. That doesn’t mean that non-traditional games are worse than traditional ones or that the sometimes incomplete experiences they offer aren’t of value as ideas that can help shake up the more traditional parts of our industry. I look forward to what 2015 will bring us in terms of diverse game casts and unique experiences.
Finally, New Franchises
One big problem with the extended console generation of the Wii/360/PS3 was that publishers became more and more reliant on sequels to existing series instead of introducing new franchises to the public. Gamers are more receptive to new series when they have new hardware and are looking for interesting things to play from a smaller stable of possible titles.
In 2014, a lot of developers were still working on their best new stuff, so we saw an awful lot of HD remasters and various other remakes for our shiny new consoles. There’s still a bit of that going on this year, and I’m not going to complain about upcoming new entries in popular series like Uncharted and Persona , but I’m even more excited to see which new series really stand out this year.
Will Scalebound ‘s dragons finally earn Platinum Games the mass audience it deserves? Can Helldivers live up to the buzz it’s been getting lately? Could Code Name: STEAM kick off a series of games starring crazy re-imaginings of characters from classic literature? Can Telltale’s upcoming original projects succeed as their takes on existing series have done? Will BioWare reveal its new series in a way that’s as exciting as the Mass Effect reveal was?
See? There’s an awful lot to be excited about in 2015, both in terms of upcoming games and announcements. What are you jazzed about this year? Let me know in the comments while I wait for my shiny new copy of Final Fantasy Type-0 to arrive.