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The 5 events that shook the video game industry in 2012 Exclusive
The 5 events that shook the video game industry in 2012
December 7, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi




Gamasutra news director Frank Cifaldi continues Gamasutra's annual year-end roundups series by looking back at the five events that defined 2012.

I can't help but shake the feeling that 2012 is the start of the most major disruption to video games since the crash of the early 1980s. All year long I felt like we were on the precipice of something, some major fundamental change (or, more likely, combination of changes) that is forever going to change the way we work in this industry.

I can't wait to see what it is.

We've already gone over the trends that defined the year, so what I want to do now is whittle the year down to five distinct moments, the five events that shook us the most in 2012.

When 38 Studios imploded

The mere existence of 38 Studios was one of my favorite things about the video game industry. That a man could make his fortune being an all-star baseball pitcher and use it to jumpstart a video game studio, hire his favorite people, and make the kinds of games he wants to play was proof that even the wildest adolescent fantasies can come true.

Unfortunately, the dream didn't last. While still in the midst of developing its ambitious MMO (codenamed Copernicus), 38 missed a loan payment to the state of Rhode Island, which helped get the company going with a $75 million loan (in exchange for operating in the state).

And that was just the start. 38 kept its employees working, without pay before laying them all off and declaring bankruptcy leaving developers -- many of whom relocated, only to find that 38 never actually paid for their relocation as promised -- stuck with no money and no severance in an area not exactly known for its thriving game development community.

When the doctors left the building

It didn't exactly come as a shock to us when BioWare founders Doctors Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk (pictured above) resigned from the (now EA-owned) company they founded -- we'd been hearing rumors for the better part of the year, in fact -- but it still felt like a blow when it happened.

Both claimed that they felt like they'd accomplished what they'd wanted and that it was time to move on, but with the struggles of The Old Republic fresh on our minds, it was really hard not to draw a connection.

When the world hurled money at the little console that could

I had a meeting with Ouya founder Julie Uhrman before its Kickstarter went live and, skeptical as I was about how it would solve the ever-oppressive discoverability problem, I knew developers would flock to support a new kind of game console allowing basically anyone to make a game.

I didn't think it would go this far, though: at $8.6 million in pledges, Ouya is still the highest-grossing video game-related project in Kickstarter history.

The Ouya is obviously speaking to a desire that a whole lot of game developers have: to be able to self-publish games of any scale to a home television console that uses a real controller.

When #1reasonwhy made us all angry

As my boss Kris Graft pointed out yesterday in The 5 trends that defined the game industry in 2012, 2012 seems like it could go down as a turning point for diversity and gender inclusiveness in the video game industry which, sadly, is still around 90% male according to our independent research.

The issue hit a crescendo on the night of November 26, when several women working in the industry took to Twitter to explain "#1reasonwhy" they don't feel comfortable working here.

We're certainly no strangers to the issue around here, but never before was there such a concentration of horror stories, ranging from being groped at conferences to studios not hiring women because they're "more trouble than they're worth."

When professionals screamed for blood

This year's E3 was a weird one for us -- as you may have read previously -- but one particular moment sticks out, and is something we're still talking about.

During Sony's big annual press conference, with cameras rolling and the internet livestreaming and major media documenting what's new in the video game industry, we were all shown several minutes of gameplay of Naughty Dog's upcoming adventure game The Last of Us. It's an impressive game that, frankly, looks like it'll be great.

However, at the end of the demonstration, our protagonist -- who, granted, has been defending himself from enemies who would see him dead -- points a shotgun straight at a guy's face who literally begs for his life before being blown to pieces.

And in the crowded room full of video game professionals, the audience erupted in applause. I saw some people stand up in excitement. One guy threw punches at the air, unable to contain his joy at having seen this.

It remains to be seen if this moment is going to have any impact on the rest of the industry, but I think Gamasutra changed at that moment. All of us were frankly bored and a bit disgusted by the endless extreme violence we were seeing at the show earlier that day, but that moment really turned us off of triple-A video games for a while.

Here we are in an industry creating some of the most beautiful works of art that have ever been seen, literally redefining how humans interact with the very world they live in, and this is how we're represented at the largest trade show of the year?

Was it an overreaction? Maybe. But looking back over everything we wrote in 2012, I can't help but notice subtle changes to the way we covered this industry starting from that moment. We've been returning big publisher PR phone calls just a little bit less often, for better or for worse, and have retrenched a bit to focus more on what makes games great, as opposed to what games are selling the most.

