Heavily-hyped titles that are expected to be 10/10 invariably are. The award listings that dominate the news cycle at this time of year invariably reward the populist selection, the equivalent of giving the Oscar for Best Picture to the biggest Michael Bay summer blockbuster. Anonymous rumors on message boards are passed off as fact, discussed and criticized before a single confirmation phone call has been lodged. Journalists are encouraged to publish planted stories or advertisements masquerading as news.
The gift that the media could give the industry this year is to fulfill the media's role in any industry - to be fact-reporter and watchdog, not mouthpiece or friend. Hold to morals and objectives and decline free swag. Play games to completion before you give your opinion on them (or at least admit this in the review). Stop endless whining about the minutia and focus on the very real problems that plague this industry and prevent evolution of game design. While many in the industry are antagonistic towards the media, we absolutely need them watching over us, and the consumer needs them to look out for their interests. So be fair, be negative if needs be, and above all, be honest.
The Third Gift: All is Bright
In this season of Game of the Year lists and time spent wondering what's waiting under the Christmas tree, there will no doubt be much breathless talk about how this was the greatest year for gaming ever, just as it was last year, and the year before that. But apart from some encouraging trends, such as the increasing quality of cheap downloadable titles, it was a mediocre year for gaming, with nothing but HD sequel after HD sequel, and almost nothing in the way of the revolutionary, brilliant titles that we will be talking about ten years from now. 2008 will leave so little for gaming's historians it will be like it never existed.
Worse, the few unique titles that were out there ended up disappointing commercially, critically, or both. Even though neither of them are the games they were hyped up to be, the perceived commercial failures of Mirror's Edge and LittleBigPlanet should send a chill up every right-thinking gamer's spine. If publishers were not already convinced that every game needs guns and/or licenses to shift units already, the sales data from the third quarter of 2008 will have convinced them otherwise.
Furthermore the collapse of Free Radical Design and Factor 5 - both studios with a reputation for quality that produced just one dud title - will have other developers looking nervously over their shoulder, wondering if they will be the next to have one title not come together and go out of business as a result. Everyone will be playing it safe in the knowledge that one step wrong might mean the end of them - and the result will be dull, middle-of-the-road titles.
In this atmosphere, this is the gift that is least likely to given. But the greatest gift that the creators could give gaming is what we have always been asking for - good games, and more of them. Not just the ones we clamor for and demand, but the ones we don't even know we want yet, but will buy like hotcakes when they're released. The holiday charts make for depressing enough reading this year, but let us not forget that ten years ago this year, Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the Christmas No. 1 across much of the world, a testament to how critically-acclaimed masterpieces can also touch the customer.
Games like that, games that will push this medium forward, are what we need. Those rare titles that both garner awards and generate revenue that can spent on further development, on keeping hardworking developers in jobs and convincing more people that gaming is both a viable hobby, and a viable career. This, more than anything, is what we need right now.
Christian Ward works for a major publisher, and hopes everyone gets the game they wanted this Christmas.