It was the topic of many year’s end recaps, an asterisk to many best-of nominations, and the message this time was louder than ever before. High profile games especially in the later portions of 2014, whether they are offline, online, single- or multi-player, were with few exceptions all impacted by launch woes. These woes came in many flavors for the biggest developers and publishers out there, the ones that pushed the biggest teams to release the biggest titles. Of all the games on my personal watch list for that holiday season, all had some level of trouble. The new console generation and its ample legroom for development as well as the implicit requirement to build bigger and flashier than before have all played a role. Just as crucial to these problems were the desire to spin up new franchises and draft long form business plans on a bedrock of assumptions. Gaming throughout 2014 was largely a tabloid affair for many reasons and when these are capped off with another major Sony network hack, it becomes clear the year was a tumultuous one. But never mind that hack, I only have so much space to hold the internet’s attention if I have not lost it already.
French game development giant Ubisoft, usually the most quiet of the three companies that each put an A in AAA Development, had been all over the grid with the numerous releases it scatter shot onto store shelves with Assassin’s Creed Unity and Rogue, The Crew, and Far Cry 4 all in the space of a two months. This rapid fire release schedule from one publishing house, and with two games from the same series, would at least leave me to wonder how each game was meant to fair amongst the competition from other Ubisoft titles. But that concern melted away, as did many other minor gripes in that time, as line by line Ubisoft’s titles began imploding under the weight of their own massive development teams. Unity famously launched with game wrecking bugs, grotesque presentation issues, and even the early patch meant to fix this was not spared. The game performed poorly and its problems were highly recognizable, leading to a kind of ubiquity Ubisoft had not intended when the company founders chose the company name. From there the scrutiny was on, as the other Ubisoft titles got recognized by many outlets as being overly derivative of other Ubisoft products, even the new franchise The Crew.
Feature-packed, the games at least intended to offer tons of content and side quests, firmly standing in Skyrim‘s shoes by adding more of every attraction the game had. A great deal of time could be spent finishing all of the side quests and sundry other blips that appear on the colossal maps of these games, but a sense of muchness pervaded the critical reception in a way I felt it had not pervaded Skyrim before more was not necessarily always better in the mainstream opinion. Now, with a Skyrim sized offering dropping several times a quarter, I begin to wonder if even child-me would have had enough time for all of this. But that complaint sits on just one bank of the crap lake of Q4 2014 when opposite it sits the games that did not give enough.
Where content was missing was also where new IPs had cropped up in the AAA space, looking to get on top of a more lucrative business model. Where the older IPs manned by some of the older studios took the approach that a AAA game should come with single player, multiplayer, hours of side quests and expansion-style DLC add-ons not long after release, the newer efforts tried to pawn off full price games bundled with promises of more to come. Respawn Entertainment and Bungie, responsible for Titan Fall and Destiny respectively, both launched games aimed squarely at the one most popular mode of first person shooters: the online multiplayer. While offline single player is defended by some, the numbers are hard to argue with and the longevity of the online modes means this is where future content purchases will be made from. These new games decided to forgo the sandwich bread and just slap down some slices of cold baloney with a small sign next to it indicating more is on the way. Of course, the appetite was completely misjudged as most players blew through the first round of content well before the next round was slated for release. Trained to move on to the next shiniest thing, gamers grew bored and the community was left with late adopters or people who played largely with groups personal friends. In attempting to space out the meager amount of content, these studios realized it was not enough. While the gameplay mechanics were solid, the service model they adopted did not turn out to be exactly the meal ticket it was intended to be.
When in comparison to now old guard front runners like Call of Duty, which still ships with a full campaign and multiplayer mode for sixty dollars, then three DLC additions for twenty dollars making another sixty in total, Bungie and Respawn wanted something closer to an MMO’s subscription model. And while fearful of comparing their game to an actual MMO, Bungie’s online-only shooter that populated the maps with other independent players touched on most MMO staples like item levels, raids and raid currency, weekly and daily timers, and more. But without an actual subscription payment plan, a game like Destiny could only have one or two big draws for its community to plow through before they start calling for more. And while these games made their coin when they were released, once again these failings were high profile enough that it might have just made the buying public more wary of multiplayer-focused games that promise the moon. My wonder in all of this is if 2014 has not gone a long way in souring relations between consumers and AAA development. I do not expect it to crumble away in the space of just this year, but I also do not think it will go well for them if 2015 is just a repeat.
So 2014 was not a winner, readers. I think I have made that point abundantly clear. The holiday rush was peppered with some fun gems, but ultimately it was all just either disappointing or uninteresting for me. And since there was so much dumped out across the end of year release schedule, I am certain I have missed something. Let me know what you thought of the games released during the holiday build up last year in the comments below. Do it or you will only make it worse for next year!