Last night, over one hundred video game players, journalists and scholars braved freezing temperatures to convene in downtown Manhattan and discuss their hobby of choice. December’s NY Gaming Meetup hosted the NY Videogame Critics Circle, a group of journalists committed to establishing an East Coast presence on the global gaming map. Moderated by industry veteran (and group leader) Harold Goldberg, the critics waxed philosophical on the highs, lows, and gooey centers of the 2010 year in gaming. Rising above the ranks of petty fanboyism, the critics touched on a wide range of topics:
- While 2010 was a good year for gaming, it may not have qualified as a “great” one. With an abundance of sequels, many developers played it safe. Blame the struggling economy for the dearth of new IP’s.
- The battle between indies and majors rages on. AAA titles like Call of Duty are reliable earners, but rarely grab the attention of this particular crowd, who often favor smaller games with shoestring budgets, games that have not been “developed by a focus group.” One glowing exception was Mass Effect 2, a blockbuster which is sure to get a lot of attention in the annual Game of the Year debates.
- Some independent games like Super Meat Boy and TriplePoint client LIMBO got love from the critics, illustrating the fact that the burden of proof differs greatly between indie games and titles from major studios. This also scraped the surface of the “rigidity in video game pricing” debate, a complex topic that deserves its own post.
- Red Dead Redemption was a great game, no contest. It was also responsible for Alan Wake’s disappointing sales. Chock this up to a marketing failure; for future reference, literally no other games should be pitted against a release from Rockstar Games.
- Red Dead was also a sterling example of the ways that DLC can not only bolster a game’s staying power, but also explore an entirely unique timeline or reality. Undead Nightmare was far more than just a bandwagon-inspired cash-in. Mass Effect 2 was similarly praised for giving players a complete disk-based experience, with DLC that provided a unique spin on familiar characters and settings. If nothing else, 2010 was the year that cemented downloadable content as an unavoidable part of a game’s development and marketing lifecycle.
- Borrowing the microtransaction model wasn’t the only way that 2010’s console releases were inspired by their social brethren. Players are becoming just as accustomed to in-game payments as they are to maintaining and upgrading virtual real estate. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood offered gamers a chance to rebuild Rome, just as they’d expand an online farm or browser-based pet shop. Expect to see even more cross-promotional games like Gunslingers, the free (hype-generating) Facebook game that lead up to Red Dead’s proper release.
- Minecraft was considered the year’s Cinderella story. The baffling title came out of left field to build a userbase over 2 million strong. More importantly, over a quarter of those gamers actually paid $13 to play a game that’s still in its alpha stage infancy.
That was the year in games, summed up (and hotly debated) in 90 minutes. Let’s hope that 2011 delivers even more unique gaming experiences and spreads them out across the entire twelve month calendar.
To keep up with the motley crew of Gaming Critics, follow them on Twitter.
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