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The 5 biggest video game surprises of 2012 Exclusive
The 5 biggest video game surprises of 2012
December 12, 2012 | By Mike Rose

Gamasutra UK editor Mike Rose continues Gamasutra's annual year-end roundups series by looking back at the five biggest video game surprises of 2012.

Surprise surprise - it's time for another list of 2012 goings-on in the video game industry, this time focused on the events, games and buy-outs that made us sit back in shock.

There were nice surprises that inevitably caused a stir; head-scratching surprises that brought with them questionable connotations; completely out-of-the-blue surprises that caught us off-guard. A very surprising year all round, in fact.

The one thing all these surprises have in common? As each announcement dropped, Twitter and other social media were set ablaze with conversation, arguments and opinion. It's the way of the video game industry!

Double Fine starts the Kickstarter revolution

Before Tim Schafer's Double Fine launched its Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter earlier this year, Kickstarter was a place where smaller indie studios could seek an audience (and hopefully their wallets). I personally didn't know a single person who was even signed up to Kickstarter, let alone was pledging money to video game projects on the platform.

double fine adventure.jpgHowever, following the hugely successful $3.33 million-funded Kickstarter, which came completely out of nowhere and had Twitter all flustered for a good week or so, 2012 suddenly become the year of the video game crowdfunder. Schafer and co. had proved that even big companies could bypass publishers and have a crack at crowdfunding, and hordes of Kickstarter projects started to emerge, as too did the backers -- following the Double Fine Kickstarter, the number of people backing video game Kickstarters jumped by 15 times the original crowds.

Of course, there's now huge discussion on what feels like a weekly basis regarding whether all the Kickstarters that keep popping up are being poorly implemented, and Kickstarting for the sake of Kickstarting. However, there's no question that Double Fine's Kickstarter was a huge surprise, and a notable turning point in 2012.

Steam's Greenlight process opens the submission floodgates

Since the launch of Steam in 2003, Valve has always kept rather quiet about how its game selection process works, and what exactly developers can do to breach the hull of PC game mega sales.

As we're more than aware of now, 2012 was the year that this all changed, with the debut of Steam Greenlight -- a service that suddenly turned the Steam submission process on its head. No longer could developers simply email Valve and then sit back and pray that they were picked up. Now it was suddenly all down to PC gamers, and whether or not they were willing to click the little thumbs-up button on your game's Greenlight page.

The initial surprise announcement was soon engulfed in discussion of how Greenlight would work, who would be successful, whether it would work in the favor of all developers, and what kind of games would be picked up the quickest. It's still early days for the initiative, but the submission process definitely feels a lot more open than it has done for the last nine years.

Zynga fills its mobile hole... for $180 million

It all happened so quickly and so suddenly, that it was impossible not to feel taken aback by what happened to Draw Something studio Omgpop.

One moment, it was launching a mobile version of a Pictionary-like Facebook game that had a moderate number of players. The next, it had the number one top grossing game on iOS, and multiple companies looking to swoop in for the buy-out. But it was likely this rush to own Omgpop that saw Zynga paying a whopping $180 million, all simply to own the Draw Something brand and boost its mobile offerings.

draw-something-logo.jpegIn fact, it took just over six weeks from the launch of Draw Something on mobile for Omgpop to go from being a studio that not many had really heard of, to suddenly being worth $180 million to Zynga. It was this purchase that made us question whether Zynga's spending was out of control, and marked a notable point in the social game giant's decline in 2012.

Sony buys cloud gaming platform Gaikai

It had been rumored for a while that Gaikai was looking for a buyer, and elsewhere there was talk of Microsoft planning to enter the cloud gaming space. Then rather suddenly, Sony announced that it had snapped Gaikai up for a cool $380 million.

Sony said that it was planning to use Gaikai's resources to build its own cloud gaming service, and it's looking likely that this sort of service will be built into the next PlayStation home console. This, of course, set of numerous theories all over the internet regarding how the PS4, or even the PS3, could utilize the cloud gaming space.

The deal has been very quiet since July, and with Sony's falling revenues from its video game business, you have to wonder how this is affecting its cloud gaming future. Only the future will tell whether this surprise purchase will yield results.

The Walking Dead redefines adventure games

If you'd said a year ago that Telltale's The Walking Dead episodic adventure game would sweep the VGAs this year and be a huge talking point in video game discussions throughout 2012, some would think you were mad. After all, Telltale is a great studio with plenty of good adventure games under its belt, but it has never really produced anything especially Game of the Year worthy. Plus, aren't we all a bit sick of zombies by now?

