GameCentral recaps the last 12 months in gaming, from Microsoft’s industry defining purchase of Activision Blizzard to the death of Stadia.
The curious thing about 2022 is that not only were there less games released than usual but there was also less news in general, thanks to many publishers’ strange insistence on keeping as quiet as possible, even during the usually busy summer preview period. They were following the lead of Sony and Microsoft, who barely said anything of interest all year – or at least nothing related to new games.
The biggest news story of the year was clearly Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, although that quickly became a bore as the industry giant got more and more frustrated at not getting its way, which in turn led to a series of increasingly peculiar pronouncements and concessions.
That story will certainly roll on into 2023, although thankfully we’ve heard the last of Stadia and with so many games yet to be seen in public, or officially announced, hopefully the next 12 months should be considerably more exciting.
1. The buyout news that never ends
Microsoft’s attempt to purchase every other studio under the sun reached its potential zenith with its £50 billion offer for Activision Blizzard and all its franchises. If it goes through that will make it the most expensive acquisition in the industry’s (and Microsoft’s) history, but this year has shown that it’s not nearly as simple as that.
Both companies claim that it will benefit all gamers, everywhere, but UK and US regulators aren’t as convinced, with the Federal Trade Commission going so far as to file a lawsuit to block it.
Sony has also been very vocal about its displeasure with the buyout. The possibility of Call Of Duty becoming an Xbox exclusive has been such a sticking point that Microsoft has had to repeatedly promise it won’t do that… at least for 10 years.
From Microsoft’s various attempts to court regulators’ favour (including the suggestion that Call Of Duty isn’t even that good) to the fact that the initial news came not long after Microsoft implied it would cut ties with Activision over their sexual harassment allegations, it’s been a whirlwind that is nowhere close to finishing.
2. Acquisitions aplenty
The industry was already becoming far too consolidated in 2021, and this only continued in 2022. Microsoft buying Activision may have been the biggest one, but plenty more have occurred since then.
Barely a month after Microsoft’s news, Sony announced it would be buying Destiny 2 developer Bungie, but had to assure everyone that the studio would retain its independence. In fact, the main reason for the buyout was so Bungie would assist Sony with releasing more live service games (it wants 10 of them out by 2026).
PlayStation boss Jim Ryan threatened, uh, promised that there would be further acquisitions, but Sony’s subsequent buyouts of new start-up Haven and mobile studio Savage Games weren’t nearly as significant.
Elsewhere, the Embracer Group continued its quest to become the industry’s Unicron by snapping up multiple smaller companies (along with the Lord Of The Rings license) and Square Enix’s entire Western division, including associated IPs like Tomb Raider and Deus Ex.
The rumour mill was also churning out potential acquisitions. There was chatter of Sony buying Square Enix, Amazon or Disney buying EA, and Ubisoft began ripening itself for potential buyers – despite fighting for its independence in 2018, when it faced a takeover from Vivendi.
It seems everyone is racing to buy up as much of the industry as they can and, in the end, only the companies and the billionaires who run them will see any real benefit, no matter how much they try to convince consumers that it’s good for them too.
3. Rise, Tarnished, and keep on rising
As the latest Soulsborne title from Hidetaka Miyazaki, Elden Ring was always going to perform well. It having Game Of Thrones writer George R. R. Martin’s name on the box didn’t hurt either, but we don’t think anyone expected it to be as successful as it was.
Despite launching in February, it barely dropped out of the public conscience all year. People just kept talking about it, despite the lack of any real DLC or post-launch support beyond patches. It’s colosseum update only arrived recently and that’s been the only major update.
Its popularity is best exemplified with its sales figures. In just three weeks, it sold 12 million copies worldwide. In just a month, it became the best-selling game of the year in the US; a position it held until November. In July, six months after launch, it became one of the best-selling games in the US of all time. People love Elden Ring, and it didn’t even need to win Game of the Year to prove it.
4. Good night sweet Stadia
They say you should never beat a dead horse, but it’s really hard not to when Google dropped the ball so badly, with its Stadia service, that the ball broke through the ground and fell into the Earth’s molten core.
