"Is there one thing I will never forgive Activision for, it's that Modern Warfare 3 ad with Jonah Hill. Why? Because they could have spent that money making the game...uh, I dunno, GOOD?!" - my response after playing COD: MW3 and realizing it was shi...just like all the other COD-games I've disliked.
Here’s an undeniable truth – 2014 wasn't a good year for the entertainment business in general, especially when it came to video games. Titles were held back, release dates were changed (most recently GTA V), and we ended up with a pretty short list of memorable games – and, not to mention, a long list of disappointments. Games which had much promise, most prominently Watch Dogs, failed to resonate with a majority of gamers. The new consoles resulted in a wave of rushed games, and did not live up to the promise of the next-gen experience that gamers were looking forward to. To say that there’s a serious trust issue between gamers and developers is an understatement, and what might be the most disappointing to gamers is the fact that there isn't really a standout AAA title (triple-A game) from last year. In my opinion, there was no GTA V of this year – except for the GTA V remake of course.
It should be said that 2014 had its moments of brilliance – Mario Kart 8, Far Cry 4 and Alien: Isolation are just examples of games that had their fair share of praise and popularity. The problem lies in the praise-part however; there was no game that stood out, no game that everybody loved. There was no The Last of Us of 2014 that had both reviewers and the public on their side, but a wave of games that were good, and that some loved and others simply thought were meh.
Looking at the gameplay trends on YouTube and Twitch, the fact that triple-A games had a bad year is evident; few new releases made a great impact on the community, and the magnitude of gamers combined playing selected triple-A games were marginal, compared to the other trends we've seen previous years.
This brings up the evolution that has changed the video game community – the rise of the indie games replacing triple-A games. Five Nights At Freddy’s was one of 2014’s most popular games, especially in the gameplay community, and other indie games followed in its footsteps, from a wide range of simulator games to Octodad. P.T. also offered something new to the industry, but let’s be honest – it is after all just a playable teaser. But it were these games, the indie, low-budget games that we remember the most. They were fun, scary, creative and, most importantly, didn't always take themselves too seriously. This aspect might be triple-A games’ biggest issue – they are SO SERIOUS about what they do. Let's be honest, it's just video games. They're not going to change the world.
The wonder that is a video game not taking itself too seriously - an in-game ad from GTA V
While most indies who see the light of day let their games do most of the talking, it seemed as if the budgets triple-A developers had put aside for marketing last year were probably larger than the budget of the actual games. High production value, massive billboards and covers which show how many awards they received at E3 was the epitome of triple-A releases last year. Their quality....often questionable.
The term “Triple-A” has changed, from something spectacular and close to perfection to a game that has nothing certain to offer but a big budget. It doesn't even have to be made yet.
If there was anything that saved 2014 from being (in my opinion) one of the worst years for gaming in a long time, it was three things – indie games, remakes and EA’s unsurprising (and always pretty mediocre) new games in already existing franchises.
EA's endless sports-related games should be excused however - they rarely promise too much, their advertisements (though usually pretty flashy) are what we expect, and the E3 presentations of them are usually not as extravagant as the rest of the games.
If anything, one of this year’s biggest surprises, besides gameplay-indies, was Far Cry 4. It wasn't over-marketed or promised too much, rather showed fans of the series that they would get a new addition with a lot of the same mechanics and missions – but a whole lot prettier.
To me, triple-A games’ similarity to the covers of horror films are eerily similar (no pun intended). Their marketing, trailers, covers are all intense, extravagant and capture your attention. While they have audiences screaming and saying it was the scariest thing they've ever experienced, games have the quotes of someone saying it was ‘epic’ or ‘awesome’. And the artwork is always on point – beautiful, eye-catching, and usually deceiving.
Triple-A games might be facing a death they are part of themselves. Just because you’re drowning in money doesn't mean gamers will want to keep playing your games. There are plenty of Five Night At Freddy's games out there for us to stream and record. What developers and publishers, like politicians, need to do is stop promising what they can't deliver. Rather than disappoint, the gaming industry should change their agenda to surprising.
I think I can speak on behalf of plenty of gamers when I say that we'd rather have triple-A game developers spend their marketing money on not releasing a broken game and rather use it on over-the-top E3 presentations with an excessive amount of nouns and trailers with Jonah Hill in them.