2011 was a great year for gaming. There's really no debating that.
After years of being a political pinata, it finally received indisputable First Amendment protections. It had one of the strongest title lineups in recent memory. And new types of interactive entertainment started to show signs of maturity.
But into every life -- or year, in this case -- a little rain must fall. Here are five things we really wish had been handled better (or differently) this year:
Duke Nukem Forever
Yup, we know: It's a miracle this game ever made it onto store shelves. Its Rasputin-like characteristics are legendary in this industry. And we give all the credit in the world to Gearbox for striking a deal that gave fans the game they've been anticipating for more than 12 years. We just wish it had been, you know, a little more fun.
There's an undeniable retro thrill to Duke Nukem Forever for a while (and some players happily clung to that), but unless you were in the cult of Duke, you soon realized that retro gave way to outdated graphics and play mechanics, and those jokes that were so funny in Duke Nukem 3D were just sophomoric now.
This wasn't Gearbox's fault -- and it's hard to even blame 3D Realms -- but the game that everyone knew could never live up to the hype was still more disappointing than most people expected. We just hope that the next installment in the series, which will be all Gearbox, does a better job of blending old school and new.
Sony's handling of PSN hacking
The hacking was bad. The PSN downtime was annoying. But Sony's fumbling on the public handling of April's hacking incident was jaw-dropping. Denials, delays and a defensive nature by the company didn't earn it any friends. And CEO Sir Howard Stringer's prolonged silence on the matter was even worse.
Rather than being open with its users, the company went into a by-the-book defensive mode that's outdated in this age, and taught every publisher that got hacked in the inevitable copycat attacks how not to handle the situation.
Even Sony's formal apology seemed stilted and little more than part of the script. And consumers saw right through it. It wasn't until SCEA president Jack Tretton took the stage at E3 and gave a heartfelt and non-scripted apology that it felt like the company was finally eager to make amends.
Activision vs. EA squabbling
The sniping between Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts wasn't quite as nasty this year as it was in 2010, but it was still an unnecessary distraction. The two are rivals -- and there's always going to be some trash talking, but too many times, that discourse has threatened to overshadow the games, which is insulting to the people who work so hard on them.
Sure, at times, it's a guilty pleasure to observe these two going at it -- like watching a WWE match. But after a while, both parties tend to take it too far and it gets uncomfortable. We will say this, though: It sure would be a hell of a lot of fun to see EA's corporate communications chief Jeff Brown cut a promo with The Rock.
This, in theory, should have been the Facebook game that destroyed productivity worldwide. After all, there is no greater time sink in the gaming world than Civilization.
Instead, the game, developed by Take-Two's Firaxis studio and headed up by Civilization creator Sid Meier himself, turned out to be overly complicated, not especially interesting and, most curiously, kind of boring. Instead of muttering "Just. One. More. Turn," players wandered away and never looked back. CivWorld announced a series of "big improvements" in October, but it did nothing to draw people back.
But Take-Two isn't finished with the social space. Chairman and CEO Strauss Zelnick said in a recent earnings call, "Stay tuned, we have a lot more to say about social gaming in the coming months."
Whether you blame the recession, the company's financials or the European currency crisis, the back half of 2011 wasn't a good time to go public. Both Zynga and Nexon had very disappointing bows as they began trading. Zynga (well, the portion that's publicly owned) lost 10 percent of its value in just two days on Wall Street. And Nexon lost ground as well.
Neither company will suffer much from the stock performance (especially Zynga, which raised the money it wanted to without ceding any real control of the company), but for investors hoping to find inroads into new, expanding gaming and technology markets, the flat performance of both stocks was a letdown.