What We Learned About Gaming in 2015

A lot has happened in the gaming industry and the community surrounding it in 2015. As is typically the case there have been a variety of controversies and talking points that have divided opinions, causing many fists to be angrily shaken in front of laptop screens, a barrage of furious tweets/Reddit posts, and various Patreon campaigns being set up by people who support YOUR views and for just $10 per month, will produce a series of weekly YouTube videos in which they’ll spend 44 minutes yelling into their webcam. 

So what have we learned about gaming in 2015?

People are quite happy being angry with no one in particular

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If there was one thing we learned from the Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 “controversy,” it’s that some people are very content with allowing their piss to boil over issues that exist almost entirely within their own imagination.

DOAX3, a beach sports title with an emphasis upon titillation by way of its scantily-clad female characters, was a game that few were talking about prior to a comment made by publisher Koei Tecmo’s social media manager. After this individual posted a message saying that the game would not be releasing in the West due to “issues surrounding how the video game industry treats females in gaming,” rather than those who had been looking forward to the game raising their issues regarding this statement with the publisher, they instead decided to shake their fists at gaming’s “SJWs.” Everyone from Feminist Frequency host and perennial target of frustration of Anita Sarkeesian to video game journalists, bloggers, and outspoken developers were thrown into the stirring pot, with them all being accused of influencing Koei Tecmo’s decision.

This was a stretch to say the least, given the complete lack of notable opposition to the game’s release, and also Koei’s own previous statements regarding how they would release DOAX3 in the West if they felt there was a market for it. Nonetheless, many decided that people who had never even discussed DOAX3 prior to Koei’s Facebook post were guilty of censorship, and when these claims were easily debunked, the narrative switched to claims of “self-censorship,” i.e. Koei had censored itself (even though the game was still purchasable from import sites with all of its original content intact), because they didn’t want to upset sensitive Western sensibilities.

This argument would have been a little more agreeable, if not for the fact that Asian publishers have a long history of altering their games in order to appeal to a Western audience. As noted by the Guardian’s reasoned article ‘Dead or Alive and otaku culture,’ games as far back as the Sega Genesis’ Streets of Rage III have been edited before making the journey from Asia to the West, though the current ongoing, seemingly infinite online debate between progressives and their detractors meant that DOAX3‘s perceived censorship (even though, as previously mentioned, Western gamers can still easily purchase the game outside of traditional retailers) actually became a thing people were arguing about for a while.

But despite the lack of any evidence to suggest that a plucky band of SJW game journalists and feminists had directly led to the game being prohibited from receiving a Western release, and Koei Tecmo’s own admission that they didn’t particularly believe there was a market for it in the US and Europe, the debate continued to rage on as those who had allowed themselves to become inordinately angry over the debacle shouted among one another, essentially shadow-boxing with ghosts as they complained at anyone other than Koei Tecmo about them not being able to buy a game that they weren’t interested in anyway.

 

Konami is gaming’s pantomime villain

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Image Credit: Denise Truscello / Getty Images

Konami’s 2015 was a carnival of awfulness, punctuated by the occasional great video game release such as Metal Gear Solid V or Pro Evolution Soccer 2016, but mostly consisting of them launching into one PR disaster after another whilst simultaneously trying to make their long-time developer Hideo Kojima have the least enjoyable year possible.

While there has still been no official statement regarding the reported conclusion of the working relationship between Konami and Kojima, it’s safe to assume that the two parties will not be collaborating in the future, after initial rumors that they had fallen out during the development of MGSV eventually devolving into the company repeatedly poking the auteur with a stick. After removing his Silent Hills demo P.T. from the PlayStation Store, ensuring that no one would ever be able to download it ever again and causing it to evaporate from the annals of video game history in the process, Konami then proceeded to drop Kojima’s name from the promotional material of MGSV, including the game’s box art. 

Konami’s baffling and immature treatment of one of their most prolific developers was epitomized by them not allowing him to accept his own trophy at the Game Awards, assuming the role of a parent sending their child to bed without allowing him to eat his dinner nor collect his giant trophy for making a good video game.

 

Games media will beat a dead horse until it coughs out money

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Hatred was more of a talking point than it was a video game. When it was first announced, it understandably garnered a great deal of attention by virtue of its disturbing themes, which saw the player assume the role of a homicidal sociopath embarking upon a killing spree of innocent people. While Hatred wasn’t the first game to allow the player to kill innocent bystanders if they so wished, it was the tone of Hatred that riled a lot of people up, not to mention its debut trailer that placed a lot of emphasis upon the player-character killing mostly minorities and women. It rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way, and as such various gaming outlets voiced their opinions on it.

