2012: The Year Indie Overtook Blockbuster


For the last couple years at 1up I’ve devoted an annual post to my favorite games of the year that cannot be purchased on a retail disc — generally indie games. I don’t feel like I need to do that this year, mainly because most of my favorite games of 2012 overall fall into this category.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how 2012 was disappointing or at least disappointing in the console retail space. While I may agree to some extent, “disappointing” is a strong word. It’s really more about expectations relative to earlier times in this long console generation.

People seem to have expressed some level of disappointment in 2012’s blockbuster releases like Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed III, or Diablo III (didn’t meant to post nothing but part 3’s). I don’t think any of those games or the other high-profile releases were bad at all (not even Resident Evil 6).  They were actually very good games that provided what we wanted. They just didn’t do much more than that.

It seems like none of those games really surprised people or blew them away the way their immediate predecessors did. That’s really not so surprising considering the fact that some of these games are the third, fourth, or even fifth entry in a franchise on a single generation of consoles. I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed III yet, but I’m willing to bet that had that game come out in 2007 instead of the original, it would’ve been hailed as some kind of landmark. Its effect is diminished having come out after four previous Assassin’s Creed games on the same hardware.

I think this is due to a combination of aging hardware and publisher behavior towards that hardware. Publishers work under the belief that the best time to launch new IPs is towards the beginning of console generations when the experience of each platform has yet to be defined. So, they’re holding their breath in that regard and sticking with sequels, only they haven’t ever had to do that through a seven-year console generation.

After a while, there’s only so much you can do with one game design outline on one generation of hardware. Last year people were disappointed with Uncharted 3. I thought that was a great game, probably about as good as the monumental Uncharted 2. Uncharted 3’s problem was that it wasn’t the massive leap forward that its predecessor accomplished over the first game. Uncharted 2 probably pushed that particular structure of game design as far as it could go on the PS3. That’s the problem the main blockbusters faced in 2012.

The reason 2012’s indie and other download-only games felt more interesting and thus more compelling to me was because they were fresh. They didn’t need fancy new hardware to feel fresh either, just the will to push new ideas. A lot of people seem to agree since games like Journey and The Walking Dead are winning overall Game of the Year awards. I’m not saying sequels are bad, but there comes a point where you’ve pushed game design as far as it can go on current hardware.


  • This is the closest thing to a byline I’ve been able to get published for way too long. Spent the better part of the fall trying to pitch it to various websites. Basically, it’s just a list of the best PC games you can get on sale during the holidays even if you don’t actually own a gaming PC: http://t.co/oIKAYTPv
  • Man, this Final Fantasy Versus XIII trailer is two years old: https://t.co/7ajjMcag
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