It’s December 31st once again, and of course that means it’s time to look back on the year. 2013 has been a huge year for gaming in Australia and given that it is about to end, I thought I’d do some reminiscing about the more influential and controversial moments of the year.
My journey down memory lane begins with what was clearly one of the biggest moments in Australian gaming history (although not the only one of the year): the introduction of the R18+ rating for video games. As of January 1st of this year there was finally a classification category for games which aren’t suitable for children, rather than them needing to be refused classification and subsequently banned. After a great deal of lobbying by gamers around the country the legislation went through and we all celebrated the breakthrough… That is until the first games that were refused even an R18+ rating: Saints Row IV and State Of Decay. Sure, after some slight editing both games were given the new adult rating, however it served as a looming reminder that in Australia even adults do not have complete control over which media they can consume. Of course it wasn’t all doom and gloom, with great games such as The Last Of Us and GTA V being released with the new rating.
There was a moment in January which did not warrant any celebration though: the bankruptcy and subsequent dismantling and auction of game publishing giant THQ. After years of financial struggles resulting from bad management decisions, including the catastrophe which was the uDraw tablet, THQ finally fell. Most of the studios and franchises owned by the company went to new homes by way of auction, including South Park: Stick Of Truth which was picked up by Ubisoft which coincidentally was also refused an R18+ rating until it was edited for Aussie audiences (due for release in March 2014). Unfortunately a large number of people lost their jobs as a result of the collapse, and it was the end of a company which at one stage in its life had been on track to rival even Activision.
Of course 2013 was the year of the new generation of consoles, with the announcement of the PS4 in February and the Xbox One in May, and then their releases in November. After eight years with the Xbox 360 and seven with the PS3, gamers welcomed the new hardware with open arms and open wallets. Both systems smashed records for pre-orders and sales, quashing any belief that console gaming may be in decline. Despite a lot of controversy, rumour, and speculation throughout the year both PlayStation and Xbox managed to release quality systems in November, each with their own benefits and features to set them apart from the other. Although the launch line-ups for both systems weren’t really outstanding, the potential is clear and you can be sure that their releases will make 2014 a huge year for gaming.
Always-online functionality was a consistent talking point throughout 2013 with an ample number of reasons for people to be wary of it. Of course there were the problems with Diablo 3 back in 2012, but it seems publishers didn’t learn from that with EA suffering the same woes with it’s much-anticipated release of Sim City in March. The game was rendered unplayable at launch due to a mixture of buggy code and an overwhelming demand on the servers due to misjudgment of the uptake of the game. That initially meant days of the game being unplayable, followed by months of the game not employing all of its features to deal with server load. Unfortunately for EA and developer Maxis their vision for a global economy in the new iteration of the previously single-player-only series didn’t work out to plan, and sales as well as their reputations suffered.
Another big always-online controversy came about with the announcement of its use with the Xbox One. To be fair consumers had reason to be worried thanks to the aforementioned failures, and worry they did, with outrage spreading across the interwebs like wildfire. As it turns out though, both new systems are heavily reliant on an internet connection anyway, so all of the moaning and groaning didn’t achieve much, except crippling Microsoft’s plans for cloud-supported gaming when they back-flipped on the initial policies.
There were plenty of games released this year which didn’t fail at launch though, including masterpieces such as The Last Of Us (PS3 exclusive) and of course the hugely anticipated Grand Theft Auto 5. These two games provided an excellent swan song for the previous generation consoles and topped out game of the year lists across the industry. Other great titles came out throughout the year including Bioshock Infinite after 5 years in development, and Beyond: Two Souls from Quantic Dream.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the handheld gaming titles which found great success in 2013 as well, such as The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and of course Pokémon X and Y on the 3DS; and Killzone: Mercenary and Tearaway on the Vita. Nintendo continued to dominate the market especially after releasing the XL version of the 3DS with a 90% larger screen, although the PlayStation Vita managed to garner its own success as it picked up momentum after a slow start. The release of the PS4 should also stand to bolster Vita sales with Remote Play finally implemented perfectly in the new system.
The last thing I want to mention from 2013 is perhaps one of the biggest for the Australian gaming community: the inaugural PAX Australia convention in July. PAX Aus was without a doubt one of the highlights of the year for me, despite the cripplingly cold wind (give me a break – I’m from QLD) and slightly cramped venue. With great discussion panels made up of some of the most influential people in the games industry in Australia and the world; a huge area for everything from board games to card games to pinball and retro games; the consistently comfy handheld lounge full of beanbags and friendly faces; and of course the epic Indie Showcase showing off some of the work from Australia’s burgeoning independent game development community. There was simply nothing like it before, and the announcement of a bigger venue for PAX Aus 2014 means there is yet another reason to get excited for what is to come in the new year.
It has been a massive year, and I would like to thank all of our readers and podcast listeners for supporting us throughout 2013. I wish you all a happy and prosperous new year, and I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store for us all!