But then the opinion pieces didn’t stop.

The coverage of Hatred, a Steam Greenlight game created by a low-rank indie development team, surpassed the majority of coverage granted to big-budget releases with incessant ruminations over whether or not it should/shouldn’t be allowed on Steam littering the Internet. As such, the gaming media ended up essentially launching a marketing campaign for the game, doing more for Hatred’s sales than any trailer could ever achieve. People bought Hatred because the games media told them that it was morally reprehensible, the 21st century equivalent of kids wanting to play Grand Theft Auto III because it worried their parents – only, y’know, GTAIII was a very good game and Hatred turned out to be a laughable mess. 

While the motivations of those who bought Hatred just to make a point are dubious, as they essentially revolved around rewarding the developers of a terrible game just because people they disliked said it was terrible, nevertheless it sold way more than it had any right to, being listed at the top of Steam’s Top Sellers list in the week of its release. The disproportionate coverage of Hatred actively led to a woeful game receiving stronger sales than the vast majority of its much more accomplished contemporaries, making for one of the biggest lowlights of the gaming year.

 

Tomonobu Itagaki is a little bit delusional

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Tomonobu Itagaki always came across as one of gaming’s mad geniuses, having been the mind behind both the beloved Ninja Gaiden and the Dead or Alive series, though also responsible for the likes of the aforementioned Dead or Alive Xtreme series. After resigning from Tecmo in 2008, Itagaki revealed that he was embarking upon his own project, Devil’s Third, in 2010.

Fast forward to 2015 and after a heavily troubled development, Devil’s Third was released as a Wii U exclusive and it was awful. Combining third-person melee combat with first-person shooting, a dull story that failed to be enjoyable even in a campy kind of way and with performance issues across the board, which was baffling considering that the game also looked like a dog’s dinner, it completely failed to deliver on even the remotest of expectations fans of Itagaki’s previous output had of it.

Though it was understandable that Itagaki was disappointed with the negative reaction Devil’s Third received, his comments prior to and following its release highlighted that he believed the game’s flaws were not due to it being a bad game, but rather that people didn’t understand how to properly play it.

This, of course, could be deemed a problem with the game in and of itself, but Itagaki was keen to express that early negative responses to preview copies of the game were due to a lack of player skill rather than him having created a particularly shitty game. “Guys, At last, I was be able to understand about the reactions,” Itagaki wrote on his Facebook page. “Devil’s Third is the game which reflects the player’s skill directly/vividly. This is truth.” 

Itagaki later went on to say that Devil’s Third was going to be a “breakthrough for the industry” and it would “take shooters to the next level,” statements which were unfortunately made without a hint of irony. The game was released to negative reviews and poor sales, whilst Itagaki remained prolific on Facebook informing us that the poor quality of his game was because we didn’t understand it, as though he had created the video game equivalent of Infinite Jest.

 

We’re all sick of pre-order bonuses

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This year pre-order bonuses finally jumped the shark after threatening to do so for quite some time, starting with Evolve. Turtle Rock’s asymmetrical shooter came under fire for its misguided marketing campaign, which focused heavily upon the extra content buyers could obtain for purchasing the game prior to its release, rather than the game itself. The slew of skins, characters and weaponry made available to players who threw down their cash early rubbed many up the wrong way, causing questions to be raised over whether the vanilla game would just be a vehicle for future DLC, rather than a fully-fledged game in its own right. Evolve eventually launched to mostly positive reviews though received an ambivalent reaction from the public, and was arguably the first time that pre-order bonuses had actually negatively impacted upon a game’s bottom line.

Despite this, Square Enix decided that they were going to turn Deus Ex: Mankind Divided‘s pre-order plan into a meta-game, offering “tiers” of extras depending upon when buyers pre-ordered their copy, asking players to “Augment Your Pre-Order.” Square excitedly told us that this shambolic plan was designed to allow players to “customize their Deus Ex experience from the very beginning,” as though anyone would be remotely pleased with having content locked away from them if they opted not to buy a game a full year before its release.

Square Enix was inevitably forced to apologize and cancel the tiered plan amid a strong negative backlash, sending a warning message to other publishers that pre-order bonuses should remain limited to useless weapon skins and other such junk.

 

Games are still fun

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Although the community surrounding video games spent 2015 throwing rocks at one another across the vast expanse of the Internet, we all generally agreed upon one thing: video games are still fun. In fact, they have been more fun in 2015 than they have been in quite some time. This is a good thing. Games are good. Games are fun. Let’s not forget this.