By Nelson Schneider - 12/25/16 at 05:50 PM CT
Happy Yule to all MeltedJoystick staff and readers alike! 2016 is on its way out the door, and I, for one, am glad to see another rather dismal year of gaming news move out of the way, allowing blind hope and baseless speculation to buoy us into the New Year. As usual, I’ve hand-picked the top 10 gaming-related events of the year, dividing the lot into stacks of 5 Fails and 5 Wins.
While 2016 was certainly better than the abysmal 2014, in which there were no wins, it was a difficult year to get excited about, especially when the Fails just kept coming. It was ultimately difficult to narrow down the Fails to merely 5 and equally difficult to find 5 unequivocal Wins, but I persevered and the results now await your reading pleasure.
Here’s hoping for a bigger and brighter 2017!
Top 5 Fails
5. WiiU Discontinued, World Says, “Meh.”
After a botched birth and short, painful life, the WiiU was officially discontinued by Nintendo in 2016… to the despair of nearly no one. The WiiU simply lacked everything: Third-party support, high-quality first-party support, DS Player capabilities: It ultimately turned out to be Nintendo’s biggest home console flop since the N64, as it hemorrhaged exclusives to its handheld companion, the 3DS, yet never got any in return.
4. Desura Folds, Nobody Notices
Much like the OUYA console, Desura demonstrated that a platform driven solely by sub-par Indie games that aren’t even good enough for Steam Greenlight isn’t going to survive. The fact that the gaming media (outside of MeltedJoystick, that is) had nothing to say about this platform’s disappearance is even more damning. Desura proved to be anathema to the moral of the classic Christmas movie, “A Wonderful Life.”
3. Sixense STEM Delayed Again, AGAIN!
After promising a Q3/Q4 shipment date for pre-ordered units, Sixense managed to miss their manufacturing window yet again, leaving all those waiting for the Razer Hydra’s successor (and only proper motion controller for PC that doesn’t require a VR helmet or employ camera-based tracking) in a lurch. Again! This is becoming an unfunny joke: Another year, another STEM delay. All I, and my fellow STEM pre-orderers, can do is throw our hands in the air and say, “Oh, well, maybe next year!”
2. Steam’s Library Grows by 40%... 90% of Which is Crap
Steam has continued to cement itself as THE PC gaming marketplace. Unfortunately for gamers (and data slaves who have to process every new title), unscrupulous parties have found it very easy to ‘game’ the Steam Greenlight system to get absolutely irredeemable games into Lord GabeN’s store. It is reported that nearly 40% of all games available on Steam right now were added in 2016. If you add 2014 and 2015 to the mix, the percentage jumps to nearly 80%. While I won’t deny that PC was traditionally a library-weak platform and that multi-platting and the Indie movement have proven extremely beneficial for it, the current uncurated, unsupervised flood of garbage, mobile ports, and asset flips flowing-in isn’t doing anyone any favors. Something’s gotta give!
1. ‘Mid-Gen’ Console Revisions Set Horrible New Precedent
The PlayStation 4 Pro launched in 2016, bringing the first significant mid-generation hardware upgrade to console gaming (not including add-ons like the N64 Expansion Pack or the Genesis’ Sega CD/32X attachments). Following in the footsteps of the New 3DS (which is the first dedicated gaming handheld to receive a similar upgrade), the PS4 Pro brings higher specs and new, hardware-specific features that owners of the regular PS4 will never be able to access… unless they break-down and buy the new version of the console, which is priced roughly the same as the original PS4 was at launch. Not only does this PC-like need to upgrade hardware mid-generation divide the platform into “Haves” and “Have Nots,” but it further burns away the last remaining advantages that consoles traditionally held over PCs. I really didn’t think Sony would go through with a mid-gen upgrade, but would instead pre-emptively start the 9th Generation… but they did it, and it’s no good for anyone. Hopefully the Switch and Xbox Scorpio don’t follow Sony’s lead, but instead usher in the 9th Gen, as the stagnant 8th Gen is due for euthanization.
Top 5 Wins
5. ‘Pokemon’ Turns 20, Proves It’s Still a Force to Recon With
2016 marked the 20th anniversary of Game Freak’s (and Nintendo’s) ‘Pocket Monsters’ one-time ‘fad’ franchise of collectable, battle-able creatures. Not only did the franchise’s latest entries, “Pokemon Sun/Moon,” set sales record, but IP recognition alone drove a mediocre-to-boring mobile macrotransaction engine to massive success… before the mediocrity of said macrotransaction engine drove it to hemorrhage more users over the span of 6 month than most games ever gain in the first place.
4. NES Mini Can't Stay on Store Shelves
Nintendo still can’t get emulation right. They either charge too much, saddle their ancient games with draconian DRM, or both. Their latest attempt at selling old games, however, is to confine a large number of them to a small hardware dongle with authentic-styled controllers, much like Atari (delenda est) and Sega have already done. The result, the NES Mini/NES Classic, flew off store shelves and sold-out online in record time. The reason for these rapid sales is two-fold: First, the NES Mini is priced in such a way that all of the classic NES games contained therein are roughly $2, which is much less than Nintendo charges for 8-bit abominations on their Virtual Console digital distribution platform. Second, Nintendo did their usual trick of short-producing units, much like they did with certain Amiibo NFC figurines, failing to meet the demand that nostalgia was guaranteed to bring for this device. Scalpers are, naturally, having a field day with it.
3. Denuvo Cracked, Publishers Start Removing the Useless DRM
Videogame publishers never learn, it seems. The latest effort in the DRM Wars was Denuvo, an encryption-based ‘anti-tamper’ tech. Pirates and hackers at first seemed stymied by this new weapon in the opposing team’s arsenal, but in 2016 prevailed in circumventing it for a number of titles. With Denuvo defeated, some publishers began patching it out of their games. Ultimately, when DRM loses, gamers win.
2. GOG Connect Brings More Free Backups to PC Gamers
GOG, the PC gaming platform formerly known as Good Old Games, has been working hard to improve itself lately, even as Steam doesn’t work hard and allows itself to be overrun with garbage. In an incredibly consumer-friendly move (that I predicted would happen), GOG started giving away DRM-free backups of select Steam games to PC gamers who linked their Steam and GOG accounts. With GOG paving the way, any Big Evil Company that wants to profit from PC gaming needs to be as friendly as CD Projekt’s storefront or look even more horrible by comparison.
1. VR Platforms Launch. Is This the Start of Something Transformative?
It certainly took them long enough, but after years of hype and speculation, all three major VR gaming platforms launched. The HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR all have the opportunity to lead gaming into the immersive, virtual future… if they can get around the motion sickness issues and actually get some must-play games in their libraries.