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5 events that shook the game industry in 2013
5 events that shook the game industry in 2013 Exclusive
December 12, 2013 | By Mike Rose

Gamasutra's UK editor Mike Rose continues Gamasutra's annual year-end roundups series by looking back at the biggest events that defined 2013.

After so much talk about the rise of the mobile game industry in recent years, it's perhaps surprising that much of the big news this year revolved around playing games in the living room.

But it wasn't the releases of the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 that provided the real explosive drama -- rather, it was the build-up to release, decisions made along the way, and announcements from potential new rivals.

Which moments truly shaped the video game landscape this year, then? We've whittled it down to five of the most notable pieces of news from 2013.

Valve's vision for the living room materializes

We'd already heard rumors about the fabled 'SteamBox' living room PC last year, and the launch of Steam Big Picture mode more than hinted that Valve was getting ready to stake its claim in your living room, potentially giving Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft a new formidable competitor to deal with.

But it was this year that Valve really set forward its living room plans, dedicating an entire week to a variety of announcements. First it announced SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system built specifically around the Steam platform. Next came the Steam Machines -- Valve was making its own PC-based game console, and had invited a bunch of other hardware manufacturers to have a crack at it too.

Finally the Steam Controller was unveiled, a gamepad that can be used to play traditional gamepad-based games, as well as games that require a mouse and keyboard. With each of these punches, Valve had the entire game industry hammering the F5 button. In the space of a week, Valve had made a play for the living room, and set its plans in motion for 2014.

Biden wants to talk about violence in video games

Following the devastating Newtown shooting at the end of 2012, many eyes turned to the video game industry, as the National Rifle Association decided that violent video games were to blame for these sorts of shooting -- or at least, more to blame than the availability of the weapons themselves. Weeks later, as 2013 had just begun to churn itself out, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden put out a call to video game industry leaders, looking to secure a meeting with industry representatives, and asking the question: What will the leaders of the game industry do to help reduce the occurrence of mass shootings?

Cue a large-scale back-and-forth spread wide and far across the internet, in which one side of the argument claimed that we, the industry, should meet with Biden to spell out the reasons why we aren't to blame -- while the other made the point that even turning up to a meeting with Biden would suggest that we are, in fact, a guilty party.

The article from Gamasutra editor-in-chief Kris Graft discussing the reasons why meeting with Biden would be a mistake kicked over a bit of a hornet's nest, and spawned numerous other articles and conversations elsewhere, including a response at IGN and an article on The Atlantic. [Former IGN editor-in-chief Casey Lynch also ran a worthwhile vox pop of journalists and developers about the issue.]

Industry leaders did attend the meeting with Biden, in which the VP gave the impression that the games industry really needs to improve its image when it comes to violence in video games -- although he admitted that he doesn't feel that violence in video games has such an effect as the mainstream media and NRA would have us believe.

The Xbox 180

When Microsoft announced earlier this year that the upcoming Xbox One console would require a constant internet connection to essentially do anything, including simply playing single-player games from a disc, the internet went into meltdown. For most, it appeared to be an unnecessary inconvenience that was aimed at stopping used game sales. For some, such as people living in areas with poor internet connections, or people in professions where an internet connection isn't always available (like soldiers), this announcement killed any idea of them picking up the console.

It looked like Microsoft wasn't going to relent on this always-on stance, but under vast market pressure from consumers and competition, Microsoft removed the Xbox One always-on requirement, and allowed for used games to be sold.

It was one of the biggest reversals in the history of game consoles, and changed the dynamic of the next-gen console race with Sony and Nintendo. Later still, under ongoing pressure, Microsoft provided another u-turn, and said it would allow developers to self-publish on Xbox One in the form of the ID@Xbox self-publishing program.

Not only were these major policy reversals notable in and of themselves, but also because of the way consumers and developers not-so-subtly told Microsoft -- largely via social media -- that the company was moving in the wrong direction, spurring the changes.

LucasArts is no more

2012 saw Disney surprise the movie industry, with the $4 billion purchase of Star Wars company Lucasfilm. This was significant for the video game industry too, since the deal included video game publishing studio LucasArts, a company that has a special place in many hearts.

But while some hoped that this would lead to a revitalization of the video game company, nothing could be further from the truth. Disney announced in April this year that it was shutting down all internal development at LucasArts, canceling all titles in production, letting go of the majority of its staff, and effectively using the studio as a licensing house for its existing properties.

Disney's reasoning for the shutdown was that the studio presented financial risk in its current form -- of course, this didn't quell the outpouring of grief from the games industry as a whole. The closing down of LucasArts wasn't just a loss for the video game industry -- it was the death of a dream. For so many developers, LucasArts was why they got into video game development in the first place, and is one of the reasons why we still talk about LucasArts' old adventure games to this day.

XNA is dead

LucasArts wasn't the only meaningful video game industry shutdown this year. Early in 2013, Microsoft finally called time on its XNA development toolset, stating that while the tools will remain available, they will not receive any more updates. It was a decision that had clearly been on the cards for a while, but that didn't stop it being a notable blow for the thousands of developers who relied on the tools, and had built up the necessary skills to go with the platform.

The general consensus among developers was that XNA was a very promising set of APIs with the potential to spread far and wide, yet Microsoft never really took the time to give it enough focus and attention -- perhaps due to the flawed Xbox Live Indie Games platform, which utilized XNA but never really managed to take off. Fortunately, those developers who were left in the lurch by the news had MonoGame, the open source implementation of the XNA Framework, to fall back on.

The fall of XNA also well and truly secured Unity's place as the indie developer's platform of choice. Unity CEO David Helgason even admitted that when XNA launched, he feared for the future of his company -- Microsoft's failure to show any real love for XNA helped Unity break away from the potential competition.

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John Trauger
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When a government as hungry for power and control as this administration looks your way, it's very notable.

Not for the messenger but the message.

Dane MacMahon
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Yeah I miss the days when Bush was radically cutting spending and government power... ?

Greg Quinn
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Surprised GTA V wasn't mentioned lol.

Ron Dippold
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I don't think anyone in the game industry was actually shaken by GTA V being a huge hit!

Luis Guimaraes
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What was this irreversible change GTA V caused in the Games Industry? For me everything just stayed the same (or worse, time will tell).

Kris G
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What about the fall of Zynga? Certainly shook me, I lost my job! :)

Daniel Backteman
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That's actually a fair point, Zynga has provided plenty of drama under the spotlight this year. It's almost scary how easy it is to forget and move on for a bloke like me that wasn't affected.

Katy Smith
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As stated above, I'd add the decline of "first gen" F2P as noted by the fall of Zynga. I'd also add something about the social media freakouts that happened this year. There was the Adam Orth incident, the Gamespot GTA5 review backlash, the comments section of every Tropes vs Women video, the Dickwolves Incident, part 3 including Fullbright backing out of PAX, etc.

Matt Oztalay
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Daap Lok
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Thank you for the insights, Mike. Disney shutting down LucasArts is probably the most significant of the five events but it is just as much for the good I think. Disney being a bottom line driven company was recognizing that it cannot control events and developments in our industry as it is accustomed to in its traditional business areas. So there is a freedom generating aspect to this if we as an industry can take advantage of this massive shift in the fundamental forces of our industry.