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Year in Review: 2017

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By Nelson Schneider - 12/23/17 at 04:35 PM CT

Another year has come and gone, yet the videogames industry still hasn’t managed to self-destruct like it did in the early ‘80s at the hands of Atari (delenda est). Once again, it’s time to take a look back at the year and praise the 5 biggest Wins while simultaneously *facepalming* over the 5 biggest Fails.

Top 5 Fails

5. Steam Branded Hardware Flops in the Market.

Steam Machines, the officially branded SteamOS (Linux) powered prebuilt PCs manufactured by licensed partners seemed like a great way for Valve to open the eyes of the wider world to the joys of Modern Era PC gaming. Combined with the excellent and well-designed Steam Controller and the ‘any screen’ Steam Link streaming microconsole, Valve had a well-planned ecosystem in the works. But unfortunately, most gamers are too hard-headed and set in their ways to give something the benefit of the doubt. PC Master Racists decried Steam Machines as worthless pre-builts, and everyone knows that a PC Master Racist would sooner self-lobotomize with an icepick than play on a *sneering voice* pre-built. On the other hand, the foolish Console Sheep never once looked up from their mouthfuls of grass to wonder if, just perhaps, it would be greener on the outside of the walled garden. As a result, Steam Machines are practically extinct already, while Steam Links and Steam Controllers are fire sale priced at (up to) 90% off. Maybe I’ll grab a second Steam Controller while I still can…

4. VR Platforms Fail to Catch On; Sixense STEM VR Controller Delayed AGAIN!

After taking their sweet time in reaching commercial launch, a large number of VR platforms, ranging from the Oculus Rift to the HTC Vive to PlayStation VR to Microsoft Hololens to dumb things like the Samsung Gear and Google Cardboard all finally had a full year to compete on the open market… and it was a fairly miserable competition to watch. All of the VR hardware shared the flaws of being over-priced and almost completely lacking in games. And when a handful of Big Evil Corporations… okay, ONE Big Evil Corporation, Bethesda, decided to start porting some of their big first-person titles to VR, they didn’t even do customers the nicety of handing out free or discounted VR DLCs for these extant games, but chose to sell the VR versions as stand-alone full-priced products. Even after some first-year price drops on the hardware, customers still aren’t lining up to buy these things.

To add insult to injury, the Sixense STEM, the magnetic tracking-based VR controller – which also happens to be the successor to the Razer Hydra and the ONLY VR controller that can be used outside of VR – is still stuck in production Hell. All we know is that the company finally seems to be happy with the plastic housings – after 3 FRIGGIN’ YEARS of test samples – and should be shipping out preorders and Kickstarter rewards next year. But we’ve been expecting STEM units to start shipping ‘next year’ for over 3 years already!

3. Republicans Destroy Net Neutrality (Soon, the World).

Apparently, there’s a requirement that the FCC consist of an evenly mixed number of Democrats and Republicans. After the FCC, under President Obama, codified some common sense Don’t Be Evil rules for telecommunications corporations to abide by in 2015, the laissez faire capitalists of the Republican party, including pinheaded asshat Ajit Pai – a damned Obama appointee (but placed in the top FCC position by President Oopma Loompa)! – decided to gut the whole thing now that they have the support of a Republican congress and an orange retard in the Oval Office. With more and more facets of the videogames industry/hobby relying on fast, ubiquitous, ‘dumb pipe’ Internet that just works and is fairly priced, allowing the telecoms to manipulate, throttle, price gouge, snoop, and essentially run rampant across the entirely of the Information Superhighway seems like the last thing the government should be doing for We the People. But apparently ‘we’ are the wrong kind of ‘people.’

2. Steam Direct Opens, Dismantles, Incinerates the Floodgates.

Remember last year when Steam Greenlight scamming lead to Steam’s library growing by 40%? Remember how in 2016, Steam added more new games than in the entirety of its previous lifetime? Remember how most of those games were irredeemable garbage? Well, Valve tried to ‘fix’ the ‘issue’ with Steam Greenlight… by removing it and replacing the voting process with a flat $100 submission fee. Not only did the flood of crap through the gates of the Steam storefront not slow down (I know, right?!), it sped up, and Steam’s library once again grew by more games than all of its previous years combined, including the record-breaking 2016. If I had to enter all of those shitty games into a database by hand, I’d kill myself and/or others.