More Gamasutra 2012 roundups:

The 5 trends that defined the game industry in 2012

The 5 most significant video game controversies in 2012


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Comments


Luis Guimaraes
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http://gamasutra.com/view/news/129014/Report_Video_game_designer_
sentenced_to_death_in_Iran_over_propaganda_charges.php#.UMJAQYOx_
7M

Liza Shulyayeva
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But I'm so glad the author was "a bit disgusted by the endless extreme violence we were seeing" in response to virtual murder. Clearly real life murder related to the industry isn't industry-shaking enough.

Nick Weihs
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Definitely seems more important than some top dudes getting fired over at Bioware. That kind of thing happens all the time.

I think #5 is still a good point though. One of the problems with E3 in particular in the last couple of years is getting the press excited about the same big budget shootery crap that's been coming out. Upping the ante by making things more realistic and intense in regards to violence will only get you so far before people start just getting disgusted by it. Industry shaking tipping points like those only come about when large groups of independently thinking people come to the same conclusion, which it doesn't seem like he made a very good case for in the article, but maybe there was more to the story. Either way someone who's supported the industry for a long time changing their mind about what's acceptable, might be a good indication that we're on the verge of a problem.

E Zachary Knight
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Nick,

They weren't fired. They quit.

That said, while that story Luis linked was tragic, I don't think it had as much of an overall impact on the games industry as a whole as those listed.

Chris Hendricks
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Having just now read the Iran story, I gotta ask... as horrible as the situation is, did it actually shake the video game INDUSTRY? That's what the top 5 list is about.

Let me say that I'm not trying to minimize Amir's situation in any way... it just seemed worth asking.

Nick Weihs
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Yeah maybe it's just more of a story about how f'd up the middle east is rather than something that shook the games industry. I still don't think the BioWare thing was very industry shaking either.

Kris Graft
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Since a few people are talking about the (very unfortunate, to say the least) case of Amir Mizra Hekmati, I'll explain: It didn't make the list because (as a couple people have acknowledged) the list above is focused on pieces of news that had a direct impact on the game industry from a business and/or creative angle. In any case, yes, Amir's situation is absolutely awful.

Jeremy Reaban
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The "Industry" has been rather silent about those developers arrested in Greece for spying as well.

Luis Guimaraes
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It's my fault, I did read it as "shocked" first time.

Nicholas Capozzoli
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Doritogate would seem to be a worthy addition, IMO.

Jon Radmer
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Agreed. I can't imagine a 2012 wrap-up without a reminder of how hand-fed games journalism really is.

Kyle Redd
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Absolutely. I guess we shouldn't expect that event to show up on many sites' 2012 lists because of the broad implications of it. But maybe with that and #5, someday soon game writers will actually grow the hell up and starting acting like the responsible professionals they've pretended to be all this time.

E Zachary Knight
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How is Doritogate any different than any other previous game journalism bias story?

Kyle Redd
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@Zachary

Well for one thing, it's the first time the offending individuals have actually been called out on their B.S. by other prominent folks in the industry. It also led to a pretty significant upgrade in the operating standards over at Eurogamer: http://tinyurl.com/crft4xm

Even Gerstmann-gate, which was a considerably more significant screw-up, did not lead to any new policies at GameSpot in the aftermath. So that's improvement.

Mike Kasprzak
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@E Zachary Knight: Doritogate is funnier. Look in his eyes!

Arthur Souza
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The part about the E3 really made me think.

Matthew Calderaz
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Anthony nailed it; there was a lot to like about the Last of Us demo, (as you admitted): The seemingly non-scripted yet very dynamic combat was incredibly intense. Assuming that everyone was cheering for the wanton violence is quite an erroneous assumption. Also, unless you saw a different demo than I did at the official Sony conference, they didn't actually show anyone getting blown away; it cut to the title during the implied kill shot.

I think the overall 'games are too violent' stance is somewhat of an over-reaction. There are specific titles that can and should be called out as excessively and needlessly gory; but I see a pretty wide range of violence levels in the games I play, at least. The variety seems pretty similar to violence in film, actually; except that the industry caters more to adults than tween girls.

Wylie Garvin
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The Last of Us demo appeared heavily scripted to me, except for the standard combat bits. But this is no surprise, all AAA game stage demos tend to be heavily scripted.

The goal is to make something showy, that packs the best parts of the game experience into a short demo, and is predictable enough to be reliably played through on stage. Hopefully it still represents what playing the game is actually like, but very little occurs in an E3 stage demo that wasn't planned out beforehand by the developer. These games are pretty complex, and it would be insane to take the unnecessary risk of something unexpected occurring half way through a live stage demo (which hundreds of thousands of gamers are watching) and wrecking the presentation... think how much ridicule would be heaped on the developer if they allowed that to happen! So they don't.

