Let’s be real: 2022 has been a rough year—from Will Smith’s internet-shattering slap to Kanye West’s anti-Semitic meltdown, even the gaming industry came with its share of controversy. So let’s forget all about what 2023 might bring for a minute, get comfy by the fire and prepare for a deep dive into the biggest hits and flops that dominated the gaming news of the past year. We’ve picked out the most standout stories just for you, because we’re nice like that.
The 2010s saw a decline in games with a challenging edge. Instead, auto-aim and hand-holding was rife. The Japanese developer FromSoftware was the last bastion of hope for sadistic, controller-smashing maniacs who relish in difficulty (like myself).
Enter Elden Ring, a culmination of everything FromSoftware has learnt over the last decade of making crushingly complicated games. Through such mastery, this industry titan even managed to spawn an entire new subgenre, known among fanatics as Soulslike. Referring to an action role-playing game identified by its increasingly difficult narrative, Soulslike’s name was inspired by FromSoftware’s hit series Dark Souls.
The series, released in 2011, popularised dark fantasy settings by showing off cryptic lore and punishing gameplay with an emphasis on big, bad bosses. A theme and style that the developer hasn’t let go of since, exemplified by the likes of Elden Ring. The immediately popular game was nothing short of a masterpiece in the genre and reached a wider audience than anyone could’ve expected. This gargantuan success culminated in its momentous victory at the 2022 Game Awards, in which Elden Ring took home the award for Game of the Year.
FromSoftware’s games are challenging, rewarding and rich in dark detail and intrigue. The company’s latest entry really bridged the gap between casual and hardcore gamers, proving that people do like a little bit of a beating every now and then. Safe to say, it appears as though difficult games are most definitely here to stay.
In the biggest flop of the year, we saw the gaming industry reveal a sinister side—exposing worrying traits and patterns many spectators hadn’t prepared themselves for.
Let’s start by getting some of the tamer news out of the way. Video game publisher Bethesda Softworks and Mick Gordon, composer for DOOM Eternal, went to war over contract, payment and crunch disputes. There’s far too much internal rigamarole to trudge through, so instead let’s focus on the main takeaways from this altercation. The falling out centred on the common occurrence in which artists and composers are sidelined and swindled by large companies motivated by corporate greed and complication. There is so much to read in regard to this topic and so I’d recommend fetching some hot cocoa—or a mimosa if you fancy something stronger—and diving into Gordon’s open letter wherein he discusses the entire affair.
Moving along, there was also the really strange news that the creator of iconic game Sonic The Hedgehog, Yuji Naka, had been found guilty of insider trading and was subsequently arrested twice—all in one year. The creator of the infamous Sonic couldn’t outrun these allegations.
The lowest point of the industry though was by far the explosion of allegations against Activision Blizzard which, though having started in 2021, spilled over into the new year with fresh suits and settlements lingering around every corner. To give a brief summary of the drama, the gaming giant—aka the studio behind Call of Duty and World of Warcraft—was accused of fostering a frat boy atmosphere and repeatedly making female employees uncomfortable due to unwanted advances and attitudes.
Allegations including the notorious Cosby suite, and female employees finding their breast milk missing from fridges wasn’t the end of the line for the developer giant in 2021. As 2022 rolled around, fresh allegations began to spawn, particularly regarding sexual harassment and inequality in the team, perpetrated in part by its CEO, Bobby Kotick, a man who is still running the company today. To top it all off, this year saw Blizzard trying to stop its workers from unionising by hiring a well-known firm whose job is to stop workers from organising.
Activision Blizzard has been in damage-control mode since the beginning of the year, but it might be a little too late for the company. Will the community move on, or will they take a stand? 2023 spells a tough year for the developer as it desperately tries to win back players. It’s worth mentioning, it wasn’t the only gaming giant to face allegations this year, French titans Ubisoft also faced a scathing harassment lawsuit, as reported by Kotaku.
The social phenomenon that was Wordle completely dominated the early months of 2022, and with good reason. Everyone was playing it—I’m a massive fan of games with the ability to unify people across boundaries and Wordle was a prime example of this.
In case you happened to be living under a rock for the first half of the year, Wordle requires players to figure out a daily random word in only six guesses. Each guess tells you which letters you surmised correctly,, and if they might be the right word but in the wrong place. For such a simple game, it was surprisingly addictive.
This word game sensation—originally developed and created by software engineer Josh Wardle—spawned numerous clones and copies, such as Quordle, an iteration where you guess four words at once, and Squirdle, a Pokémon guessing version. Although not the most traditional of video games, we believe it deserved an honourable mention here.
2022 captured one of the strangest emerging gaming trends—one of overspending and acquisitions. We witnessed Microsoft and Sony racing to buy up smaller studios, in a supposed bid to boost their respective arsenals in the long-running console wars.
After Microsoft acquired Bethesda Softworks—the studio behind the Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises—in 2021, Sony kicked off the summer of 2022 by purchasing industry veterans Bungie, the legendary creators of the Halo franchise, for a tantalising $3.6 billion.
In retaliation, Microsoft threw its hat into the ring, making a stake for controversial gaming giant Activision Blizzard for an even more mouth-watering $69 billion. This purchase is yet to go through and will likely spill into 2023, so keep an eye out. Due to the size of the accession, the deal has got regulators in a flurry as lawyers and big wigs work their hardest to try and ensure that the gaming industry doesn’t become monopolised.
News recently broke that gamers are banding together to sue Microsoft too, to ensure that gaming continues to allow players to make decisions on what systems they play on and who they give their money to. We’ll have to wait and see in the new year if this proves to be too big a bone for Microsoft to chew on.
The two mainstays of gaming weren’t the only companies scooping up studios and indie darlings though. Epic Games purchased Mediatonic, the lovable underdogs responsible for 2020’s surprise hit Fall Guys. The rest of the industry was left with odd bits of scrap with Take-Two Interactive, the Grand Theft Auto publisher grabbing mobile juggernaut Zynga, and Swedish holding company Embracer finding their hands on The Lord of the Rings, Tomb Raider, and Deus Ex franchises from Crystal Dynamics and Eidos.
The cherry on top in this extensive acquisition saga has to be the fact that Chinese company Tencent can’t seem to get enough of Western games. Tencent recently found itself spending generous sums in order to have a stake in gaming giants Ubisoft and FromSoftware. Some seem to think this is part of a worrying trend of Chinese businesses infiltrating the West and harvesting data, but I think Tencent just wants to make money—a whole lot of it.
So, these have been our highlights and lowlights of 2022. It’s been a messy one, but for the most part, gamers have been spoiled with a buffet of excellent titles, superb escapism, and a bundle of surprisingly enjoyable word-solving problems. This year did highlight a lot of problems within the industry itself—despite the games successes, Elden Ring we’re looking at you—so, let’s hope that 2023 stays as clean as possible. The only way is up.