In terms of style, substance, and overall wealth, 2017 was a banner year for fans of video games. The year started off strong with the release of major AAA titles like Resident Evil 7 and ended with a series of pops in the form of new downloadable content for favorites like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Final Fantasy XV. Whether you loved it all, hated it all, or found only a few things up your alley, one thing was clear: if you love gaming even just a little bit, 2017 was your year. It was, in a way, everyone’s year.
But despite the embarrassment of riches that was new things to play, there was still room for heartache. Most of the year passed without major incident, but as the holiday season loomed closer, the peace was shattered. EA abandoned a long-in development Star Wars project led by an industry visionary, claiming story games are a dying breed. Then, not two months later, Star Wars Battlefront II came under fire for its greedy microtransactions, watery and disappointing single-player campaign, and wishy-washy handling of the situation by EA.
All in all, 2017 was a pretty good year in the world of video games. But some events stood out above the rest, claiming this year as their moment in the sun. And we learned lessons that will impact the industry for years to come.
Switching It Up
On March 3, 2017, Nintendo launched the Nintendo Switch. A handheld/living room box hybrid, Nintendo hoped the Switch would revolutionize the way we play games. And in many ways, it did. It became the console of choice for a traveling companion and touting to parties; with its ability to sync with up to eight controllers — called JoyCons — at once, you could play it anytime, anywhere, with anyone. Sure the battery life was a little low, but that’s what external battery packs are for.
The Switch’s launch lineup was slim, but not without depth. Accompanying it on launch day was the fantastic The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which brought the long-standing Zelda franchise into the open world genre. Nintendo would continue to release new content for Breath of the Wild throughout the year, including new challenges and a story-focused expansion building on its cast of characters.
In just nine months, the Switch’s lineup of console-exclusive games became comparable with that of its rivals, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. First party titles like Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2, including original new IPs like ARMS, to third-party gems like Sonic Mania, Rocket League, DOOM, and even The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are part of its impressive library. The console even has its own port of Mario Kart 8. And let’s not forget the Switch’s current crown jewel: Super Mario Odyssey.
Nintendo has already committed to an ever-expanding library of games for the near future, including new entries into the Fire Emblem, Pokemon, Kirby, Yoshi, and Metroid Prime franchises. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Nintendo Switch was the biggest triumph of the video game industry in 2017.
‘Tis the Season
In years past, industry folk would gear up for “that time of year,” the period between September and December that would house the release of all the year’s major blockbusters. You could expect a new Call of Duty, an Assassin’s Creed (though not last year), and first-party exclusives from PlayStation, Microsoft, and Nintendo. But 2017 bucked that tradition. And it all started with the release of Resident Evil 7 right at the top of the year in January.
From there, it was a constant rollout of new experiences. Companies forwent previous traditions that dictated major releases fall in late spring or fall. No, 2017 just kept the hits coming. For Honor and Horizon Zero Dawn in February; Nier: Automata, Breath of the Wild, and Mass Effect Andromeda in March; Persona 5 in April; Prey in May; Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice in July; Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and the first episode of Life Is Strange: Before the Storm in August; Destiny 2 and Cuphead in September; and then a barrage all fall in the form of Middle-earth: Shadow of War, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Super Mario Odyssey, Wolfenstein II, Call of Duty World War II, Final Fantasy XV: Comrades, Star Wars Battlefront II…
Even a new Animal Crossing, the mobile title Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. Not to mention meaty DLC packs for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, new story episodes for Final Fantasy XV, additions to Resident Evil 7 and Horizon Zero Dawn, and a slew of Nintendo Switch ports of old favorites — even 2016’s DOOM.
It was an assault of good things to play all year round, in which everybody won. There seems to be no slow season anymore. That’s a good thing. It allows new games space to breathe and be enjoyed before the next heavy-hitter rolls out. The industry worked hard to craft and deliver this stories, and 2017 should be celebrated as one of the best years in gaming to date.
Git Gud, or Play Into Greed?
The largest and heaviest blot on this happy year fortunately didn’t rear its ugly head until fall. In all began in August when loot boxes were announced for Middle-earth: Shadow of War. These loot boxes could be bought with in-game or real-world cash. They would contain not just cosmetic items, but gear and experience point boosts that could accelerate players’ levelling. In September, Destiny 2 launched. Players immediately figured out that the game purposely made it more difficult for players to earn loot boxes through gameplay than if they paid real money for them. Fans got angry, accusing the developers of shoehorning these into the game to make more money.
Then in October, during Star Wars Battlefront II’s open beta, players discovered what systems built for microtransactions. Sure enough, players could get ahead in multiplayer by paying real-world money for loot boxes. These boxes would reward them with gear, boosts, and the Star Wars heroes they wanted to play with. EA attempted to backpedal by removing some of the loot box items and making them available through gameplay instead. But this didn’t work.
When Battlefront II became available for all players, the problem was still there. You could pay money for advantages, creating an environment of greed-based leveling and alienating players who didn’t want to or couldn’t spend extra cash. Furthermore, players were outraged by the cost of some of the game’s heroes. For example, Luke Skywalker required 60,000 in-game credits to unlock. This roughly amounts to 48 hours of gameplay if you didn’t want to pay money. EA lowered the cost of these heroes — as well as how many credits you could earn, which didn’t solve the issue at all – before removing microtransactions altogether after a fated call from licensor Disney.
Currently, Destiny 2 is being reworked by its developers. Shadow of War still has its loot boxes. And Battlefront II is still a messy limbo state. Countries like Belgium looking to ban loot boxes in games and U.S. politicians stepping in to call for regulation of microtransactions in games. It’s clear the battle is not over. What we gained in amazing content in 2017 may be ruined in the future as the hands of our government reach out into the world of games.
2017 was largely a year of success for the games industry. Tons of games, fresh ideas and smart iteration, new ways to play and new favorites to love. Despite the unraveling loot box economy and wafting sense of publisher greed hanging over the latter half of the year, we can’t say it was all bad.
What we got was worth way more than what we’re still battling over. And looking ahead into 2018, there’s already a slew things to look forward to playing.