1. The Year of the Loot Box.

Jim Sterling and I have both harped on the whole trend of turning gaming into gambling (just add a ‘b’ and an ‘l’!) multiple times this past year. The whole thing came to a head, though, when EA took the idea of paying real cash monies for a randomized digital prize a bit too far with “Star Wars Battlefront 2” (and when Warner Bros. did the same thing with “Middle-Earth: Shadow of War”). As a result, governments across the world are actually scrutinizing monetization practices in modern gaming. Sadly, many governments are beholden to a ridiculous ‘legal’ definition of gambling that requires the random game-of-chance feature to pay out cash or an item that can be exchanged for cash in order to qualify – and since the boosts, cosmetics, weapons, orcs, and other things that pop-out of loot boxes can’t be sold, they don’t count. But wait! Valve’s original loot box games, “Team Fortress 2” and “Counter Strike: Global Offensive” DO allow players to sell their digital loot to each other for real cash monies on the Steam Marketplace. Uh oh!

Top 5 Wins

5. Xbox Backwards Compatibility Sets the Gold Standard.

The Xbox may be the cancer that caused the ultimate ruination/corruption of modern console gaming, but I’ll be damned if Microsoft doesn’t have their stuff together with regard to playing all of your old games on a new box. The XBONE gained backward compatibility with a huge number of Xbox 360 titles in 2016, but this year Microsoft dialed the Wayback Machine up to 11 and added a bunch of games from the original cancer (dubbed the Xbox OG – as in Original Gangsta) to the list as well. Of course, I won’t care about this feature personally until they bring it to Windows 10.

4. Paizo Jumps into the CRPG Market.

Wizards of the Coast may have finally gotten it together with regard to tabletop Dungeons & Dragons again with 5th Edition, but with the closure of n-Space (the videogame developer that held the D&D license until they were bought by a Chinese holding firm and shuttered), the future of computerized D&D is much less certain. Paizo, the third-party D20-system spinoff company that grew into a titan of its own with the Pathfinder RPG system during the dark days of D&D 4th Edition, looks to be stepping-up again, with the 2017 announcement that they’ll be bringing their Pathfinder Adventure Paths to electronic platforms, starting with “Kingmaker.” I can’t wait to play these!

3. Intel to Bring New Competition to the GPU Market.

AMD and nVidia have been ‘competing’ against each other – and only each other – for so long that they’ve essentially turned into Tom & Jerry or Itchy & Scratchy or Cane & Abel: One of them always wins, and the other one just looks like a big, stupid loser who loses. Intel has been dominating the CPU space uncontested (again by stupid loser AMD) for so long that they’ve announced plans to return to the discrete GPU space as well, instead of saddling everyone with terrible integrated GPUs that somehow manage to be worse than AMD’s. Anything that brings better performance and more competitive prices to the hardware space is a good thing. And with modern PC-like ‘consoles’ all running on commodity hardware, this announcement affects everyone, not just PC Master Racists who want to (unnecessarily) upgrade their custom rigs for the 8th time this year.

2. CD Projekt Can’t Stop Being Awesome.

CD Projekt, the Polacks who developed the ‘Witcher’ games and own the second-place PC gaming marketplace, GOG.com, have consistently made the Wins list. This year, they didn’t really do anything amazing: Galaxy is old news, Connect is old news, DRM-free is old news… but they’re still holding up their end of everything. Perhaps the pro-gamer, pro-consumer attitude of the entire company can best be summed up by their reaction to the inane journalistic question of whether or not they’d be adding loot boxes to their upcoming new IP, “Cyberpunk 2077”: “We leave greed to others.” Preach it, my Polish friends! PREACH. IT.

1. Switch Launches, World Says, “Yay!”

With the WiiU buried in a shallow, unmarked grave, Nintendo needed a real show-stopper in order to save themselves. That show-stopper turned out to be the Switch hybrid console/handheld device that has been flying off store shelves since it launched in March. Not only has the hardware been moving, but Nintendo has managed to keep the thing infused with a steady stream of exclusive titles (along with an absolute butt load of unnecessary Indie ports). The MeltedJoystick Crew is still undecided on the Switch, but that waffling indecision will certainly go away now that I actually own one and we can experience it first-hand.

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Chris

Wrote on12/24/17 at 11:53 AM CT

As an addendum to the Loot Box fail, Apple recently announced all games with a "loot box" based system must now disclose the odds of said system. It's not so much Apple looking out for gamers, but being more pragmatic as in they see the writing on the wall and want to get ahead of the rolling boulder of Loot Box death. Probably so they can toot their own horn later.

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