The demo walkthrough is planned out by the dev team, and the person who will be playing them on stage rehearses it lots of times beforehand (sometimes dozens of times) to make sure he/she can consistently get through the content in the expected way. If any "unexpected" things can happen, such as the player getting killed, the dev team will fix it by putting in temporary code changes (such as, giving the player infinite health for the demo). They will probably disable various systemic behaviours, and put in scripted triggers or whatever to activate them at exactly the expected spot in the demo. Sometimes content is made specifically for the E3 demo, and never quite makes it into the final game (which is usually still under development at the time the E3 demo is shown).

warren blyth
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@matthew: totally agree with you (and Anthony, above).
I think the Last of Us demo surprised everyone with it's mature slow-build tone. The ending boiling point released tension that was built throughout the demo, which is why people cheered. If you weren't there, you'd assume the demo was just 10 seconds of a guy pleading for his life before being shot. which totally mischaracterizes their presentation.

- moments earlier in the demo, your young female companion transitioned from helpless sidekick to screaming assailant. That moment, where she cursed and lept out of the shadows onto the guy you were struggling with, gave me chills. (good chills)

tonally the whole thing reminded me of movie The Road, which is an impressive feat for a video game.

I think the problem here is (much like the ear-removal scene in reservoir dogs) people are confusing their emotional reaction to intensity with gore. They feel horrified by the intensity, they'd swear it ended with gore, and then they feel disgust at others around them who are cheering gore.

They can't recognize that these other people are enjoying an entirely different emotional reaction to the intensity. It doesn't occur that maybe these people are thrilled a video game demo was able to deliver an intense emotional experience.

Erin OConnor
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Here is hoping that BioWare founders Doctors Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk found another game company. Bioware produced some of the best RPG games ever made. And maybe this time they will go with a publisher that is NOT EA.

Fiatala Salamo
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The Mass Effect 3 hubbub would be a good thing for this list.

Dev Jana
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"We've been returning big publisher PR phone calls just a little bit less often, for better or for worse, and have retrenched a bit to focus more on what makes games great, as opposed to what games are selling the most."
Simply put: Thank you. This is why I and many others come here. We can get what's selling from a million places, but we come here for "what makes games great".

Ryan Creighton
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Seconded!

Raymond Ortgiesen
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Reading that sentence made my day.

Curtiss Murphy
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Nice - surprise ending! Having not heard about the 'Cry for Blood', I feel better hearing Gama's response. I too have seen subtle undercurrents, moving across the industry. A little change here and there - just one more piece of the puzzle that is the 'Golden Age'.

Hats off, to everyone at Gama this year.

Kris Graft
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Thanks for reading, Curtiss!

Adam Alexander
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This is a really interesting wrap up of the year. Thanks for writing!

A note on the last one, it does seem that Naughty Dog is going for a post-apocalyptic view of its violence, akin to "The Road" or "The Walking Dead." The genre uses violence with a purpose, to show the dehumanized depths that its protagonists have been forced to stoop to. With that in mind, it may not be the senseless violence of other modern FPS, though one would hope that the audience's reaction to the end of the trailer would be to the overall project, not the brutal slaying at the very end.

Rich Gomer
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re: The Last of Us demo: How do you think everyone in the audience would have reacted if the "guy with shotgun" dropped it to his side and instead offered a helping hand, accompanied by some dialogue, "It's ok, I won't kill you. We're gonna survive...together".

And suddenly you have an AI companion who could prove to be very useful -or- the spared man scurries off, leaving you to your lone existence, as he thanks you for your kindness...the player then earns something based on the empathetic response (compassion points!).

I think this may have garnered some positive responses as well.

Frank Cifaldi
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Wouldn't have been a very good ending to that trailer...

Frank Cifaldi
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I'm not criticizing the game in any way. The (yes, heavily scripted) demo was really interesting to me, and in the world Naughty Dog showed me in that brief moment, I am actually giving them the benefit of the doubt and believing that this game will make me feel like being merciless is necessary to my survival.

If it was an isolated incident it wouldn't have made the list, but this year's E3 was just nonstop fetishistic gory killing being hurled at us over and over as if it's somehow still exciting. The whole thing just hit its crescendo during The Last of Us, when everyone around me was whooping and hollering in a really terrifying way that made me embarrassed to have the job that I do.

Stanley de Bruyn
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Well I don't go into hype and avoiding it just by waiting on a few reviews to make up my mind if it is something for me. So I accedently read about it. But that's it.
Farcry 3 is out now so there is my focus on.

