Not to tip my hand too much, but in preparation for my “Best of Year” series that starting on the 12th and will stretch right up until the final day of the month, I have been looking at all of the video games I’ve been playing in 2020 and have realised I might have to get a little lax with my usual restriction of games that actually found their release in the calendar year 2020.
Back in March, before this Covid stuff really hit home, I wrote a piece about 2020 being a quiet year for video games, at the time I don’t think I realised just how true that post would end up being by the time we hit December. The pandemic only being one aspect of this outcome
While there’s no denying the pandemic certainly has had a major impact on the development and release of video games in this year, it’s certainly not the only thing that has contributed to 2020 being one of my least video game playing years in, well, ever. The release of new consoles has certainly been something weighing on publisher’s minds, having to think about when to put out their games for cross-generation.
Whether or not to delay and put them out simultaneously, or spread them out and hope people buy them a second time. The whole upgrade path between old and new generation tech has been kind of farcically handled by some publishers even after having all year to think about it. This, combined with the difficulties certainly brought about by Covid, games like Halo: Infinite have dropped out of 2020 entirely. But that’s not anybody’s fault really.
All of this, combined with the ever-growing prevalence of games as a service as a successful business model means that a lot of people have spent 2020 playing video games that are actually from 2, 5 or even ten years ago rather than the fresh new offerings of 2020. The culture of consuming games has simply changed, and that change in culture hasn’t been kind to 2020. At least, in the terms of someone trying to make a list of the best games to come out in that year.
But let me go a little more in depth as to how 2020 pretty much started off with one arm tied behind its back and then only found itself even more debilitated as the year wore on. Some of the big games that might have been easy entries in many personal top ten lists for 2020 have been delayed into oblivion. Halo: Infinite, Deathloop and No More Heroes III to name a few, games that were all set to be out this year, but thanks to development problems that came from national lockdowns and people having to work from home, them being knocked into 2021 was inevitable.
Not to mention the list of games due out much earlier in the year all getting knocked back to much later. Cyberpunk 2077 being the most notable example. From a personal standpoint, I would have loved to sink my teeth into that game from September like it was originally slated to get its release. But with it’s delay to December 10th, two days before I’m due to start my own game of the year listings, there’s no real chance I’m going to be able to give that game a fair whack before ranking it.
It’s a narrative shared by so many other games, we’ve ended up having a really heavy backend of the year, with a ton of games that would have normally been out in late summer/early autumn finding themselves coming out in the depths of winter.
Not helped at all but real lack of buzz I’m seeing surrounding these new games compared to how much push they’d normally be getting. The cancellation of the traditional media and marketing events that build these games up in the minds of audiences have also been absent thanks to Covid. No E3, no Pax: Nobody really knows that they should be exited for. Which means there have been so many games that have just flown under everyone’s radars.
As a consequence; with so many people stuck inside, unable to leave for work or to see friends, we’ve seen an increase in the trend of people sticking with the familiar, the tried and the tested. Which has been a huge boon to the games as a service model, which has been the fastest growing corner of the industry for the past handful of years. Attractive to publishers because it’s less work intensive compared to a single player experience, but still has much longer legs in terms of player retention.
Just to give a personal example; three of my most played games this year have been Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Destiny 2. All of which are the perfect examples of the service model done well, managing to create a seasonal content model that doesn’t change a huge amount, but still gets fans excited to come back every few months. Modern Warfare has even gone as far as to eat the lunch of this year’s Call of Duty. While Cold War is brand new and should be the scene of a mass player migration, most players have opted to stay with Modern Warfare.
I mean, it makes sense to me seeing as how Modern Warfare is a much better, more modern feeling video game on all accounts. But it’s also because of how massively Warzone has exploded in popularity this year, and with that being embedded within the Modern Warfare engine and platform, people are simply sticking with that rather than going and spending $70 or whatever on the newer game. Which currently lacks the battle royal mode.
Which I guess is the risk of making one of this games now that the market is getting more deeply saturated and people only have so much time to really entrench themselves into a certain fanbase. I mean, Valorant is probably out there being quietly successful. But you don’t really hear anyone talking about it.
All these factors in tandem have really made it seem like 2020 was a year tailor made for older games to thrive. The lack of marketing hype, new releases and the desire for something comfortable and familiar has really made it so people want to stick with what they already know and enjoy. Not to mention factors like people are harder up for money if they’re being furloughed, meaning they can’t afford to play newer games and situations where people want to play with their friends, and thus are much more likely to have older games on hand between all of them.
You’ve only got to look at Twitch stats to see the most watched games, and amongst the top ten for this past seven days, only one of those games came out in 2020. And that’s Fifa. Which you could make an argument for not technically being a new game at all. But if I were to look at the biggest games on Twitch that were release in 2020; I’d find Cold War, Valorant and Demon Souls. Three games that are incredibly familiar when compared to other well-loved games. Seeing as how they’re a Call of Duty game, a CSGO clone and a remake of a beloved classic.
And I haven’t even talked about the ridiculous impact Among Us has made in the past few months.
So yeah, 2020 has been a quiet year for video games. New video games to be more specific. If anything, with the lockdown, people have most likely been playing more video games than ever before. But it’s just meant that 2020 has been a huge year for older video games rather than the new ones. I’ve already made the choice, when drafting my top ten video games of 2020 list, to just talk about the top ten games I enjoyed this year rather than my top ten games that actually came out in 2020.
Because I only actually played 13 new video games in 2020, and only six of those I actually feel really strongly about. Where as I feel plenty strong about the older games I played in 2020 that still seem as strong as they did when they came out, if not better.