Dec. 11, 2016

We are almost halfway through December and I’ve only just realised how quickly 2016 is running out. I always find the transition into a new year a period of both terror and promise as new plans are made for the 365 (or 366) days that stretch ahead. Nothing really changes, of course, but that curious feeling of renewal really matters, I think. But I’m supposed to be looking backwards right now, not forwards.

Around OnlySP:

This week was another slow one for the site, as readers no doubt noticed. Gareth posted a lovely review of Paper Mario: Color Splash, and a few other features are currently in the editing process. Most of our news pieces, meanwhile, were about catching up on announcements made at last week’s big shows, but the biggest news was certainly the revelation that Star Wars: Battlefront 2 will be EA’s flagship shooter for 2017, along with all the bells and whistles that entails. Our normal coverage of smaller games in conjunction with the big names should resume this coming week, bolstered by the return of Cedric Lansangan and the trial of a new writer, Stefan Moree. I hope that our lovely readers will make both of them feel welcome.

Something About Eggs and Baskets:

One piece of big news this week that OnlySP did not report on is the announcement that Vicarious Visions (Skylanders) has partnered with Bungie for Destiny 2. We chose not to report on it because Destiny, as a “shared-world shooter,” is a little outside our wheelhouse and as Vicarious Visions will be a secondary developer, the move does not seem to provide the possibility of their work bringing about sweeping changes to the structure of the game. The move does, however, say something about Activision’s strategy, which remains one of the most curious and frustrating within the modern video game industry.

All of the major publishers can, of course, be accused of putting their eggs in certain baskets and aiming to create safe bets. Where Activision differs from most others, though, is in its tendency to focus almost too intently on what is successful in the moment. An overabundance of plastic peripherals alongside a sharply divided marketplace saw Guitar Hero fall from its once-lofty perch, the Skylanders franchise is reportedly suffering from the explosion in the number of toys-to-life games, and even Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare saw a sharp decline in its initial sales figures compared against Black Ops III. Despite the evidence of the past, Activision continues on, bullish and headstrong, releasing annual iterations of series that fans appear to grow tired of until something ticks over and the product is no longer profitable. Otherwise, the publisher looks to shore up its bottom line with quick and cheap games that capitalise on name-brand recognition, as in their recent partnership with Platinum Games, which delivered The Legend of Korra, Transformers: Devastation, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan, all of which failed to live up to the expectations that fans have for the studio that previously released some of the finest action games ever made. Now, Destiny is being served up as the publisher’s golden goose. The first game was huge, its success founded upon Bungie’s previous work on Microsoft’s Halo, a strong marketing campaign, and generally high review scores.

But then, shortly after release, the tide began to turn. Fans of the game grew fractious, with the grind being too much and the downloadable content packs not enough. Following the public’s lead, news outlets began to call out some of Destiny’s failings, pushing Bungie to retool some of the work that had already been done. And we all stand now in a very different place than we did three years ago when the game’s hype machine was in full swing. Gamers are less likely to believe in the promise of safe bets following the shortcomings of recent entries in the Assassin’s Creed series (which saw the series take a break this year) and the curious backlash against the insipidity of Fallout 4, among other events. Reflecting the apparent jadedness of consumers, many of 2016’s high-profile sequels failed to match the sales of their predecessors, yet Activision is alone in appearing to not acknowledge this trend. Ubisoft let Assassin’s Creed rest this year, EA will be doing the same with Battlefield next year, Sony has apparently set aside the Killzone series, and Take-Two has long taken the position that sequels should not be forced to release annually (or even regularly). Meanwhile, with Vicarious Visions signing on to help with Destiny 2, the series has become, like Call of Duty, a three-studio effort, with Deadpool developer, High Moon Studios, also involved. This process of assigning external teams to aid development may make for a better game overall, but it also reeks of a certain degree of risk averseness, which can only lead to navel gazing, repetition, and stagnation. In an industry as dynamic and fast-moving as gaming, fear of taking chances is a dangerous philosophy to adhere to, as is the willingness to take too many chances. While many publishers manage to strike that balance, to a greater or lesser degree, several industry powerhouses have already fallen to one side or the other and the lessons from the failures of Atari, Sega, and THQ should be remembered. Success does not automatically beget success, and fortunes can turn on a dime. Though they may seem safe bets at the moment, Call of Duty and Destiny do not a strong stable make and the lack of a range of games puts Activision in a potentially dangerous position.

Personal Update:

Work is picking up as we draw nearer to Christmas, meaning that I, like many others, find myself with far less free time than I might like. That, in turn, has hampered my ability to contribute to OnlySP as fully as I want to. Alas, money drives society and none of us can be without it, so duty must always come before pleasure. Speaking of pleasure, I finished the first two parts of The Tale of Shikanoko by Lian Hearn. I’ve grown more used to the language and style of the author, but the story itself often seems driven by convenience more than any sense of reality or character-driven resolution. I’ve managed to read the book mostly in snippets, a chapter here or there during spare moments, rather than in blocks, however, what I have read thus far has been engaging and, at times, thrilling, and I look forward to finishing off the last two parts this coming week. I am also looking forward to visiting Magnetic Island for the first time in more than half my life with my partner later this week, so I apologise in advance if there is a lack of content on Thursday and Friday. Also, I hope you will understand that my lack of time this past week means I could not find the time to play any games this week, and so the Planet Coaster review has been delayed, but I am determined to have it done by year’s end. Hopefully…

Let us know what you’ve been up to and what news caught your attention this past week. Until next time, single players, enjoy.

Damien Lawardorn
Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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