Faith in Stadia was already waning in 2021, after Google gave up on making original games and shut down its internal studios in the process. With no exclusives, it had to rely on deals with third party studios, but updates through 2022 became worryingly quiet. So much so that it had to dismiss rumours it was shutting down.
The following month, Google announced Stadia was shutting down after all, which was only surprising for developers who had plans to release their games for the service in the coming months.
The one positive is that Google promised full refunds on hardware and software purchases ahead of Stadia’s official closure in January. However, this is perhaps a sign that game streaming is nowhere near as popular or profitable as some companies like to think.
5. Grand Theft Leak 6
There were numerous gaming leaks throughout the year, but none of them came close to being as severe as the one for Grand Theft Auto 6. GTA 6 has been rumoured constantly for years, with Rockstar only confirming it was in development in February, with a very basic blog post.
Noted insiders later shared reports on alleged info, such as it featuring a female protagonist, but something more tangible made its way online in September: multiple screenshots and videos of in-progress gameplay that the public was never meant to see.
Rockstar played whack-a-mole with the leaks, but the damage was done, prompting many an armchair critic to mock the unfinished gameplay for looking unfinished. On top of that, the culprit turned out to not be a disgruntled employee but a hacker looking to blackmail Rockstar.
Unsurprisingly, Rockstar didn’t cave to the hacker’s demands and said culprit, believed to be a British teen, was reportedly located and arrested. He pleaded not guilty to the allegations, according to Bloomberg, but there’ve been no updates on the case since then.
6. PlayStation Minus
When rumours began circulating of Sony updating its PlayStation Plus service, many assumed that it would essentially be their equivalent to Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft’s subscription service has been one of the Xbox platform’s biggest selling points, offering access to legacy titles from older consoles and the newest exclusives from day one.
The revamped PS Plus turned out to be anything but, with Sony not even bothering to market it very well. Details on precisely how it would work remained obscure right up until it launched and since it wasn’t a simultaneous worldwide launch, we all had to learn more about it from users in countries who got it first – rather than Sony themselves.
Sony refused to add its first party games to the service on day one, claiming that doing so would cause a drop in quality (i.e., unlike Microsoft, it can’t afford to give those games away for nothing). The most controversial aspect of the whole thing, however, is the service’s catalogue of retro games.
At the most expensive tier, you get access to games from older PlayStation consoles. While there’s a sizable list of PlayStation 3 games to experience (albeit via cloud streaming, which isn’t ideal), the list of PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable games is dire, with almost all the consoles’ most iconic titles still missing.
To put in perspective, there were only 13 PS1 games available on PS Plus at launch. In the six months since, Sony’s added just one. The PlayStation 2 list is only marginally better with 23 games, while the PSP has but seven games, three of which were added post-revamp.
In November, Sony reported that it had lost roughly 2 million PS Plus subscribers since the previous quarter. There’s no telling whether the revamp is entirely to blame for that, but it clearly didn’t help.
7. The impact of the Ukraine-Russia war
It’s impossible to discuss the biggest news stories of 2022, gaming or otherwise, without bringing up the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war. In terms of just gaming, the war meant Ukrainian developers either found themselves fleeing the country or signing up to fight back against Russia.
Unsurprisingly, this resulted in delays; S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, for example, couldn’t meet its 2022 release anymore, although it’s now slated for 2023. The likes of Frogwares and Sengi Games, however, opted to keep working on development, seeing it as its own kind of resistance against Russia.
The rest of the industry, meanwhile, chose not to turn a blind eye to what was happening and expressed unwavering support for Ukraine. EA deleted Russian teams from its sports games, multiple studios raised money via charity bundles and similar, while every major games publisher pulled their businesses out of Russia.
It’s rare to see corporations take such an unambiguous stance on a major political event. With any luck, things will be resolved in 2023 and Ukrainian developers can work in peace without a war happening on their doorstep.
8. Expensive electronics
Gaming was already an expensive hobby and that’s become ever more apparent thanks to price hikes in 2022. The timing couldn’t be worse either as, here in the UK, we are still in the midst of a cost of living crisis, with many households struggling to keep the heating on, let alone purchase new games or a brand new console for Christmas.