The-walking-dead.jpgAnd yet here we are, toasting the bliss of a storytelling masterclass and eagerly awaiting a second season. The Walking Dead isn't simply just another Telltale adventure game -- rather, it's one of the best implementations of storyline and gameplay splashed together in a video game. It's touted as an experience that twists and turns depending on the decisions you make... except that it actually does change, rather than just saying it does on the back of the box. And if you can truly reach the end of the saga without feeling strongly for the characters, there's perhaps no hope for you.

Now we're hoping that by raising the storytelling bar, The Walking Dead's presence will breed a new gaggle of video games that don't feature stories that we'd rather hammer the A button through. We're not holding our breath, but at least we've got season two to look forward to.

More Gamasutra 2012 roundups:

The 5 trends that defined the game industry in 2012
The 5 events that shook the video game industry in 2012

The 5 most significant video game controversies in 2012
The 5 biggest disappointments of 2012

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Johnathon Swift
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At the very least we'll get an ATTEMPT at much better storytelling thanks to the walking dead. Call it a bit of a "Star Wars" like moment. Before 1977 the idea of big, sci fi pop movies, of big special effects driven movies at all was practically non existent. Special effects were cheesy and ugly and were to be giggled at, they didn't make the impossible come to life on the silver screen before your very eyes. And then Star Wars did just that to the tune of hundreds of millions.

And while The Walking Dead might not have set the sales world on fire, it's at least gotten enough play and press to say to enough people that "this is possible". Of course, it's also excellently written. It's not like there's going to be a flood of games that do better, or as well. But there will probably be more games that take a similar structure and at least TRY now.

Andres Ortega
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Really glad about Telltale. A new benchmark was created, and hopefully, as you say, better games will be made out of this. Kudos again to Telltale!!!

Luis Guimaraes
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I'm curious about this game. Still deciding if I play it or watch a stream...

Paul Marzagalli
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Luis, given the relatively cheap cost, you would be passing up a good opportunity if you didn't play the game. It is worth the investment to buy the game and decide for yourself through the experience of playing it.

Luis Guimaraes
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Thanks Paul, I guess you're right. My list of things to play is getting bigger than I have time/money/patience to check.

And the same is true for movies... and series. I watched only the 1st Ep of The Walking Dead and didn't care for any more of it. Don't know what the fuss around the series is about.

Maybe I can get the storytelling excuse and slip it under the "research" label so it's part of a smaller and prioritized queue. I hope it's more than just a good plot, in which case watching and playing would end up being the same.

Leonardo Ferreira
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Playing is always better than watching; don't let the vlog surge of web 2.5 tell you otherwise. You'll be missing a whole pallette of audiovisual sensations that are tremendously useful to the craft of game design.

On topic, I'm happy Telltale made it through with their narrative ambitions; Sam & Max Season 1/2 are some of my favourite games, because despite their technical limitations and conservative adherance to adventure games tropes, their dialogue is fierce and clever, showing the potential the studio had for great things.

Luis Guimaraes
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Thanks Anthony, Paul, Leonardo. I'm convinced :)

Paul Marzagalli
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Hahaha, well be sure to check back in and let us know if we were full of shit when it's all said and done!

For what it's worth, the show holds no interest for me, either and I tuned out of the comic after the 25th issue or so.

Adriaan Jansen
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@Luis, you know, I played up to episode 4, and I must say that I don't really feel the hype. The story is great, the characters are even better, and the relation between the two main characters is very well done. That relation alone is worth playing the game, because it vastly influences the way you make decisions. It's very reflective and that's kind of cool.

However, as a game, it's extremely limited imo. It doesn't have the consequences that the Witcher 2 has (who I would favor when giving the title "best game-narrative"), and the game in itself is not interesting. Worse, it has some agonizing moments of cut-scene-e-ritus, where you can't do stuff you normally can. That really breaks the game for me, as it grew the feeling on me that I wasn't playing the game or in control of my main character on important moments in the game.

...Would still recommend it though. :P

Paul Marzagalli
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Kickstarter would have to be the biggest surprise for me. A new DF classic style adventure game, an Infinity Engine-inspired game from Obsidian, a space sim from Chris Roberts, a new Wasteland game, heck...even a JRPG-styled game that I ended up being a writer on...2012 was very much the Year of Crowdfunding. And those are just the retro revisits. There are some compelling new designs being supported, such as the recently funded Sportsfriends.

All in all, it is an exciting time for game design. There are more options than ever for funding and creating design initiatives.