Dave Hoskins
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"Farcry 3..." Where you kill tigers and skin them for their pelts, covering the screen in gore.
Lovely.

Mary Williams
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Personally, I tend to find well-designed cliffhangers more exciting than anything else during a trailer or game demo. Perhaps the fate of the gentleman in question could've been left in flux with some creative cinematography. Not having seen it, I don't know for sure, but game developers are a creative bunch. Allusions are tougher to convey than reality, but if the rest of the trailer truly was that great, I've no doubt it was within their skill level.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Alex Leighton
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This year for me has definitely been the year when I all but stopped playing AAA games, and the violence is a major part of it. I've never been a big fan of violence, but when it was less realistic and sometimes a bit cartoonish I could put up with it if the overall game was good enough.

I've felt for a while now that AAA studios aren't making games for people like me anymore, and E3 pretty much confirmed this. Out of everything I played or saw being played, I can name 4 games which I left the show with any interest in at all: Tony Hawk's HD, NFS Most Wanted, Forza Horizon and Sim City. Maybe it's just something wrong with me, but it seems strange that in this age of trying to appeal to everyone, even if it totally ruins the game, I could hardly find anything to play at the industry's biggest show.

Stanley de Bruyn
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There is nothing wrong with you. You have a problem with violence and others not. That preference. We gamers are different. The FPS genre is in essense shooting something. Lot of games who focus on non violence. So lot of choice for both of us. But FPS the violent theme are obvious.

Example I got Wii but pure for the casual party and fitness stuf.
Kiddy Nintendo IP top core games I totaly don't care about.
But tennis sim or golf sim.
And onrail shooters.
This platform complements the other platforms HD console and PC.

For me.
Emotial games . Heavy rain juk.
Story yuk.
MSG4 I skipped the massive cutscenes.
MMO yuk
Point and click adventures. yuk.

My fav top list genres.

1 ) Space sandbox sim
2 ) Semi milsim FPS
3 ) FPSRPG
4 ) modernwarfare RTS

Thom Q
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I kinda compare it to the Movie Industry. I don't watch AAA movies for a long time now. Why? Because they are made for Children / Adolescents..

Now, Stanley might be the exception that proves the rule, but I'm willing to bet that he's at least a year or 10 younger then Alex...

J Spartan
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Yep, I'm in the same boat as those that find the 'hyper-violence' a big turn off from AAA. It definitely effects my spending patterns.

I think in this area we also need to mention the EA 'Medal of Honor' thing:

http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/08/medal-of-honor-website-ends-toma
hawk-promo-and-pulls-links-to-weapons-gear-manufacturers/

So, looking at the overall state of the industry in terms of the level and type of violence it seems to want to promote, the question should be how much money going into the AAA game industry is coming from the arms industry?

Then, if you are brave, ask why?

Bisse Mayrakoira
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How much money is the sports car industry pouring into the AAA game industry in order to get their high-powered cars featured in games and to lure innocent people to race recklessly on public roads?

My guess? Zero, which is about as much as I think the arms industry is pouring into the game industry. If you have a game with stuff - whether "stuff" is cars or military gear - and realism helps the mood of the game, then being able to feature real brands instead of having to design generic ones is good for you. It's also good for them since an AAA game is enormous visibility. Thus, cross promotion makes sense. Unless you are upset about Need for Speed: Most Wanted, I don't see why you'd be upset about MoH.

When EA broke the news about their partners, I noticed I own stuff from at least three of said partners; they are good companies making quality gear and I'm glad they received visibility.
It's not going to make me buy MoH, though - I'm not interested in CoD clones.

wes bogdan
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In an industry where you either go big or go home it's been a constant outdoing everyone else so much so that as everyone tries to yell louder it all becomes white noise. As for the last of us demo it could be taken out of context and when the full game ships and we reach that point we all might've been harrassed all game long by this guy who would've done that to both of you without any regret or remorse.

While i enjoy all manner of games shooters are themselves becoming white noise without a beloved hero like chief,distinct art,humor,rpg elements and tons of guns like borderlands even the best loved multi player based gameplay like cod gets stale.

We aren't in WW II cod anymore so how many MW or Black op's can be made before it all becomes again really been here done this...next.

I've always been drawn to great games that might not get the love they deserved:bg and e,stranger's wrath,team ico,level v games,gamearts,3d dot game etc so while the last of us being super real and hopefully out of context brought violence to a point where most people were discusted in the last second it also makes my point how everything must be bigger,better,louder than the compitition or your last game which isn't nesacaryly a good thing.

