Out with the old: Although it hasn't been confirmed by Microsoft yet, I share the concern that Windows 8 will be a closed platform. There are fears that releasing a game on Windows will be like developing apps for an Apple device, vetting process and all. That's bad for indie games for obvious reasons, but it's been interesting to see the bigger names -- Gabe Newell from Valve, Rob Pardo from Blizzard -- weigh in against the closed-system approach as well. We've really taken it for granted that anyone can release a game on Windows, and I hope we don't lose that.
In with the new: I'd say this is the year that crowdsourcing really came into its own. This was certainly a banner year for Kickstarter games; there's clearly a strong desire among certain fan bases to see more of the types of games they love. And that means more offbeat, creative games, which I'm always in favor of.
But I suspect there might be a bumpy road ahead -- not all of the funded projects will ship a game, and some have already failed to deliver their promised rewards. And I think people are starting to question why so many large companies are moving into a space that seemed to be built for smaller, artistic projects.
Shout-outs: Dear Esther was great. I sat down to play half an hour at most, and instead spent the next three hours, uninterrupted, as I traversed the whole thing. It was a strong, quiet presence in this year's game releases, and no one quite seemed to know what to make of it. But I think it'll hold its own as an example of what the games medium can do for storytelling for many years to come.
Unmanned by Molleindustria was an unexpected and worthwhile game. I think it's better if I don't spoil it, but there's a lot of freedom in what you're able to try in the game, and I found myself playing through a couple times just to see how I could affect the main character's life. One last one: shout-out to the Northways for finishing Incredipede -- it's a great, weird physics game that's totally worth checking out.
I told you so: I think some of the recent self-examination going on in game journalism is a (perhaps clumsy) step in the right direction. It's good to question the closeness of the relationship between PR and game journalism, and even certain journalists. But there was some finger-pointing, which probably did more harm than good. Vilifying certain people may make for a better story, but it also gives the false impression that the problem is solved, rather than looking at the larger picture that created it.
One-sentence review: 2012 was stressful, but every year is -- and there was not enough time to play too many games. :)
Out with the old: I'm glad to see many first-time developers going straight into entrepreneurism rather than falling prey to the long-held belief that you have to "break into games" at a big studio. It's exciting to see so many people focusing on just shipping games that they want to make and worrying about the details of a career or a company afterward.
In with the new: In the past year I've appreciated the flight of so many triple-A developers into indie ventures, eschewing big bucks and corporate benefits in order to fulfill their passions more precisely. What I hope to see next year is more of these individuals banding together either as slightly larger studios or consortiums of studios to enhance their discoverability in the market.
Shout-outs: Brian Provinciano of VBlank, who singlehandedly and with great determination created Retro City Rampage on, like, a billion platforms. Aaron San Filippo and Greg Shives, former coworkers of mine who left the warm nest of triple-A to strike out as indie devs, creating their own companies simply to better fulfill their creative urges. Local Madison mobile studio PerBlue, who in the space of about four years went from a group of students with no game-dev knowledge to a flourishing organization.
I told you so: I wish I'd been wrong, but the triple-A sector has continued to collapse under the weight of its own horribly broken system, consolidating into fewer larger studios and leaving a trail of laid-off employees in their previously occupied space.
One-sentence review: With the proliferation of tablets and smartphones, the increased availability of powerful and easy-to-use tools, and the lowered barrier to entry across the channels, it's been great to see the growth of mobile games bringing to light not only more gamers than we were previously aware of, but more developers, too!
Out with the old: I think we are finally getting past the institutionalized mentality of "gamers [want]/[don't want] [whatever]." For too long, that led to devs telling us what we would like to play rather than letting us choose what we liked. Instead, lately there are enough definitions of "game" out there to make Ludwig Wittgenstein and Sid Meier toast each other.
In with the new: I see a lot of promise in the increasing use of automatically or procedurally generated content -- whether it be for narrative, dialogue, animation, or level generation. Anything that can help us power through the bottleneck of content creation in games will be a major boon to the industry.
Shout-outs: At first, indies were cute, a little awkward, and mostly obscure. Now, with the tools, platforms, visions, and the freedom to do something different, they've gotten to the point where they are commanding a lot of attention -- and changing games in the process. Huge +1 to the indie space as a whole!
I told you so: A year ago, I was telling people that Unity was going to take over the dev world. While it hasn't quite done that yet, there is a significant level of legitimacy to it now (Rovio!). This can only be a good thing for the indie space in particular because it lowers the technical and financial barriers for entry.
One-sentence review: I like to think of this past year in game development as the one where we finally stopped caring about what Roger Ebert thought of us.
Out with the old: Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but I do think it's worth noting that Zynga's approach appears to be proving to be not terribly sustainable. I prefer to interpret this as a whole new demographic of game players wising up and looking for something that gives their life more value. I think we (we being the rest of the game makers at large) have a huge responsibility to provide intelligent, diverse and approachable games for them.
In with the new: True self-distribution. Humble Bundle/Store is awesome, but a lot of games are going all the way. Obviously Minecraft is one example, but Spy Party is doing a pretty good job even though it's not even an open beta yet. FTL ran a great beta. Introversion Software (Prison Architect) built their own Kickstarter service. From a business perspective I think these are all really positive examples. It's not just Minecraft anymore. I love that. (Also, holy crap, did you see how many amazing small/indie games came out this year? The list is pretty staggering. How are we going to top that next year?)
Shout-outs: I hope he reads this -- I know he will get all embarrassed -- but for me it's probably Zach Gage. That dude makes exactly the kinds of games I love to make, only he's really, really good at it. SpellTower is great, Guts of Glory is fantastic, and all the prototypes he's been building and not even releasing are all totally amazing too. Dude is brilliant. Second place to Nels Andersen and the Mark of the Ninja team at Klei -- that game really, really pushes my buttons. ALL OF THEM.
I told you so: I was going to say "Zynga" but ugh, that horse is so dead. This might be a better observation for last year (or maybe next year), but the ascendance of Capy Games as a kind of joyful, exploratory force is something I saw coming way before Sword & Sworcery happened, much less Super Time Force, or their assistance on Sound Shapes, or, or, or...
One-sentence review: Sounds cheesy, but at least on the indie side I think we're growing up and getting more open-minded (though we have a long way to go still), and the awesome results of this past year are the obvious consequence of that.