The Oculus (sorry, Meta) Quest 2, which was once praised as the most affordable VR headset on the market, shot up by £100 just two years after its launch, which Meta blamed on increased manufacturing and shipping costs. Sony, which had already committed to selling its games at £70, later made the already pricey PlayStation 5 £30 more expensive due to worldwide inflation (except in the US, for some reason).
Microsoft tried to capitalise on this by bragging about the lack of a price increase for Xbox, but now it’s prepared to follow suit in 2023. Not just for the consoles but also its subscription fees and first party games. As for Nintendo, it’s steadfastly refused to commit to any price increase for the Switch, but who knows how long that will last.
Those from lower income backgrounds are being priced out and many are be forced to sacrifice paying for individual releases and instead rely on subscription sales and random sales.
9. The leaks before Christmas
One game breaking its November street date is unfortunate. Two games breaking their November street date is a coincidence. Any more than that is a worrying trend, and that’s precisely what happened to multiple major Christmas releases.
God Of War: Ragnarök, Sonic Frontiers, Pokémon Scarlet & Violet, Need For Speed Underground, and The Callisto Protocol all found themselves in players’ hands far earlier than they should have. Of course, some of those players saw an opportunity to show off their early arrivals and shared images, footage, and general spoilers for everyone to see. Whole playthroughs were being streamed through Twitch, much to the annoyance of fans, developers, and publishers.
Although the likes of Sony and Nintendo never commented on these fiascos, they are most certainly going to be taking new precautions going forward, to prevent retailers from doing this again. If anything, this’ll only convince companies that an all-digital future is the way to go. After all, it’s much easier to prevent leaks when digital games launch.
Worst case scenario: publishers adopt Activision’s strategy for Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, where physical discs don’t actually contain the game itself, just a licence that lets you download it provided you have a stable Internet connection. The possibility of this becoming the norm for even single-player games is concerning and feels only more likely as time goes on.
10. Microsoft mismanagement
2022 hasn’t been the greatest year for either Microsoft or Sony. Nintendo wound up having a very notable second half thanks to Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Splatoon 3, Bayonetta 3, and Pokémon Scarlet & Violet all launching about a month apart from each other.
Sony’s line-up of exclusives was lacking by comparison, but it’s Microsoft and its Xbox Game Studios that had the direst year when it came to their first party exclusives. The only entirely new titles they had were As Dusk Falls and Pentiment, two perfectly solid games but hardly showstopping system sellers.
Between a lack of proper updates on major exclusives like Perfect Dark and Fable, the reports on Perfect Dark studio The Initiative, Microsoft enlisting outside studios to help with development, Halo Infinite’s routinely disappointing post-launch support, and several high profile 343 Industries departures, it’s increasingly difficult to have any confidence in Microsoft’s strategy.
It also had to push its two major Christmas releases – Starfield and Redfall – into 2023, meaning it’s had to rely on third party support (again) for the Christmas period. We’re starting to think Microsoft’s obsession with buying up studios is becoming a distraction away from what should be its true priority: actually releasing some games.
11. An applause worthy awards show
After several years of the event being something of a slog to get through (not helped by it airing in the early hours of the morning in the UK), this year’s The Game Awards was a surprising breath of fresh air, thanks in part to a lack of leaks.
This meant near enough everything shown was a genuine surprise and while there were plenty of the typical pre-rendered trailers, that barely explained what they were advertising, there was a refreshing amount of genuinely interesting and exciting announcements.
Things like Death Stranding 2 and Final Fantasy 16 were to be expected, but did anyone have a Bayonetta prequel on their bingo card? Or a Hades sequel? Or a Hellboy roguelite that looks exactly like the original comics? There were even a handful of wholly original games unrelated to any major IP, like Ken Levine’s Judas and Earthblade, the successor to indie darling Celeste.
The Game Awards may be a glorified and incredibly long commercial, but we came away from it feeling rather optimistic and excited for 2023, despite Microsoft’s conspicuous absence.
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