Maria Jayne
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I'm really hoping 2013 provides a glut of quality Kickstarter funded games being released. Something tells me we need a bunch of them to deliver on their promises to secure the funding methods future.

Paul Marzagalli
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Maria, I generally agree, though I suspect that the higher-profile projects will (to an extent) be the victims of some general Kickstarter blowback regardless of their quality. So long as they do come out and satisfy the majority of their backers, though, the model should be considered a success. In that instance, despite what Leigh wrote about the Wild West being over, I am counting on there being another wave of Kickstarter giddiness.

It's worth noting that a few Kickstarter-funded games (including "FTL" and "Cognition") have delivered on their promises. The model is already producing some great results.

Maria Jayne
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I didn't know FTL was funded with Kickstarter, I bought that as a Steam gift for someone the other day!

I agree some people will expect too much, unfortunately they also tend to be the loudest people. I'm hoping most people have reasonable expectations, and will end up pleasantly surprised.

Paul Marzagalli
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Naturally, Maria (as if on cue to our optimistic ramblings), we have a whale of Kickstarter controversy fall in our lap!

Paul Marzagalli
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I'd also add in the Ouya as a pretty out of left field surprise for the year. I wasn't expecting to purchase another console outside of the Wii U this year! :-D

E Zachary Knight
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Yeah, the Ouya made the 5 events that shook the industry article. So it is in a related category. I look forward to getting mine. I just wish I could have gotten a Dev model. Alas, it seems to not be so.

Paul Marzagalli
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I'm pretty sure we've got one for our project, Zachary. If you had any questions about it, I can put you in touch with our project lead. Just let me know.

anonymous opinion
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The walking dead is not a game though, it is a visual novel.

Luis Guimaraes
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Well as it seems it's a visual novel, maybe it's not. But are visual novels, games?

By quoting Sid Meier, "Games are series of interesting decisions". I would pick "decisions" as a keyword in the sentence, and threat "interesting" more about a game being good or not.

A decision needs the existence of two or more choices. Choice according to dictionary is "the power, right, or liberty to choose".

In my view the structure of a visual novel looks like this:

Adam Bishop
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I don't care what you call it, it was still a more engaging experience than just about anything else I played this year. If it's not a game then I'd like some more not-a-games, please.

Thom Q
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I've only played the first two episodes so far, so maybe there's a FPS level coming up, but it's Obviously an adventure game. People who don't think those are games are probably too young for having played PC games in the 90's..

Michael Ball
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Looks like SOMEONE thought shitposting outside of 4chan would work just as effectively. Go to /b/, /v/ doesn't want you.

anonymous opinion
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How can you claim to have played 90's adventure games like loom, Fate of Atlantis, full throttle, day of tentacle, King's quest and then say they are like the walking dead?

You can solve everything on TWD just by interacting/clicking on the screen. Those adventure games had you solve puzzles in your head, and here is the main difference and why they were a game.

You may argue that these old adventure games had sometimes very illogical puzzles, but if you play something like Anna that is a recend point and click adventure game, the puzzles are very logical.

And Michael, claiming something is "shitposting" because you don't agree with it is not an argument

anonymous opinion
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That is the definition of an interactive story taylor, not a game

Kenneth Wesley
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The biggest surprise to me was Bayonetta 2 on the Wii U exclusively. I was okay with what was coming for the Wii U and Nintendo pulls a huge exclusive that they couldn't have pulled for the Wii or Gamecube. And seeing the response from it 'hardcore gamers' was just...special.

Alex Nichiporchik
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In addition to points mentioned in the article:

Amazon App Store for Android

In a seemingly fragmented system with no light at the end of the tunnel, Amazon was able to create a mobile storefront connected to (arguably) the largest database of customers with credit cards and redefine form factors and pricing for tablets. Anyone who put their game on the Amazon store knows what I'm talking about.

Joe McGinn
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Aah, good article until the Walking Dead non sequitur. Naughty Dog makes great story-based game you say??? What a surprise!

Dave Watkins
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Although I'm quite glad that Double Fine paved the way for indies to have this channel of funding, I'm admittedly a bit overwhelmed by all of the new Kickstarter projects that seem to be popping up each day. When I look on Twitter or Facebook it seems that people are Kickstarting all sorts of projects that don't look like they have a clear way of getting finished (and the rewards are a bit dubious as well).

anonymous opinion
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Just because something is interactive software, doesn't make it a game.

TWD being placed on the same category as games, is devaluating them and their purpose.

I really liked TWD and I am looking for a sequel, but it shouldn't steal or corrupt the point and click adventure game genre