We don't need to learn this lesson from hollywood as trying to always go bigger than the last time doesn't always end well and while we're gearing up for shiny new boxes i doubt whether stuffing the same game just shinyer will last as long because 360 and ps3 look quite nice already so it's not as dramatic as wii to wii u will be for wii owners which may be a problem.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Thom Q
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Frank: It kinda reads like you're bummed about the Ouya having a succsesfull kickstarter, maybe because the other points clearly adress negative issues.. Plus, it reads like you're claiming that developers funded most of the $8.6 million? Do you have any sources for that, because I'm quite curious

Luis Blondet
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I knew this article was going to be a problem.

Lewis Pulsipher
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It isn't the presence of violent death in games that is so offputting. Anything involving warfare is going to involve a lot of violent deaths, and the world is full of warfare.

It's the constant depiction of violent death, often "joyous" depiction, that offends adults. It's fundamentally non-adult. http://www.pulsipher.net/Articles/DepictionsViolentDeath.htm (originally from gamedev.net but their links to it are damaged).

Unfortunately, despite the much higher average age of gamers these days, the AAA industry (especially console) still make and market games for non-adults.

Thom Q
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So, if I get this right, a few years ago the Wii wasn't "Core" enough, with Core of course meaning: Console gamers who play Sports games, Race games, and "bloody games" (hack & Slashers, shooters, that sort of thing).

Every couple of years, the discussion about mature content in games erupts again, although this time on a much smaller scale.. I can remember Wolfenstein, Prince of Persia, Mortal Kombat, Carmageddon and Grand Theft Auto that sparked discussion & even influenced law making.

Why these games cause controversy is ofcourse due to a set of unique circumstances with every release. Only when there's a "perfect" storm, people start to have a fit, while ignoring the last years of bloody releases. Personally, I think that a lot of people jump on the Anti Violence / Sex bandwagon way to easy, while 95% of them enjoyed violence in video-games.

Video games have since the near beginning always been violent..

Asteroids, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong etc. All are based on violent encounters and players & NPCs getting killed. Lemmings & Worms were completely violent, Sim City had its part of mass-death, Tamagochi's die, Mario is a genocidal maniac by now, and even the pigs in Angry Birds get slaughtered.

So only when the gore is visually offensive enough, And there's a perfect storm of circumstances, only Then people start revolting..
This to me is top-shelf hypocrisy, the same as with the outrage over violent movies, or even cursing in lyrics. If you don't like it, then don't buy it / watch it etc. Don't let your children have it. But also, don't try to censor media based on your own views.

Its not a question whether or not a society should glorify violence or not, but how much. I don't think the game-industry is the place to do that though. Not only is the entire industry for the most part based on violence, in essence its a media for entertainment. Maybe we developers overestimate the influence we have over players.

Jean-Paul LeBreton
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"It remains to be seen if this moment is going to have any impact on the rest of the industry, but I think Gamasutra changed at that moment. All of us were frankly bored and a bit disgusted by the endless extreme violence we were seeing at the show earlier that day, but that moment really turned us off of triple-A video games for a while."

I'm really proud of you guys.

Don't listen to all the people here who are defending a broken status quo. Gamasutra has a lot of power to shape the culture around games.

Christopher Totten
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I really feel like this article, the list of controversies, and the earlier one on trends of 2012 DO highlight the beginning of some philosophical changes for at least part of the industry. There will always be people who stand by the Last Of Us-esque moments, but it is encouraging to see more and more of the industry shifting towards more mature content(as in intellectually stimulating, not blood and guts) and openness in development. Truth be told, this is not the first time I've seen or heard it suggested that certain parts of the industry may be facing a shift akin to the '83 crash and I'm not sure it will be the last. Not that we'll all be out of jobs, but the things we work on may change.

Justin Sawchuk
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No one ever seems to talk about the rise of the youtuber gamers but now that I can watch other people play games I havent bought a AAA game since last christmas.

Raymond Ortgiesen
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wat

warren blyth
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I feel like a lot of people are confusing the Last of Us demo's "intensity" with violence or gore.
(like a controversial tarantino movie, it had much more intricate building intensity than actual violence or gore.)
(... or perhaps these same people see no distinction between "intensity" and a sort of "emotional violence"? hard to clarify these typed comments sometimes).

Well, question for you folks : do you just want games/entertainment to be less emotionally intense?
- do you feel games need to be puzzles? (less manipulative. blank slates that we enjoy how we please)
- or they should only elicit intense emotions which are clearly unrelated to violence?

honestly can't decide if you're just sensitive (everything should be beautiful, and promote happiness!), or if you're trying to make a some valid point about keeping intensity away from games.


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