GameCentral looks back at the video game trends of 2021 and how the pandemic will ensure that 2022 is not what anyone originally intended.
2020 was an awful year for just about everything other than video games, and while this year has been a moderate improvement any hopes for a return to normality were quickly dashed. If anything, things got worse for video games, since any title that came out in 2020 would have been almost finished before the pandemic started and anything out this year had to rely much more on people working from home.
That led to 2021 becoming a game of two halves, with the first being well above average in terms of the quality of releases, as represented in our Top 20 games of 2021 list, and the second half filled with almost nothing but disappointment and endless glitches.
As we discussed in our round-up of the year’s biggest games stories, the fallout from Cyberpunk 2077’s disastrous launch seems to have had almost no effect on games companies, who are still more than happy to push out broken, bug filled games as long as they meet their deadlines. Rather than Cyberpunk 2077’s reception putting them off, all it seems to have done is confirmed their suspicions that they can get away with almost anything as long as it’s a game people are interested in.
That logic will be tested to its limit in 2022, as one of the emerging trends of 2021 was increasing interested in NFTs and their exploitation as a means to charge even more for inane cosmetic DLC. Except this time with a bonus of severe environmental damage and black market trading.
NFTs are such an absurdly terrible ideal, both within the context of video games and beyond, it almost seems like an act of cartoony villainy to promote them, as does the fact that Ubisoft and EA were the first to do so. Because of course it was those two. Equally predictable was the revelation that as soon as it was made perfectly clear to Ubisoft that no-one wanted what they were selling, they said they’d carry on regardless.
These are familiar attitudes for the video games industry and it’s sad to say that the biggest news story of the year – about rampant discrimination and toxic work conditions at Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, and others – was also, sadly, exactly what you would expect. The response to the various walkouts and lawsuits, by Activision Blizzard boss Bobby Kotick, was so bad that it only exacerbated the situation and the irony is that it’s his actions in dealing with the controversy that could finally lead to some genuine change.
The games industry has long harboured toxic individuals, from those that make the games, to those that talk about them online, and ordinary fans. Some might argue it’s all you can expect from a form of entertainment so focused on violence and competition, but today games have evolved to be much more than that, and so the people in and around the industry have to change too.
Even if you’re not interested in the moral arguments, the more diverse the people are that are making games the more likely it is that what they will produce will be new and unusual. Not making video games a cliquey boys’ own club benefits everyone, and as faltering as the steps may be that is the direction the industry is now heading.
It’s hard to draw many other conclusions from 2021, for the simple fact that this is not how anyone planned the year would go. If there had been no pandemic then the games and hardware that were released over the last two years would have been radically different. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been any good games out during Covid but it does mean that whatever plan publishers are following at the moment it’s likely to be very short term, as they tackle each new problem as it comes.
The key positive to arise from the ongoing pandemic is that it’s shown what a positive influence video games can be in people’s lives. Video game usage shot up during lockdown and while it has inevitably fallen from that peak it’s now much more widely accepted that games are not just mindless entertainment but a reason, and cause, for people to socialise and to explore concepts and experiences in a completely different manner to any other media.
2020 wasn’t a classic year for video games and neither was 2021, and it’s very likely that 2022 won’t be either. That said, the current line-up for the year is looking very encouraging, at least before it’s ravaged by the inevitable delays, as developers begin to take greater advantage of the new next gen consoles and more people get the chance to own them.
The pandemic isn’t over yet but, with luck, we are over the worst. Which hopefully means life for everyone will get better over the course of the next 12 months. And if it doesn’t… well, there’s always video games to keep you distracted and in touch with friends and family.
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