5 events that shook the game industry in 2014
Gamasutra editor Alex Wawro continues our annual year-end roundups series by looking back at the biggest events that defined 2014.
As the year winds down around us, I can't escape the sense that a handful of 2014's most momentous events will continue to shape the way our industry evolves in the years to come.
We say that every year, because it's true -- events like the #1reasontobe campaign that spread across social media in 2012 and Microsoft's abrupt decision to reverse many of its Xbox One policies in 2013 are still influencing the way developers work today.
2014 saw fresh battles for diversity and more shake-ups at big companies, but the stakes were higher than ever. Major tech companies threw themselves into the game industry, some larger-than-life personalities left it, and too many developers struggled simply to remain.
Yesterday we examined the big trends that defined this year
, so now let's zero in on five specific events that rocked the industry in 2014.
Facebook Buys Oculus For $2 Billion
A week before April Fool's Day, Facebook surprised just about everyone by announcing a deal
that would see it acquiring game industry darling Oculus VR for $2 billion in cash and stock.
"Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate," read Zuckerberg's initial statement, surprising many who saw the Oculus VR headset exactly as its progenitor initially pitched it: a remarkably competent and affordable peripheral for virtual reality games.
Across the industry, developers responded
with a heady mix of outrage and excitement. Some saw the deal empowering Oculus and cementing virtual reality's relevancy going forward, while others -- mostly developers who were making Rift games or had backed the headset's Kickstarter campaign in 2012 -- were angry about Oculus "selling out" to a company with a less-than-stellar reputation for fostering innovative game development.
While the company still hasn't shipped a consumer version of its headset, the deal with Facebook has already impacted the game industry and seems poised to continue doing so for some time to come. Oculus has spent the past nine months putting its newfound resources to use by, among other things, buying up hardware
companies, launching its own developer conference
and assembling what chief scientist Michael Abrash calls
"the first well-funded VR research team in 20 years."
Amazon gets into games in a big way
This was the year Amazon spent a ton of money to break into the game industry in a big way.
Everyone remembers when Amazon bought Twitch for nearly a billion dollars
, and with good reason: the acquisition was a tacit acknowledgement that video game livestreamers and, by extension, YouTubers have established themselves as a valuable part of the industry. If that's all Amazon had done this year, it would still merit a spot on this list.
But Amazon also poured a lot of money into game development this year, acquiring Double Helix Games
and hiring high-profile developers like Clint Hocking and Kim Swift
to produce games exclusively for its Fire TV microconsole.
Right, remember when that happened? Amazon started reaching out
to game makers months before the launch of the Fire TV, and was met with guarded optimism
. The retail giant made it relatively easy for developers to port their Android games to its hardware, and Amazon's decision to make games a core pillar of its platform -- you could buy a Fire TV with a gamepad packed in -- potentially strengthens the industry by opening up another new market for developers, one that seems starved for games
Mojang sells to Microsoft
2014 was a year in which big acquisitions shook up the game industry, and Microsoft's $2.5 billion buyout of Minecraft maker Mojang
-- far and away the most successful indie developer of the past decade -- was one of the biggest.
It's a convenient capstone on Microsoft's aggressive attempts to reposition itself in our industry during a year in which its flagship Xbox One console was consistently trounced
, sales-wise, by Sony's competing PlayStation 4. Those attempts directly affected developers when Microsoft did things like unbundle the Kinect
from Xbox One, appoint a developer-minded Microsoft man like Phil Spencer to lead the Xbox division
in the wake of former Xbox chief Marc Whitten's departure, and pour a bunch of money into studios like Crystal Dynamics
The Mojang deal also marks the departure of indie darling Markus "Notch" Persson from the studio and the game that made him a household name. Mojang and Minecraft
will likely continue to thrive without Notch -- Microsoft is counting on it
-- but his own future and his role in the industry going forward is less predictable. With a significant chunk of change at his disposal and a proven track record of contributing to (and participating in) interesting game industry projects like jams, documentaries and crowdfunding campaigns, he's in a prime position to shake up the industry regardless of whether or not he makes another game.
Ralph Baer passes away
of 92-year-old video game pioneer Ralph Baer shook the industry late this year. A lifelong engineer, inventor and game developer, Baer was popularly known as the father of video games, and it fit: his Brown Box prototype, later licensed to Magnavox and sold as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972, became the first television game console ever sold to the public.
But laying the foundation for much of our industry wasn't enough for Baer, who went on to invent (among other things) the first video game light gun -- which was also the first video game peripheral, period -- and a number of electronic games and toys.
He never seemed to stop tinkering with new ideas, and at the time of his death Baer had been inducted into the U.S. National Inventor's Hall of Fame with over 150 patents to his name. He also earned a slew of awards, including a U.S. National Medal of Technology and a GDC 2008 Developer's Choice Pioneer award, and remained an active participant in the game industry up until his death. His absence will be felt for years to come.
#GamerGate happened this year. For everything interesting and important that happened in game development in 2014, this year will be remembered for the advent of a hashtag. That's just how it is. While proponents of the hashtag likely consider that notoriety a victory, others will certainly attribute much of their misery
this year to GamerGate.
You probably know about the defamatory screed published in August about game developer Zoe Quinn that sparked the firestorm of toxicity and harassment that coalesced around the GamerGate hashtag. Since then, the hashtag and the meaning behind it continues to mutate. It's a misogynistic hate mob. It's a revolt by concerned consumers. It's a bunch of opinionated libertarians. It's bored kids with nothing better to do. It's a fight about free speech. Actually, it's about ethics in video game journalism. It's racist. It's homophobic. It's inclusive. It's a platform for any apolitical troll or harasser to stir shit up. "They continue to harass me, doxx me, hack me," says one person. "They're not with us," someone replies.
It's all of these things. Some of these things. It's none of these things. It's leaderless, undefined, and undirected, reaping the supposed benefits of decentralization, at the same time suffering from its failings.
It's that representation of everything and nothing that some proponents celebrate. But for others, that something so vague, so ambiguous, so nebulous can have such an effect on the game industry and the mainstream perception of video games — that is what's so profoundly disheartening.
In retrospect, the large-scale politicization of video games — in consuming them and in creating them — was bound to happen. Thanks to game development tools that allow nearly anyone from any background to be a game developer — to be an artist — we reached the critical mass of viewpoints that caused the inevitable splintering of ideologies and values. It's just that no one expected the growing pains to be so intense.
We'll leave you with this thought from a recent blog post
from 20-year game industry veteran Laralyn McWilliams: "It's not about where we are right now. It's about where we'll be when it's done."